Mobilising the agriculture and water sectors to address climate change

GWP Technical Committee Chair Dr. Jerome Delli Priscoli attended and spoke at the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) annual conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, on November 9, 2019. Here are his reflections.


The focus was on agriculture and adaptation policies necessary for meeting climate change. The overall purpose was to facilitate dialogue among the technical, Ministerial, and donor communities, and to identify relevant issues and to share experiences.

One of the sessions in the scientific advisory meeting was focused on water. Thankfully, it was clear that the panelists understood the importance of water management – perhaps not surprising since, globally, 70% of water withdrawals are taken by the agriculture sector.

Speakers elaborated on how soils need carbon and the role it plays in carbon sequestration. Other speakers called attention to soil degradation and its role in civic unrest. Other topics included:

·         the need for new maps of food insecurity and the need for world-level systems analysis

·         how Africa is facing the scourge of variability, esp. droughts and floods

·         a focus on eating habits and obesity and on how food is wasted along the value chain

Discussions on the use of precision technologies based on the digital revolution were most interesting. The presenters showed how such technologies and spatial temporal data is applicable even for the small farmer. The “Dry Arc” initiative of CGIAR was described and how it is attempting to inform decision makers. The countries in the Dry Arc will likely suffer the most from climate change.

Groundwater, water harvesting, and watershed management and their link to soil management was discussed, as well as the link to migration – a subject addressed by GWP and FAO.

Mark Smith of IWMI reviewed the new GCA paper “Climate Change and Water” and its five components: information and learning; action frameworks to build resilience; system diversity; infrastructure; and technology. FAO spoke of parallels of land tenure and water tenure and access to rights.

There was an excellent discussion on insurance. It seems French reinsurance companies have been partnering with local African insures of crop insurance in several countries. To meet tariff levels, countries must subsidize the gap between what people can pay and the required tariff. I asked: if governments are subsidizing, could that public money be better used on investing in prevention measures? This prompted the following response from the insurers: insurance will not solve the climate change problem. I highlighted the GWP Technical Committee Perspectives Paper “Climate insurance and water-related disaster risk management” which attracted interest: much of the discussion revolved around residual risk as the place where reinsurance fits.

The results of the scientific advisory groups and the donor’s groups were brought to the Ministers of Agriculture and to leaders of selected multinational and IFIs. I was most struck with several ministers who politely but explicitly said that there is too much focus on mitigation and what Africa and their countries really need is more focus on adaption: ‘the world must deal with the imbalance of mitigation and adaptation.’ From my own work on water and civilization, I would say they are on the right side of history. Thus, the great interest in infrastructure investment which of course is not a new theme in Africa. This observation was also backed by the World Bank. Some estimated a cost of around $200 billion will be necessary in next decade. The African Development Bank mentioned that 60% of employment in Africa is in agriculture even if urbanization is rapidly increasing.

The agriculture community is similar to those of us who work in water: they say agriculture is central to all the other SDGs, just like we say it about water! Same with wanting our respective sectors high on the political agenda; same with the need for training in the use of digital/smart technologies; same with the need for more research and knowledge sharing, esp. south-south; and that SDG 17 on partnership is essential. And finally, that Ministers of Finance should be at these meetings.

All that sounds like a call for an integrated (holistic) approach to solving the world’s development challenges!

About globalwaterpartnership

The Global Water Partnership's vision is for a water secure world. Our mission is to advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.
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