Farmers in southern Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular are already experiencing changes to their climate that are different in magnitude to what they have experienced in the past.
Some of these changes, particularly higher temperatures and greater rainfall intensity, are consistent with what scientists expect to happen as the Earth’s climate warms due to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Farmers in southern Africa have reported consistently hotter conditions all year round and changes in the rainy seasons, notably later onset and earlier cessation as well as rain failing in more intense bursts.
These changes effectively shorten growing seasons and result in greater unpredictability of rainfall within the rainy season.
Farmers in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have observed these changes are increasing the risk of poor yields or crop failure, and they must invest more time, energy and resources.
For example, declining tea production in Malawi cuts earnings and reduces demand for labour, increasing hardship and poverty for the farmers, labourers and their families.
These observations are borne out by temperature records, although meteorological data for rainfall corresponds less. It is known from extensive field trials across the region that raising temperatures and increasing aridity reduce crop yields, particularly maize.
For the future, temperatures will continue to increase, although how far depends on how much greenhouse gas emissions can be curtailed.
Hence, the launch of the Trans-Africa Caravan of Hope and overcoming the Barriers Research Report by Oxfam and Kulima last week and the call to sign up the African petition ahead of COP 17 in Durban, could not have come at a more opportune time, especially when thousands of farmers are waiting for the rains.
Our farmers have had to cope with a high degree of natural climatic variability and extremes and have been, and continue to be as resourceful, enterprising and experimental as possible within their resource constraints. Recent temperature increases and changing rainfall patterns have given extra impetus to modifications in agricultural practices.
So, the forthcoming UN climate conference is crucial for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and providing finance for developing countries to adapt to climate change.
Rich countries have pledged to finance National Action Plans (Naps) in developing countries. But it is not clear when the money will come through and whether it will ever come.
From past experience, the default option being considered is to give out enough money to prepare Naps, but then wait to hand over funds for implementation until sometime after priority projects have been identified and submitted to the UN.
This is not the first time developing countries have been asked to write an adaptation plan so that urgent projects can be funded through the UN climate agency. Experience tells us that planning in expectation of future funding is fraught with problems.
Again, the funds disbursed are inadequate for the adaptation tasks and most countries are still waiting for the resources to address their most pressing adaptation needs.
This has caused a major gap between planning and implementation that has given rise to suspicion and scepticism between developing and developed countries.
In part, the problem has been one of time. It takes time to create detailed adaptation plans — particularly for countries that face complex climate adaptation needs and sometimes lack critical institutional, technical and policy capacities to respond to climate change impacts.
The climate change costs clock is ticking and in our vulnerable countries and communities, adaptation action is needed now.
Developing countries are emphasising on the need for more ownership in adaptation finance, calling for “direct access” funds, where money flows directly to countries rather than through multilateral agencies.
This kind of approach would not only reflect lessons learnt in aid effectiveness, but would also go a long way in reducing the gap between planning and implementation and in rebuilding confidence in climate finance.
So as negotiators in Durban sit down to chart a course for country adaptation plans, it is vital that they build on the experiences gained through the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (Napa) process and learn from past successes and failures. In practice, this means agreeing to two things.
First, if the developed countries are genuinely committed to helping developing countries adapt to adverse climate change impacts, they must pledge an adequate and transparent amount of funding upfront for both carrying out the Naps as well as implementing priority adaptation responses.
Already the least developed countries have long lists of actionable priorities that can be developed into investment plans. And other countries can have the same relatively easily.
It is vital that developing long-term adaptation plans in Naps does not delay implementing initiatives that address the urgent needs identified in Napa.
Second, if developing countries are to truly address the most pressing needs of their most vulnerable communities, they must be given ownership of adaptation finance and allowed to prioritise actions and projects for themselves.
One option for achieving these twin goals is for those countries that have promised “fast-start” finance for adaptation to pledge enough money to give each poor country at least $20 million to simultaneously begin developing their Nap, while also implementing their highest priority adaptation projects as defined by them and identified in their Napa.
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