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Seccap: Searching for solutions to climate change

15 June 2011, The Nation

Bunda College of Agriculture has collaborated with international universities and organisations to initiate a project called Seccap that will help Malawian scientists to make evidence-based decisions on climate change locally.

Seccap is an acronym for Strengthening Evidence-Based Climate Change Adaptation Policies, and is a project which is being championed by Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (Fanrpan).

Fanrpan, currently working in 14 countries, is an autonomous regional stakeholder-driven policy research, analysis and implementation network born out of a call by ministers of Agriculture and Environment from Eastern and Southern Africa for the need to have comprehensive policies and strategies to resuscitate agriculture.

Fanrpan has several projects in various countries. Seccap, which will run in Malawi, is one of the projects.

Chief executive officer, Lindiwe Sibanda says, "The overall objective of the project is to enhance the capacity of policy analysts and scientists in the fields of agriculture, climate change and socio-economics to collectively build a strong base of evidence on cropping systems to inform adaptation policies and investment decisions"

According to Sibanda, Seccap has several objectives objectives.

First and foremost, the project will help in generating solid scientific understanding of downscaled climate scenarios for three focal districts in Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho.

The downscaled climate scenarios will be integrated with crop growth and adaptation models, and with district-wide household vulnerability information.

From there, the researchers will determine the socio-economic feasibility of recommended cropping options.

The knowledge generated will also form part of appropriate policy recommendation, in particular, the implementation of Malawi National Adaptation Programme of Action priorities in agriculture;

"and the local implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (Caadp)," said Sibanda.

Seccap will also endeavour to transfer knowledge generated across a wide range of beneficiaries, from decision-makers to local communities.

Currently, Seccap has not rolled out yet but planning meetings and financiers have already been identified.

The project is also aimed at predicting how climate variations for Malawi will be in 2030 and 2050. The information shall help policy makers, scientists, and ordinary people in agriculture to properly prepare for the future.

Dean of Environmental Science at Bunda College Dr. George Matiya says the project will analyse temperature and rainfall patterns.

"We will look at the past 40 years on temperature and rainfall and try to project that if this was the trend, what will it be in the next 20 or 30 years. People know there will be climate change but they do not know how it will be like," said Matiya.

Such information will help policy makers prepare for the type of crops that will withstand such changed climate.

It will also be useful to seed producing companies such as Monsanto to make seed varieties that will respond properly to the projected changing temperature and rainfall regimes.

Another significant aspect of the project is that it will help in forecasting climate change locally, instead of relying on the outside world.

Currently for instance, scientists use General Circulation Models (GCMs) as the most advanced tools available for simulating the response of global climate systems to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.

Seccap seeks to explain some uncertainties associated with GCMs by using at least eight models to generate "state-of-the-art" downscaled climate data at district level.

This needs concerted effort and Bunda College will work with University of Cape Town in South Africa (UCT) Climate Systems Analysis Group.

UCT will be useful because of its Decision Support System for Agro-technology Transfer (DSSAT) crop model that will be used to simulate growth of selected staples: maize, rice, cassava, sorghum, millet, groundnuts, sugar, beans and wheat by 2030 and 2050.

In addition to the crops, temperature and precipitation, information on soil data and planting month, additional climate data such as evapotranspiration for each month, will also be used.

The results from running the DSSAT crop model will be used as input to analyse the feasibility of the different adaptation investment options.

Crucial in the project too is an analysis to understand the social, economic and environmental factors that make people vulnerable to stresses associated with climate variability and the causes of vulnerability.

Seccap will, therefore, use the existing community livelihood databases collected in Lilongwe district.

The choice as to which district to hold the project is debatable as others prefer it happens in vulnerable places such as Salima or Chikwawa. Currently, Lilongwe still remains the choice district.

Ultimately, the bigger issue to look at will be interpretations made from the information gathered within Malawi and will help solve challenges in Malawi.

Bunda College vice-principal, Charles Masangano said the College has already incorporated Climate Change in its programmes as a way of empowering local staff in dealing with climate change.

Henry Kamkwamba, who is studying towards a master’s degree in Agriculture and Applied Economics at Bunda is part of the group.

His duty will be to synthesise reports, review available literature and everything that concerns climate change in the country.

He defines climate change as simply meaning "a change in the way our environment has been operating, for example, rainfall increases or decreases, temperature rises or drops and crop failures."

Climate Change seems a modern phenomenon, but Kamkwamba says this is not, in fact the case as it started about 800 years ago.

"It is a cycle, but what makes it an emerging issue is because it is affecting us now, that is why it is famous now.

"Again there has been advancement in knowledge about the issue," that’s the way he understands it.

A third year student, Edyth Gondwe pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture Business Management is another Bunda student taking part in the project.

The project will bring hope to local farmers.

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