Africa climate summit: a chance to spur the livestock sector

A farm worker distributes a line of feed to Angora goats near drought-stricken Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, November 16, 2019

A farm worker distributes a line of feed to Angora goats near drought-stricken Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The Africa Climate Summit is a chance to mobilise finance towards proven, sustainable livestock practices and technologies to combat climate change

Soipan Tuya is the cabinet secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Forestry, for the Government of Kenya and Professor Appolinaire Djikeng is director general of International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

As two African leaders whose work involves addressing impacts of climate change, we cannot think about the land without also thinking of livestock.

Despite growing up in different parts of the continent – one in the Maasai community of Kenya and another in a subsistence farming community in West Cameroon – our upbringing, education and careers were shaped by the opportunities our families could afford from keeping cattle, pigs and chickens.

For the millions of herders, pastoralists and small-scale farmers like our families, the ability to keep livestock is central to ensuring that Africa’s response to the climate crisis is also just and equitable.

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This is what makes climate action in Africa such a complex proposition. The continent must urgently find ways to adapt to devastating weather extremes while also minimising greenhouse gas emissions, of which Africa has contributed just four per cent. In addition, we must also make up ground on economic and social development amid increasingly challenging circumstances.

Livestock remains one of the most important economic sectors in Africa, contributing up to 80 per cent of agricultural GDP and providing food and livelihoods for men and women in remote, marginal areas. As such, livestock measures for small-scale and pastoral systems that help curb and cope with climate change, while also reducing inequality, offer hope that Africa can become more climate resilient in a way that leaves no one behind.

In the lead-up to COP28, the Africa Climate Summit presents an opportunity to galvanise momentum for more climate finance directed towards proven, sustainable livestock practices and technologies that help adapt to new conditions, reduce emissions and deliver climate justice.

Not only do we have many of these solutions ready, but the scientific community is increasingly understanding where strategic investments can have the most impact to transform livestock systems in the interests of people and the planet.

Climate adaptation accounts for a quarter of Africa’s total climate finance needs, much of which is going unmet despite global pledges, and which will require additional support from international donors and the private sector.

Investing in livestock innovations holds the key to fortifying communities against climate shocks such as extreme droughts and heatwaves. This is vital to minimise the impact of future crises like the ongoing drought, which has left almost 32 million people across the Horn of Africa in dire need of humanitarian support. An estimated 2.5 million heads of cattle were lost in Kenya alone, driving up hunger and poverty.

With more dedicated climate grants to support adaptation that does not add to Africa’s debt burden, governments can reach more farmers and herders with tailored solutions such as more heat-tolerant breeds, index-based livestock insurance and more resilient feeds.

Many of these innovations for climate adaptation present the rare opportunity to reduce livestock emissions in Africa. This is unusual – and valuable – for any sector, and at present, only around 10 per cent of the measures included in African national climate plans deliver both adaptation and mitigation.

Helping livestock keepers adapt their production systems to the changing climate will lead to healthier, more productive and resilient animals, increasing efficiency and generating lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. This differs from developed countries where industrialised production systems are already highly efficient but are also highly intensive to meet a disproportionate demand for animal-source foods. Most smallholder livestock systems in Africa have a much smaller climate footprint than industrial systems, serving a much lower level of meat consumption.

In addition, best practices for livestock management can also positively contribute to the environment and help restore degraded land. Livestock manure already provides 12 per cent of the organic nitrogen used for growing crops globally while cattle and other ruminant animals can consume crop residues that would otherwise be wasted.

Finally, improving the sustainability of African livestock can also deliver climate justice and new socio-economic development opportunities. Empowering women, safeguarding food security and nurturing decent livelihoods all hinge on the transition to sustainable practices.

The African continent is home to roughly 800 million livestock keepers, of which about 230 million are women and some 280 million are pastoralists. For most of these people, keeping a few chickens, cows, or goats is often the most accessible way to earn a living and feed their families.

At the same time, they also make a critical contribution to African food systems. For example, Africa’s pastoralist livestock herders generate more than 75 per cent of the continent’s milk and more than half of its meat.

As we head towards a key milestone for global climate negotiations at COP28, we can course-correct and accelerate national strategies, refining them for specific contexts.

Africa’s livestock sector is a compelling example of how – with sufficient financing – African countries and economies can respond to the climate crisis without compromising other humanitarian, social and economic needs. We urge African leaders and international climate negotiators to bank on African livestock to help deliver fair, effective and comprehensive climate action.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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