Creating the answer to hunger with food security

Creating the answer to hunger with food security Climate Smart Agriculture techniques taught by Concern have allowed people in Niger like Halou Alti to be able to produce crops for more than four years.
Drastic droughts are causing hugely challenging conditions for farmers and communities in Africa, which charity Concern are tackling, writes Chai Brady

Many Europeans have seen the devastating impacts of climate change on their own continent, with summer conflagrations regularly on the news.

This may bring home the fact that climate change is driving – to the extreme – crop insecurity in hard-hit regions of Africa more than ever before.

Some of the worst impacts have been witnessed in the Sahel region, which is the group of countries just below the Sahara Desert, including Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso – where Concern works. They have also seen disastrous impacts in the Horn of Africa.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic, Reka Sztopa of Concern, the regional director for West Africa and Sahel, said that regions under her purview have been “badly impacted” by climate change.

She said: “In these areas most people are living in rural areas and they’re almost 100% dependent, for both for income and food, on what they grow. They’re very limited in terms of agriculture, irrigation and water supply, and so they rely very, very heavily on rain-fed agriculture.


“We’re seeing the impacts of climate change in terms of shortened or very unpredictable rainy seasons where farmers don’t know when they should plant seeds or sometimes there are long periods of drought. For example, the Horn of Africa had five consecutive years of drought where basically there were no rains and then on the other side sometimes the rains would come too soon or too heavily and there is flooding, crops are lost, houses are lost, it also leads to soil erosion so it’s really this unpredictable rainfall and the lack of ability to water and irrigate crops in a different way,” Ms Sztopa said.

❛❛This could include introducing seeds that either mature faster, so they can deal with a shorter or unpredictable rainy period, or seeds that have been adapted to be drought or flood resistant”

Despite the gargantuan task in assisting those struggling with unpredictable climate patterns, Concern is trying to fortify communities with long-term methods to endure and prosper despite sustained periods of hardship.


One the methods is called ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’. Ms Sztopa said it has been very successful.

Explaining the concept, she said that Climate Smart Agriculture is just a number of actions in which the charity engage communities in order to help them deal with the unpredictable climate. This could include introducing seeds that either mature faster, so they can deal with a shorter or unpredictable rainy period, or seeds that have been adapted to be drought or flood resistant.

Ms Sztopa said: “We also encourage people to decrease the tillage, so that we’re preserving the soil structure and retaining moisture and as many nutrients as possible in the soil because in many areas people traditionally would use a burning method where they would burn the land and that would release ash into the soil. This obviously leads to loss of forest and vegetation cover and in the long term really degrades the soil so we work with communities to encourage better soil management.”

The charity would also promote and provide trees that are good fruit crops but also help to enrich the soil in agricultural areas, while at the same time providing shade as well as defending against the wind. Overall they help retain moisture in the soil.

“Another thing that we do is work with communities and farmers on how to conserve their food stock: how to store seeds or how to process their harvests to avoid it deteriorating which can happen when there is long periods of rain, for example, and moisture gets in to the seeds,” Ms Sztopa said.

“So it’s really a whole series of actions that we take, working together with communities and farmers on things that are adapted specifically to the crops that they grow and the environment that they’re growing them in to make sure that they have the maximum possible yield of their harvest.”

Giving Niger, where the charity has worked for 20 years, as a case study, she said: “A lot of farming communities have been able to double and sometimes triple the yield of certain staple crops in the country within the communities they work.


“The charity has introduced vegetable gardening, which is adapted to very dry areas, so instead of big plots of vegetables they encourage ‘sack gardening’ where vegetables are grown around the household and can be watered with ‘grey water’ from the kitchen and this can help increase nutritional diversity and have fruits and vegetables in the off-season and in-between.”

To make these programmes possible, Concern has highlighted the importance of the continued reception of legacy gifts which are “invaluable contributions”. Regardless of their monetary value, each legacy donation plays a vital role in enabling the charity to continue its work, especially in developing Climate Smart Agriculture, in the most impoverished regions until the day their services are no longer required.

For Ms Sztopa, she said: “In terms of legacy giving, I think that the support to Concern to run our programmes in areas like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa is very dependent on the Irish public to help us with that work, and to expand and to be able to reach people in other areas who maybe don’t have that support at that moment.”

She added that if the charity made no intervention in the areas in which it works, “we would be seeing a much larger number of people in crisis or in food insecurity… that means people are going more than a day without eating anything”.

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