MADRID, Spain (PAMACC News) - A new study that was recently published in the Nature scientific journal shows that groundwater is one of the most climate resilient natural resources especially for the African continent. This is contrary to the earlier understanding by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report , that groundwater was susceptible to climate change in dryland areas.

Though it was not a big subject for major discussions at the 2019 UN Conference of Parties (COP25) on climate change in Madrid, experts believe that groundwater will be at the centre of climate adaptation particularly for African countries.

 Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology from University College London (UCL) and one of the lead researchers of the Nature study explained to IPS why groundwater should be a focal point for climate discussions.

Q. How important is groundwater to climate change adaptation especially in Africa?

A. Groundwater plays a fundamental role in enabling communities in Africa to adapt to climate change. As our world warms, rainfall becomes less frequent but more intensive resulting in longer droughts and worsening floods - changes that occur most strongly in the tropics.

Adapting to this greater variability in water resources relies on the ability to draw water from stores such as groundwater or to store water in dams for example.

Groundwater, which comprises 99 percent of the Earth’s liquid water, amounts to more than 100 times that of annual river discharge in Africa.

For cities in Africa that have recently experienced severe droughts such as Cape Town and Dar es Salaam, groundwater has played a critical role in enabling residents in those cities to adapt to water scarcity.

Less frequent rainfalls also reduce crop yields. Increasing cropland irrigation is a critical strategy to improve food security in Africa under climate change. As smallholder farmers account for the vast majority of food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, distributed groundwater supplies are often the most cost-effective and sustainable sources of water for irrigation.

Q. How resilient or vulnerable is groundwater to climate change?

A. Groundwater resources are generally resilient to climate change. Recent evidence from a pan-African study shows that replenishment of groundwater occurs preferentially from heavy rainfalls so that changes in rainfall brought about by climate change favour groundwater replenishment. Alas, these same changes in rainfall reduce soil moisture and lead to greater and more frequent flood events.

Q. Why do you think this subject has not been able to attract the attention of climate change negotiators for the past 25 years of negotiation?

A. That is a good question. Groundwater is often called the hidden or invisible resource as it lies unseen beneath our feet. Limited understanding of groundwater by both policy makers and engineers means that it is often considered mysterious or unknowable.

The impact of climate change on groundwater resources has been largely ignored by the climate change community until last year when it was captured in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

This is surprising in light of the critical role groundwater plays in sustaining rivers, lakes and other aquatic ecosystems during low or absent rainfall.

Q. What do you think should be done to bring the groundwater subject to the helm of climate negotiations?

A. There is need for raising awareness of the critical role of groundwater to improving the resilience of water and food systems in Africa in relation to climate change.

It is in that regard that scientists from different parts of the world are issuing a Call to Action this week, through a statement published in the Nature journal, which argue that we are not doing enough to protect and manage global groundwater resources, which will have long-term effects on the planet’s drinking water, food production, and adaptation to a rapidly changing climate.

This statement focuses on the global role of groundwater in relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Framework for Action on Groundwater Governance, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

It builds on previous important declarations and statements, including the Valencia declaration on Intensive Groundwater Use (2002), the Kampala statement on Groundwater and Climate in Africa (2008), ISMAR9 call to Action on Sustainable Groundwater Management Policy Directives (2016).

This call has so far been endorsed by over 700 scientists and practitioners in over 80 countries and is timed to coincide with the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Madrid (COP 25) and the beginning of the Decade of Action on the UN Agenda 2030.

 Q. What kind of policies should African governments put in place in order to ensure sustainable use of groundwater?

A. African governments could do two things. One, they could increase investment in understanding their groundwater resources through the training of staff and the monitoring and evaluation of their groundwater resources.

Two, they could integrate groundwater into its evaluation and governance of water resources more holistically that is currently dominated by concern for surface waters.

In light of the central importance of groundwater to adaptation to climate change, African governments could use support under the Green Climate Fund to finance the implications of these policy recommendations.


GULU, Uganda (PAMACC News) - In Amuru District in the northern part of Uganda, 47 Kilometres out of Gulu town, swathes of land under upland rice, pearl millet and the flowery sunn hemp in a place where maize has always been the traditional crop attracts the attention of any visitor in this area.

“This is our new cash cow,” says Dominic Kimara, the farm Manager of Omer Farming Company, which has been growing maize on 5,000 hectares of land but has now turned to 100 percent rice production.

“Until 2016, we were growing maize on this farm,” says the manager. “But we discovered that rainfall patterns were changing, and so we had to look for an alternative crop that would suit the ever changing climatic conditions.”

Experts from the National Agriculture Organisation (NARO) have reported that in the past three years, many farmers in Uganda have abandoned maize to concentrate on rice with most of them opting for upland rice instead of irrigated paddy rice.

The latest agriculture survey report by NARO, Uganda government’s owned research organisation indicates that more than 50 percent of rice grown in the country is now coming from the uplands, and consequently, the consumption especially in urban areas has increased considerably.

“When I was growing up, rice used to be a Christmas meal because it was a rare one,” notes Robert Kawuki as he enjoyed a rice meal for lunch at the NARO canteen in Namulonge area. “But today, farmers have embraced it, and so people can enjoy it any time, both in the upcountry and in urban areas,” he says.

Though upland rice is more sensitive to climate stress than irrigated paddy rice, farmers particularly in Northern Uganda say that latest varieties grown in the area have proven to be more profitable than the maize crop.

“Most of the varieties grown by these farmers are the ones we released in 2015, and were bred mainly for drought tolerance, fast maturing and pest and disease resistance, but most importantly, high yielding,” says Dr Jimmy Lamo, the Principal Research Officer working with NARO as the Head of Rice and Maize Research Programme.

“According to our latest survey, out of a total of 150,000 hectares under rice production in the country, 90,000 hectares is grown in the uplands without any form of irrigation,” says Dr Lamo, who earned his PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal for breeding some of the varieties under support from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

He notes that the switch, mainly from maize to upland rice is a way of responding to the new trends of rainfall patterns in some parts of the country.

In Amuru, Omer Company has adopted climate smart farming techniques, and local farmers are following suit.

“We grow pearl millet, but it is not for human food. It is for soil health,” he says.

When the millet starts flowering, the crop is rolled flat on the ground and left to decompose. The same is done for sunn hemp, which is a leguminous plant with rich soil nutrients. “When they decompose, these two crops fix a lot of nitrogen into the soil. So when we finally plant rice, there is absolutely no need of applying fertilizers,” said Kimara.

The company practices shifting cultivation, whereby when rice is growing on one part of the farm, there is either pearl millet or sunn hemp growing in the other half, waiting to be rolled down for the next season planting.

About 1,700 farmers in the neighbouring villages have also started growing rice instead of maize and some of them have adopted the no till system.

“Upland rice farming is much better for most of us because the company buys most of it from us at a good price, and as well, we use it to feed our children,” says Regina Kisembo from Luwila village in Amuru. “But now, we know,” she said.

Kisembo is one of the farmers who have been contracted by Omer Company as out growers.

“The company loans us seed to be paid upon harvest, and they keep training us on upland rice production. They also advise us on which varietiesto plant in a given season depending on the weather forecast,” she says.

According to Dr Lamo, NARO released six upland rice varieties known as NamChe (Namulonge Mchele), which have since become a game-changer. “We have some varieties that mature in just 90 days, and farmers prefer those during short rainy seasons, then they can plant other varieties that mature in four to five months during the long rainy season,” he says.

Many upland rice varieties, earlier introduced in the country, were late maturing and did not have preferred cooking qualities. Later, more newly introduced lines were evaluated and released. These varieties had been generated through inter-specific crossing involving Oryza glaberrima and Oryza sativa. The new genotypes were called the ‘New Rice for Africa’ (Nerica).

Nerica was actually a cross between locally adopted African ricewith high yielding Asian rice varieties and was introduced on the African continent in 1996.

Nerica varieties were resistant to major biological constraints but showed differential sensitivity to drought stress and new diseases, especially brown spot disease and narrow leaf spot disease. Besides, these varieties had nonaromatic characteristic, which is a major concerns for Ugandan farmers and rice consumers in the country.

To develop NamChe, a total of 191 different rice varieties from major rice breeding centers were evaluated. Of the 191 materials, 77 were O. sativa indica comprising 45 from African Rice Centre (ARC), 15 lines from International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), 13 from Mali, three from Uganda, and one from China.

The varieties were then crossed with Nerica, where the results were evaluated based on yields, tolerance to climatic stress, tolerance or resistance to emerging diseases, cooking qualities among other desirable traits.Out of the crosses, scientists ended up with only six varieties that had most of the desired traits and they were named NamChe 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

According to Kimara, the fast maturing NamChe varieties (90 days) yield up to two tons per acre, while the late maturing (120 days) can yield up to 3.5 tonnes per acre.

“We are happy with this crop. The only challenge is the poor road infrastructure, which makes it difficult for trucks to come over for the crop to be transported to Kampala and elsewhere,” says the farm manager.

MADRID Spain (PAMACC News) - The Chile/Madrid Climate Change Conference taking place at the IFEMA Feria de Madrid, Spain, continued its second week with climate change negotiations going into wee hours of the following dayand statements by heads of state and government, ministers and heads of delegations making their national statement and positions during the high level segment which continues to Thursday this week.

As the time approached 11:30 am, there was a long queue of members of the press at the Mocha Room. One would be forgiven for thinking that all the pushing and shoving was for one to be the first to get the best cup of Mocha coffee to warm themselves in these freezing temperatures. But Mocha Room is the official press briefing room at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) underway in Madrid, Spain.

What followed later was heavy security around the room and many still fought to catch a glimpse of who the distinguished person being escorted by such security personnel was. This was Greta Thunberg, the young girl who has become the global face of climate change activism.

When Greta took to the microphone, there was apparent disappointment in the room because on this day Greta and Luisa decided that they will not speak to the media. She said that she has had enough of speaking and media attention—of which she is grateful for.

“We have noticed that there is some media attention around us. We thought we could use that attention to render our platform to those whose voices also need to be heard.  Our stories have been told and listened to over time. It is not our stories that need to be told and listened to—it is the others’. It is the people, especially those from the global south. Climate change is not something that will impact us in the future, people are dying from it today. We want to use this platform to share the stories that need to be told and heard,” Greta said.

With that, she handed over the microphone to other fellow youth activists. One by one they told stories of their suffering at the hands of severe climate effects. They spoke of the hopelessness of their people and the possibility of their doomed future and diminishing dreams.

One youth that caught the attention of the roving cameras and flashing lights was Hilda Flavia Nakabuye from Uganda. Hilda reckons that the laissez faire approach toclimate crisis by world leaders is a sure sign that they do not care about the future generation.

A visibly upset Hilda narrated of how Africa has been ravaged by extreme weather events caused by climate change. She equated climate crisis in Africa to racism and apartheid that her ancestors endured.

“We are suffering severe effects of climate impacts as if coming from the global south is a mortal sin with no or very little action from developing countries. I have come to think that climate crisis is another form of environmental racism and apartheid,” she said adding that the actions, words and greed by those in power and developing countries are leaving “deep cuts and scars to our unborn children in the coming generation.”

She therefore, called on developed countries to exercise their moral duty and clean up their mess.

“How many more lives must we lose forthe world to take action?  Which type of storm or what flavour of floods must Africa taste for us to get climate justice?How many more classes must we skip for the world to know that we are suffering the most? Developed countries must be ashamed of themselves given the amount of carbon they emit compared to what Africa is emitting. We emit almost nothing but we are suffering the most,” she said.

Hilda had some strong words against the fossil fuel industries who she said are turning the dreams of many African children into nightmares.

“You have dreams, but we have dreams too. But these dreams have turned into nightmares, nightmares of our future which is being negotiated by world leaders without our say—same way it is being destroyed by fossil fuel industries funding and present at the COP even as I speak right now,” she said.

She called for concerted and concrete action to stop the climate crisis.
There is generally slow progress of talks at the COP25 as parties try to iron out some sticky issues before coming to an agreement.

(This story has been made possible by Internews-Earth Journalism Network)

MADRID, Spain (PAMACC News) On the eve of a critical year for environmental decision-making, Colombia, Germany and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today announced that Colombia will host World Environment Day 2020 in partnership with Germany and that it will focus on biodiversity.

World Environment Day takes place every year on 5 June. It is the United Nations’ flagship day for promoting worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Over the years, it has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people in more than 100 countries.

Making the announcement on the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain, Ricardo Lozano, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Jochen Flasbarth, Germany’s State Secretary for Environment, and Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, stressed that with one million plant and animal species facing extinction, there has never been a more important time to focus on the issue of biodiversity.

“2020 is a year for urgency, ambition and action to address the crisis facing nature; it is also an opportunity to more fully incorporate nature-based solutions into global climate action,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UNEP. “Each year, World Environment Day is a powerful platform to accelerate, amplify and engage people, communities and governments around the world to take action on critical environmental challenges facing the planet. We are grateful to Colombia and Germany for demonstrating leadership in this effort.”

2020 is a critical year for nations’ commitments to preserving and restoring biodiversity, with China hosting the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming. Next year also provides an opportunity to ramp up to the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), intended to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems to fight the climate crisis and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

“In Colombia we will face an important challenge in 2020, and it is to host the 3rd and last OEWG [open-ended working group] meeting of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework before the COP in China. In Colombia, we are willing to work together to reach an agreement that allows us to move forward positively towards ambitious results in the COP that will meet us in China; we welcome Germany’s gesture of support in this global effort and look forward to a successful collaboration," said Ricardo Lozano, Colombia’s Environment Minister.

Listed as one of the world’s “megadiverse” countries and sustaining close to 10 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity, Colombia ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fish and amphibians. The country has several areas of high biological diversity in Andean ecosystems, with a significant variety of endemic species. It also has part of the Amazon rainforest and the humid ecosystems of the Chocó biogeographical area.

“There is no better time to come together for the planet than now,” said Jochen Flasbarth, Germany’s State Secretary for the Environment. “Climate action and biodiversity conservation are two sides of the same coin. We need to develop policies that stop the extinction of plant and animal species. Germany is pleased to support Colombia and other member states in making 2020 a year that kicks off action for biodiversity.”

According to a landmark report this year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are projected to undermine progress towards 80 per cent of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals related to poverty, hunger, health, sustainable consumption and production, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.

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