Agriculture Can Address Climate Change

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Addressing scores of journalists from across the African continent at his office in Rabat, Morocco Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, M. Aziz Akhannouch, called on African countries to invest more in agriculture as the sector has immense potential to address the huge impact of climate change that the continent is currently experiencing.

Also, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that agriculture is responsible for over a quarter of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Given that agriculture’s share in global gross domestic product (GDP) is about 4 percent, these figures suggest that agriculture is highly greenhouse gas intensive. But Akhannouch said Innovative agricultural practices and technologies can play a role in climate mitigation and adaptation.

The Minister said adaptation and mitigation potential is nowhere more pronounced than in African countries where agricultural productivity remains low; poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity remain high; and the direct effects of climate change are expected to be especially harsh.

Therefore, he said, creating the necessary agricultural technologies and harnessing them to enable African countries adapt their agricultural systems to changing climate will require innovations in policy and institutions. In this context, institutions and policies are important at multiple levels. He noted that his country has been working in this direction for years now.

He said, “The best policy and institutional responses will enhance information sharing, incentives and flexibility. Policies and institutions that promote economic development and reduce poverty will often improve agricultural adaptation and may also pave the way for more effective climate change mitigation through agriculture on the continent.”

He noted that existing technology options must be made more available and accessible without overlooking complementary capacity and investments.

He also added that adaptation and mitigation in agriculture will require local responses, but effective policy responses must also reflect global impacts and inter-linkages.

Giving the Moroccan experience, the minister said though the geographical location of Morocco may present it not too suitable for agricultural activities, the country is taking advantage of every little opportunity that presents itself; and as a result, agriculture is currently experiencing a boom.

This is, however, a very completely different story in other African countries—some of which have the very requisite soils, ideal climate, more rain fall and what’s conducive for agricultural purposes.

The lack of interests in the sector, which is evident by the low investment in the sector for decades by governments across the continent despite a general consensus (the Maputo Declaration) that ten percent of every country’s budget be directed to agriculture, continues to keep the continent in perpetual poverty and underdevelopment, especially in sub-Sahara Africa.

But an optimistic Akhannouch told the journalists that the continent still has the potential to turn this weird situation around and ensure a better future for the 1.2 billion Africans. He spoke to these reporters recently at his ministry in Rabat, Morocco. The Minister said government across the continent needs to see agriculture as the only way out.

“We need to invest in agriculture because it has a lot of potentials to improve the living conditions of our people,” he said, adding that it is hard time that the continent changes its mode of investment and concentrate where it has comparative advantages—with agriculture being the most important.

Minister M. Aziz Akhannouch termed agriculture as the engine of growth, adding that the Moroccan government, for the past few years, has given more attention to the sector because of the numerous potentials it has; employment, GDP growth, food security and many more—all of which could lead to a viable economy. It could also serve as a key source of fighting climate change.

He said most of Africa has and continue to experience poverty, underdevelopment and illiteracy because countries have not prioritized agriculture over the years. “We have to give agriculture more attention.”

Minister Akhannouch told the scores of journalists Africa has the potentials and the natural resources to be the agricultural hub of the world. “Unfortunately we are not taking advantage of this,” he said. He urged other African countries to learn from his country’s experience and the level of progress that has been made thus far.

Like most countries of the Mediterranean basin, Morocco’s agriculture primarily produces grains and beans. In arid areas, grains are grown on fallow lands, a small percentage of which is used to sow spring crops. In addition, olive trees cover approximately 980,000 hectares [2.4 million acres] of land, or 65% of the country’s tree groves.

Morocco, few years ago, initiated a long-term agriculture development program known as The Green Morocco Plan (GMP). On average, agriculture contributes 19% of the GNP, with 15% from agriculture and 4% from agro-industry. Agriculture, including fisheries, is considered to be the main labor employer (38% of the total national labor force and 75% of the rural workforce). The agricultural sector also contributes to reducing the mass exodus from rural areas, while bolstering social and political stability.

The GMP, the Minister said, is built on the principal of aggregation as a tool for the development of the agricultural sector; its implementation requires the creation of win-win partnerships between the upstream of production and the downstream of the commercial and/or industrial phase.

This sector, according to the Minister, employs more than 4 million rural inhabitants, and has created approximately 100,000 jobs in the agro-industry sector.

He noted that the sector plays a substantial role in the macroeconomic balance of the country. It also plays an important social role as 80% of the 14 million rural inhabitants depend on revenues from the agricultural sector.

“It is important to remember that the sector is directly responsible for the food security of 30 million consumers. This reaffirms the critical role that agriculture plays in the economic and social stability of our country,” he said.

He, however, admitted that the country faces a lot of challenges in the sector. Inspite of these relative successes, the Minister noted that the national agricultural strategy still deals with several limitations. The most adverse of these challenges being insufficient investments in the sector by the private sector, insufficient organization, limited water resources, excessive parceling of property and dominance of cereal crops.

Though these challenges are huge, the government has been working tirelessly to tackle them. In the face of these challenges the Minister, who is former Administrator of Bank Al Maghrib and former Chairman of the Moroccan Petroleum Grouping (GPM), said Moroccan agriculture has several advantages.

The most important these being the geographical situation of Morocco and its proximity to the European market, with logistical means clearly improving and qualified and competitive agricultural workforce compared to the competition.

The presence, at a national level, of several models of successful agricultural businesses and agro-industries, is also of advantage.

Through the analysis of the current situation, the GMP has adopted, as a model of success, investment and organization to build its strategy, the Minister said, adding that on the basis of directives established on a national level and based on the regional diagnosis, a number of important projects and action plans have been retained for the implementation of this national plan for each region, as established in the 16 Region Agricultural Plans.

“A Regional Agricultural Plan consists of a roadmap for the agricultural development of a region, supported by the accompanying role of the central administration and the public powers, in terms of sectarian and institutional reforms,” he said.

He said for the country to maintain its current trajectory of growth for the next 10 to 15 years there should be a national consensus for the reinforcement of the role of agriculture in the Gross National Product (GNP), from 70 to 100 million DH, which is about US$10.1 million.

Agriculture presently represents 74 million DH or US$7.4 million of the GNP. There should also be a target for the creation of 600,000 new jobs; increase the amount of exports from 8 to 44 million DH in the sectors where Morocco is competitive (citrus fruits, olives, fruits and vegetables); and the launch of a new wave of investments estimated at 10 billion DH annually, with the startup of 1,506 projects.

However, the minister said his country, through its tree planting program, plant hundreds of thousands of trees annual to help mitigate the impacts of greenhouse. Unfortunately, this is a total opposite in Liberia as thousands of trees are cut down through timber logging, charcoal processing and for other purposes.

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