D is for drought

D is for drought

Date: 22 September 2014

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: drought

Small-scale farmers often live on some of the most marginal and vulnerable land in the world. They therefore tend to suffer the most from extreme weather events and the negative impacts of climate change. Despite their vulnerability, they are also extremely innovative. For example, small-scale farmers in Tanzania have started to predict droughts through temperature changes and adjusted by planting faster-growing and drought-resistant crop varieties. Many farmers have also started to see the benefits of planting trees as a form of mitigation against the impacts of drought. Planting ‘fertilizer trees’ (see Agroforestry), helps the soil to retain moisture during droughts. It also provides additional income through firewood and is a less risky investment than chemical fertilisers in the event of crop failure.

Small-scale farms tend to be more biodiverse than large-scale industrial farms. Biodiversity is another form of insurance against droughts. In Ethiopia, which was severely affected by the drought in 2011, farms with mixed varieties of maize yielded up to 60% more than farmers who plant only one type of maize during dry years, and up to 30% during normal rainfall years. There is also some evidence that plants grown in composted soil resist wilting longer than plants planted in soil treated with chemical fertilizer.

The image below shows how a local plant variety in Kenya, pigeon pea (on the left), survives a drought while maize (on the right) doesn’t.

Photo credit: ICRISAT

About the A-Z of food sovereignty project

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.