Due to poverty, vulnerability to temperature and rainfall variations, and the increased risk of prolonged droughts and floods caused by climate change, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations warns that urgent, transformative action is required in Africa’s six small island developing states (SIDS).
If climate-smart techniques and practices are not adopted, a new FAO study titled Transforming Agriculture in Africa’s Small Island Developing States: lessons learned and options for climate-smart agriculture investment in Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Seychelles warns that these threats, combined with reliance on rain-fed agriculture, could lower crop yields and countries’ food consumption.
The study – by the FAO’s regional office for Africa and the International Crops Research Institute for the semi-arid tropics/research programme on climate change, agriculture and food security – is focused on a country from each income group within the African SIDS: Cabo Verde (medium income), Guinea-Bissau (lower income) and Seychelles (higher income).
But the study finds they all face the same basic problems and need support for system-wide capacity development for at-scale, transformational action to protect the nutrition and food supplies of communities.
“Renewable energy, rainwater-harvesting cisterns, nutrition-sensitive and sustainable local foodstuffs, and climate information systems for farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk all need to be invested in urgently,” said a co-author of the study and FAO natural resources officer, Albert Nikiema.
Economic and geographical challenges
“The African SIDS already face so many challenges without climate change and they need as many weapons in their armoury as possible for the fight against it. Agriculture must be climate-smart, or family livelihoods and health are going to suffer.”
The report, which was released as part of a larger FAO event on climate-smart agriculture, uses data and analysis to paint a complete picture of the three African SIDS that were chosen, their economic and geographical difficulties, and the most suited and adaptable choices available.
Guinea-Bissau has one of the worst rates of undernourishment among SIDS, with 20.7% of the population suffering from malnutrition. It also has the biggest percentage of people living below the poverty line of the three African SIDS, with 69.3% of the population, compared to Cabo Verde (26.6 %) and Seychelles (13.6%). They all have a limited resource base, are reliant on maritime resources, rely heavily on food imports, and have high energy, transportation, and fuel expenditures.
“High tides, flooding and storms are a worry for all of them and many people in Seychelles for example – remember the storm which took over 1 000 of their endemic palms. Flooding has affected agricultural land in all three African SIDS in the past decade. That is frightening for the 58 % of people in Guinea-Bissau who make their living from agriculture. And it is important to also highlight that all the SIDS worldwide combined, all 58 of them, produce just one percent of carbon dioxide emissions. This is not a problem of their making.”
Role of the FAO
The FAO has aided in the development of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on Food Security and Nutrition in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), as well as providing policy advice, analysis, and technical assistance to SIDS.
Smallholder farmers in the six African SIDS benefit from an FAO programme that helps them explore chances to reach high-value, specialty markets through fair trade or organic labeling. Hundreds of farmers have received training in climate-smart agriculture and nutrition promotion.
The FAO is assisting communities in Guinea-Bijagos Bissau’s archipelago of 88 islands and islets in the construction of land reservoirs for rainwater harvesting and the installation of solar panels for dry season pumps, allowing them to grow tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, and carrots during the otherwise lean dry season.
They have teamed with local NGOs in Cabo Verde to create cooking schools to improve awareness of healthy, sustainable, and economical native foods that have not traditionally been included in meals.
Instead of importing large amounts of food, the FAO supports initiatives in Seychelles to diversify the main tourist economy into agro-tourism and cultivate products locally and sustainably.