From: DOUG MELLGREN -Associated Press
Published September 3, 2007 09:02 AM

Talks on climate change impact in Africa

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Climate change could worsen Africa's struggle to feed itself, but simple steps - a cistern to catch rainwater, a solar panel, or hardier seeds for crops - could help the continent's subsistence farms, specialists and activists said Friday.


About 250 researchers, donors, and officials met in Oslo this week for the Second Green Africa Revolution Conference, which follows up a 2004 challenge from former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to revolutionize African farming.


Africa imports about 25 percent of its food, and one in three of its residents suffer chronic hunger, according to a report at the conference. That will worsen if climate changes cause rains to dry up in some areas and flood others.


David Stainforth, climate expert at Britain's Exeter University, said change is coming. Although most scientists are hesitant to make detailed regional predictions, he said, "We are certainly looking at a very dramatic situation."


"Accounting for climate change could make the difference between the long-term success or the long-term failure of a project like the Green Africa Revolution," he said.


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An April report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a network of 2,000 scientists, said that by 2020 an additional 75 million to 250 million people could suffer water shortages due to climate change.


Kanayo Nwanze, vice president of the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development, said most African governments are aware of the threat, but are often already overrun by other problems, such as epidemics of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.


"It is not that they ignore climate change, they just don't have the capacity," he said.


Nwanze said such steps as rice crops genetically engineered to ripen faster, would help conserve water for other crops.


Howard Shapiro, director of plant science and external research for Mars Inc., said farmers could be provided with seeds that are hardier and more resistant to drought.


In many areas, 60 percent of the rainfall runs off before African farmers can use it so "a simple cistern (to collect rainwater) could provide potable water," he said. "Even the smallest amount of irrigation at the right time can save a crop."


John Boehmer, of Kyoto Energy Ltd., said African women do 60-70 percent of the farming, and then also haul water along with wood or other fuel to provide heat.


His company is developing a program in which Western industry could finance simple technology - solar panels or solar water heaters - for African families, paid for by offsetting the company's own carbon emission quotas.


"This is not aid, this is business," he said. Boehmer said some families' costs would immediately be cut in half, and time would be freed up to farm instead of gather fuel.


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