Notes to broadcasters
Adapting to climate change is a major challenge for African nations, including Niger. Like other countries, Niger is developing and implementing plans for adapting to the changing climate. But in order to develop effective adaptation policies, the country needs better information on how its climate will change and the risks that presents. Currently, there is little guidance on what practices farmers can use to best adapt to the climate changes they will experience.
To help address these gaps in knowledge, a German organization called the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research conducted a thorough scientific assessment of how the Nigerian climate is likely to change over the next several decades. Their assessment generated information on how the climate might change and the impacts of those changes on farmers.
As well as studying how the Nigerien climate is expected to change, the study also studied what farming practices can offer Nigerien farmers the best potential to adapt to future changes in the climate.
This script is a fictionalized conversation between two radio hosts. Host 2 introduces the scientific study from the Potsdam Institute. Host 1 asks questions about what the study discovered, and Host 2 responds. The two hosts discuss what the scientific study predicts about how the Nigerien climate will change. They also describe the four kinds of farming practices with the best potential to help Nigerian farmers adapt to the changing climate.
You could use this script as a foundation for creating your own program on climate change and how farmers in your area can best adapt to it. Here are some ways to share this information so that your listeners can understand and act on the information they hear:
- You could invite a climate and / or agricultural scientist to discuss the study’s predictions about climate change and what impacts they will have on Nigerian farmers.
- You could invite an agricultural expert to explain one or more of the practices recommended by the scientific study, explain why it has so much potential, and then answer questions on how farmers can best implement the practices, including addressing any challenges to doing so.
Estimated running time for the script: 25 minutes, with intro and outro music.
The scientists from the Potsdam Institute predict that, because of these changes, some areas of the country will become more suitable for growing sorghum, and that sorghum yields will increase until 2050 and beyond.
Only a small part of Niger is currently suitable for growing maize. This is predicted to stay the same, though in southern areas like Zinder and Maradi, maize production is predicted to increase until 2050, then decrease.
Production of millet is predicted to expand northwards, making Tahoua region more suitable for growing millet.
Finally, about 10% of the country is well-suited to growing cowpea. This is not expected to change, but there will be regional variation. For example, suitability will decrease in the Zinder region and increase in the Tahoua and Tillabery regions.
You mentioned that the scientific study looked at what kinds of practices Nigerien farmers can use to adapt to these changes in the climate. What practices did the scientists identify as being the most useful for adapting to climate change?
These are:agroforestry, and especially farmer managed natural regeneration of trees, integrated soil fertility management or ISFM, irrigation for counter-season agriculture, and improved fodder and feed management for livestock. I should add one other point: When farmers use combinations of these strategies, they will likely be more successful.
With FMNR, trees can be protected in land where farmers raise annual crops, and also where they graze and feed livestock. Trees provide many products that can benefit farmers and that they can use or sell at local markets, including fruits, nuts, timber, and firewood. Trees also reduce heat stress for crops and livestock that are sensitive to high temperatures. They also act as wind breaks, and help reduce soil erosion from winds and floods.
If farmers adopt agroforestry in Niger, the predicted result is that yields of sorghum, millet, and cowpeas will rise, especially in areas where less fertilizer is applied.
Another challenge is that there is a gap of several years between the time that farmers start to implement agroforestry and the time they receive a financial return from them. Some farmers may find it difficult to wait that long.
But practicing FMNR is not costly because it requires almost no external inputs. Agroforestry is cheap and easy to establish, has multiple benefits, and it’s been progressing for decades in Niger, so there’s great interest and great potential for expanding it across the country.
It’s really important to conserve water and soil in Niger for several reasons. In Niger, farmingincreasingly relies on cultivating marginal or even degraded land because of rapid population growth and the limited availability of fertile land. Water and wind erosion, nutrient depletion, salinization, and soil crusting all currently degrade soils. And the lack of soil moisture limits crop production in many places.
To summarize the benefits of ISFM practices, we could say that it is designed to achieve four aims: 1) to maximize the capture of rainwater and decrease surface runoff, 2) to reduce water and wind erosion, 3) to manage limited organic resources, and 4) to strategically apply mineral fertilizers.
Both of these traditional planting pits accumulate and retain water, increasing soil moisture so that farmers can plant crops in the pits. Farmers often add millet straw, cattle manure, or compost manure to the pits. By doing so, they help rehabilitate degraded soil not only by increasing soil moisture but also by improving soil nutrients. This improves the yields of crops grown in tassa and half-moons. In Niger, millet is the most common crop grown in tassa and half-moon pits, though some farmers grow a mixture of millet and sorghum.
Stone bunds work best when vegetation is grown between them, such as grass, live hedges, or trees, and when organic manure or mulch is also applied in this area. Using stone bunds and this kind of vegetation can reduce soil temperatures and protect soil from wind erosion. Growing grass between stone lines further increases infiltration and helps fertile soil to accumulate behind the bunds.
Stone bunds can last for more than 20 years. Over time, sediment builds up behind the lines, creating terraces.
ISFM helps farmers become more resilient against drought and related food shortages. This is really important in Niger, where the rapidly increasing population is putting pressure on the limited land available for farming.
Low-cost irrigation systems that don’t require much maintenance can be adopted wherever
water resources are available.
Also, it may take 20-25 years for farmers to recoup the investments they make in off-season irrigated farming.
Another approach is to cultivate alfalfa. Alfalfa can provide fodder during the dry season when irrigated, so it’s a better alternative for pastoralists than constantly searching for enough forage at this time of year. Producers can also sell surplus alfalfa to generate income, or even use alfalfa in stall feeding, then sell stall-fed animals.
But alfalfa has many other types of benefits. Especially when grown on a large scale, it increases vegetative cover, which helps protect and rehabilitate degraded soil.
Another benefit is that women and youth are generally more involved in supporting their families and earning through fodder production and management than men. So cultivating alfalfa, for example by creating alfalfa fodder banks, can provide employment for women and youth.
Compared to other forage crops, alfalfa is an inexpensive source of protein and a good source of several other important nutrients. It is easily digested by cattle, is high-yielding, and is relatively drought-tolerant because of its deep roots. Alfalfa also fixes nitrogen, making it important in crop rotation.
One other challenge is that it is not easy or cheap in Nigerto package and transport fodder crops. However, a recent project developed an innovative manual hay press that reduces the cost of packaging and transportation. Further work on creating low-cost and low-maintenance equipment for producing and storing fodder would improve this situation.
Expanding alfalfa production could also lead to an increased number of animals, which would boost the greenhouse gas emissions that worsen climate change.
Finally, women and youth lack access to and control over resources related to fodder and feed production. Women typically get access to land only through marriage. When they don’t own the land they cultivate, they are generally excluded from decision-making. Increasing women’s rights and their participation in decision-making could improve how they benefit from the fodder value chain, and how it can help them adapt to climate change.
But despite these challenges, growing new fodder varieties and producing alfalfa fodder has great potential for increasing farmers’ ability to adapt to climate change. And, like ISFM practices, farmers don’t have to wait long for their investment to pay off. Farmers can start reaping financial benefits in the second year of growing fodder crops such as alfalfa.
But of course, it’s always best for farmers to talk to local and regional experts if they want to protect trees in their fields or use tassa pits—or grow off-season irrigated crops, or cultivate new fodder crops. The exact recommendations that work best for individual farmers will depend on where they live and their exact situation.
Nevertheless, no matter where you live, these are recommendations that farmers should consider seriously—and consider soon.
Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, Managing editor, Farm Radio International
Reviewed by: Carla Cronauer, Research Assistant at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Röhrig, F., Gloy, N., von Loeben, S., Arumugam, P., Aschenbrenner, P., Baek, H., Cartsburg, M., Chemura, A., Ibrahim Fodi, B., Habtemariam, L., Kaufmann, J., Koch, H., Liersch, S., Lüttringhaus, S., Murken, L., Ostberg, S., Schauberger, B., Shukla, R., Tomalka, J., Wesch, S., Wortmann, M. & Gornott, C., (2022). Climate Risk Analysis for Identifying and Weighing Adaptation Strategies in Niger’s Agricultural Sector. A report prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), 154 pp. https://agrica.de/downloads/?country=16&format=27