Drought threatens African agriculture – scientist

Climate change threatening food production as never before in Africa. Photo : REUTERS

NEWSROOM (ADV) – Sub-Saharan African countries should scale up adoption of drought tolerant crops to contain food insecurity that has worsened against a backdrop of climate change, a Kenyan scientist said on Wednesday.

Stephen Mugo, African regional representative at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) said that greater adoption of drought tolerant seeds combined with improved soil and water management is key to cushioning African small-holders from hunger and malnutrition.

“Farmers should shift to planting stress-resilient varieties, like early maturing maize varieties that just need 90 to 95 days to mature, instead of over four months for late maturing varieties,” said Mugo.

He said that early maturing seed varieties are readily available from seed companies and agro-dealers operating in maize growing areas.

“If majority of small scale farmers in Africa’s drought-prone regions grow drought-tolerant varieties of maize and other staple crops, the farming communities will be better prepared for prolonged dry spells and inadequate rainfall,” said Mugo.

The scientist said that to improve soil fertility and structure and avoid soil compaction, farmers must practice crop diversification and sustainable soil and water conservation practices.

Mugo said that the practice helps reduce run offs when it rains and enables the soil to develop capacity of retaining moisture.

“Our research shows that conservation agriculture, combined with a package of good agronomic practices, offers several benefits that contribute to yield increases of up to 38 percent,” said Mugo.

The Kenya Meteorological Department has warned that abnormally dry condition might lead to massive crop failure across eastern African region.

Mugo noted that this year’s El-Nino, the second in a period of three years, has led to large pockets of drought across eastern and southern Africa, whose economies still rely heavily on rain-fed smallholder farming.

“To ensure large-scale adoption of sustainable and climate resilient technologies and practices, farmers should have access to drought-tolerant seeds, as well as information and incentives to shift to climate smart agricultural practices,” said Mugo.

CIMMYT works with the African seed sector and national partners to develop and deploy stress resilient maize and wheat varieties through initiatives like stress tolerant maize for Africa and the wheat rust resistant seed scaling in Ethiopia.

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