• Climate change has left farmers reeling from cycles of drought and flooding
• Land Coalition activist makes the case for centring land in search for solutions
Climate change is one of the most decorated topics of debate in many governments and NGOs across the globe.
Experts and global bodies are holed up in rooms and conferences, dissecting this issue that has gobbled up billions of dollars in research, events and mitigation measures in efforts to tackle it.
But land is not getting the attention it deserves despite being at the heart of the matter, says Audace Kubwimana, regional coordinator of International Land Coalition-Africa.
“It is the place we stand. And also the place we act,” he says.
“The things we share the planet with, such as the soils that support the plants we use, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the species we coexist with are supported by land in one way or another.”
ILC-Africa brings on board more than 300 other members globally and 95 from Africa involved in land rights and ownership.
Kubwimana believes it is time the climate change conversation focuses on key priority areas of action on land.
He says land ecosystems are essential to maintaining the planet's basic life support systems since it sustains every aspect of living things, providing fundamental life-support systems and the foundation of economies and society.
“We make decisions here that have an impact not only on the land but also on the water, oceans, air and atmosphere, as well as the species they support.”
The significance of land is acknowledged beyond organisations such as ILC.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report (2019), called Climate Change and Land, cites land as a key aspect of human livelihoods.
The report covers climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.
“Land provides the principal basis for human livelihoods and well-being, including the supply of food, freshwater and multiple other ecosystem services, as well as biodiversity,” the report states.
And even as the world witnesses an unprecedented digital revolution, Kubwimana says many economies across the world, especially developing nations in Africa such as Kenya, remain grounded in land-based production.
Many small-scale farmers rely on their small farms to make a living.
“These small-scale farmers are the least contributors of climate change but the hardest hit by it,” he said.
Many small-scale farmers in a country such as Kenya rely on their small lands to plant staple food, such as maize, for their survival.
Others who are pastoralists use their small lands to domesticate their animals or grow feeds.
In recent times, farmers have faced the wrath of Mother Nature due to prolonged droughts and flooding whenever it rains, events attributed to climate change.
Land has not been given the requisite priority in the fight against climate change. It ought to be at the heart of every conversation because climate change happens on land and if not, it affects landAudace Kubwimana
These modern-day realities are captured in the IPCC report, which indicates climate change is already affecting food security in drylands, particularly those in Africa.
This is due to warming, changing precipitation patterns and greater frequency of extreme events, such as drought and flooding.
Studies that separate climate change from other factors affecting crop yields have shown that yields of some crops, such as maize and wheat in many lower-latitude regions, have been affected negatively by observed climate changes.
In many higher-latitude regions, yields of crops, such as maize, wheat and sugar beets, have been affected positively over recent decades.
“Climate change has resulted in lower animal growth rates and productivity in pastoral systems in Africa,” the report says.
“There is robust evidence that agricultural pests and diseases have already responded to climate change, resulting in both increases and decreases of infestations.”
Apart from the aforesaid repercussions, the IPCC report says climate change can exacerbate land degradation processes.
This can be through rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, dry spells, wind, sea-level rise and wave action with outcomes being modulated by land management.
“Land has not been given the requisite priority in the fight against climate change,” Kubwimana said.
“It ought to be at the heart of every conversation because climate change happens on land and if not, it affects land. Therefore, championing sustainable land practices is one of the best ways to go in the climate fight.”
For the climate fight to be effective in developing countries such as Kenya, Kubwimana says, focus should be on equal land rights, secure land tenure, strong small-scale farming systems and land governance.
Land tenure is the relationship, whether legally or customarily defined, among people, as individuals or groups, concerning land. It determines who can use land, for how long and under what conditions.
“It is impossible for a person and communities to take care of land they have no ownership of,” Kubwimana said.
“You can’t plant trees in a land that is not yours or even use it well, even if it is easily accessible. We must ensure ownership of the available land is clearly defined to enhance responsibility and even a sense of accountability.”
To create a strong small-scale farming system that will help in the climate change system, Kubwimana says stakeholders must regulate the chemicals and fertilisers used in production.
He calls for the regulation of extraction activities as well as the promotion of sustainable practices to limit activities that exacerbate climate change.
For government and other state agencies, the ILC Africa coordinator says the huge gap between policy development and implementation should be addressed.
“Many African countries excel at policy development but they fail in the implementation phase. Kenya enacted a Community Land Act of 2016. The implementation process has been progressing, albeit at a slow pace.” he said.
While acknowledging there have been efforts to fight climate change, he says land matters in connection to climate change need to be a matter of priority.
“Governments have a huge role to play in this. Key among them is prioritising the issue of land in the fight against climate change. This is in terms of budgetary allocation and policy development as well as implementation,” he said.
Besides, Kubwimana calls for the protection of land rights defenders who he says are key in ensuring certain activities that are contributors to climate change don’t see the light of day.
“Land defenders are the people who have felt the heat of climate change. As we speak, an average of three to four are killed worldwide because of their stand on unsustainable land practices that contribute to climate change,” he said, citing a report from the Global Witness.
“If we leverage land defenders' input and protect their rights, the fight against climate change will be given a big boost.”