Western Africa occasionally suffers from drought spells. The risk of drought calls for methods which can reduce vulnerablity to climate shocks and secure local food production also during the drought periods.
The need for drought risk management can be expected to increase due to climate change. For instance, in Senegal, where FoodAfrica is examining resilience to climate change, the temperatures are expected to increase and rainfall to decrease in the future due to climate change. As agricultural production is mainly rainfed, the performance of agriculture in Senegal will be further eroded as higher temperatures will aggravate the country’s water deficit. This will adversely affect both cultivated and natural vegetation growth.
Droughts affect people and yields
Droughts in Senegal are concentrated mostly in the arid and semi-arid Sahelian regions of the country, located in northern and central Senegal. Studies show that between 1950’s and 1990’s the amount of rainfall decreased by 35%, the duration of the rainy period shortened and the frequency of rain days decreased. Droughts can affect a lot of people per event and result in a significant loss in crop yield. For instance, during the 2000 droughts peanut revenues declined from about 68.4 to 17.4 billion West African franc (FCFA), and revenue from millet/sorghum fell from 30 to 12 billion FCFA. According to the World Food Program, in year 2009 the chronic malnutrition reached 20% to 34% of the population.
Literature suggests several ways in which agriculture can cope with drought and other climate-related risks. Basic principles of risk management such as reducing the risk or transferring it are relevant. From the finance point of view developing insurance and other risk sharing mechanisms to secure farmer’s income and assets are relevant. From the policy point of view, society could invest in infrastructure which reduces the risk and implications of drought. These include investments in water management, education and land quality improvements, among other things. Increasing the biomass production and vegetative cover on land would also help to combat erosion and soil degradation.
Adaptation strategies vary from modern to traditional
Adaptation at the farm-level is closely linked to access to and availability of different technologies. A study investigating adaptation strategies of local farmers in the Senegal River valley revealed that farmers use several methods to increase the productive performance of family farms. Common strategies were related to the basic agronomic practices. For instance, farmers could adjust the sowing date according to the situation, diversify the production by sowing different types of crops or choose to grow drought- and salinity-tolerant species. The use of short-cycle varieties and direct seeding are also seen as adaptation strategies.
In addition, farmers may use biomass or tree or shrub fertilizers to enrich the soil. There are also traditional methods such as “le zai” which help retain soil moisture and improve soil fertility and “cordons pierreux” which allows to increase the infiltration of rainwater and to reduce hydric erosion. In some cases irrigation may be a solution, but it may have disadvantages such as increased risk of salinity build-up in the soil, unless adequate drainage is provided. Some regions have suffered from deforestation and erosion. In these areas reforestation, rehabilitation of vegetation and planting drought-tolerant plant species could be a solution.
In order to help farmers to combat climate risks it is important to share information. The dissemination of best strategies to cope with drought and to improve local production is essential to ensure food security. Effective dissemination on how and when to use certain methods can help farmers choose appropriate production methods and use them in a correct manner. To combat some other risks such as pests, an early warning system can also be beneficial to farmers. For instance, mobile technologies and radio could be used to enhance the information they receive and facilitate better decision-making.
Text: Jarkko Niemi, Luke, Assane Beye, ISRA and Siwa Msangi, IFPRI