November 2 – More than 65% of Africa’s land is considered degraded, and the risk of further desertification grows by the day. Crops now wither in the once fertile fields of northern Ghana, as prolonged droughts dry up water courses, while the mountain forests of Kenya, known as its “water towers”, have been stripped back and denuded by agriculture and logging. In Sudan, the arid climate and poor irrigation mean that more than 500,000 hectares are now affected by salinisation.
A vicious circle of unsustainable farming, which exacerbates climate change and leads to further extreme weather events, is behind the degradation of Africa’s soils. Western farming techniques, which may have yielded crops and vast profits for the last century or more, are now being found wanting, as more and more inputs are needed to repair soils that have become barren and eroded.
Livestock and poor soil management continue to increase agriculture’s carbon footprint, too. It is an environmental catastrophe that also brings human misery: according to the World Economic Forum, 228 million people in Africa face chronic hunger.
A raft of initiatives and projects continue to try and halt the erosion of Africa’s ability to feed itself, from philanthropic foundations to corporate interventions, with many are now coalescing around regenerative agriculture as a crucial solution.
According to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Vivid Economics, harnessing regenerative agriculture to repair Africa’s degraded lands could be worth $70 billion to farmers. The report demonstrates how a transition to practices such as agroforestry and better soil management can improve human nutrition and livelihoods, and boost ecosystem health.
It also conservatively estimates that regenerative practices could increase yields by 13% by 2040, while also creating five million new full-time jobs in farming, processing and supportive industries. In the same time frame, if 50% of Africa’s farms adopted these techniques, the additional carbon benefit alone could equate to 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) – almost 10 times South Africa’s annual emissions.
The catch? Commenting in the report, Elizabeth Nsimadala, president of the Pan African Farmers Organization, said: “It will not be realised at a meaningful scale without the buy-in of millions of smallholder farmers. Agribusinesses and governments need to step up their investments and their supportive policies to give agency to the small farmers who, collectively, can make big changes. Maybe then, the report’s best-case scenario will become a reality.”