Dr. Ahmed Elmekass, Coordinator of AU SAFGRAD, African Union Commission


Together to build resilience in Semi Arid Zones of Africa

The semi-arid zones of Africa cover areas extending from Senegal in the Western Africa to Djibouti in the Eastern Africa, through Tunisia in Northern Africa to South Africa in the Southern, most tip of the continent. Agricultural production (crops, livestock, etc.) as well as non-agricultural activities provide the basic means for rural livelihoods and also form the driving force for the promotion of the rural economies of the countries in these regions. Agriculture alone contributes between 30% & 40% to the GDP and provided employment for 80% of the population.


These areas are characterized by predominantly hostile and marginal environments. Populations which inhabit these semi-arid areas therefore constantly face the severe impact of difficult environmental challenges to sustain their livelihoods. For example water is scarce due to limited and unreliable rainfall patterns; soils are poor in nutrients, infertile and susceptible to wind and water erosion. Furthermore, due to continuous environmental degradation, and the prevalence of invasive crops pests and animal disease pathogens, the areas become difficult to manage for agricultural and livestock production. The majority of people in these areas constantly experience food insecurity and are extremely vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change and desertification.

Technological and institutional responses aimed at addressing these challenges have largely been inadequate resulting in minimal desirable impacts due to a number of inter-related factors. In addition producers in semi-arid areas of Africa have benefited only marginally from emerging economic and market opportunities .

Unless concerted actions are taken at reversing the situation, communities living and working in semi-arid areas will remain marginalized with far-reaching consequences that might undermine efforts aimed at meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is noted that most African countries which face serious food shortages are also confronted with problems of aridity. But the rationale for prioritizing programmes aimed at improvements of semi-arid rural livelihoods extends beyond national issues and highlights the enormous development challenges and potentials presented by the agro-ecology.

The major challenge remains to be improving the productivity of agriculture, diversify activities to emerging and rewarding markets, and open opportunities for non-farm work and migration pathways to lead rural populations out of poverty, while adapting and mitigating the impacts of climate change and desertification.

AU/SAFGRAD is one of the specialized technical offices within the department of rural economy and agriculture of the African Union Commission. Its mandate is to lead, coordinate and facilitate the formulation of appropriate policies and programmes that would build resilience of rural livelihoods in semi-arid Africa through strengthening of institutional capacities aimed at advancing agricultural research, technology transfer and adoption; enhancement of value chains; management of natural resources; and mitigation and adaptation to climate change and combating desertification. AU-SAFGRAD vision falls within the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development (CAADP) framework which is at the heart of efforts by African governments to accelerate growth and eliminate poverty across the continent. AU/SAFGRAD has been designated as the institutional focal point of UNCCD for coordinating the Thematic Program Network for the Promotion of Sustainable Agricultural Farming Systems to Combat Desertification in Africa (TPN6) activities. AU/SAFGRAD also plays an important role at continental level in translating formal decisions taken at AU level into policies and strategies that should be adopted by Member States. Moreover, In the ministerial resolutions of the Conference of African Ministers `of Agriculture (CAMA), 26-29 October 2010 , Lilongwe, Malawi. Excellences Ministers of Agriculture requested AU/SAFGRAD to work with the six priorities areas (Access to and management of land and water resources; Productivity, technology, and innovation; Adaptation to and mitigation of impacts of climate change and desertification; Exploitation of national, regional and global market opportunities; Global, regional and national policies and institutions; and Strengthening local capacities) and lead formulation of appropriate programmes to improve livelihoods in semi-arid Africa; in addition, they urged AUC, the RECs, international organizations and development partners to provide technical and financial support to AU-SAFGRAD to review its strategic plan as well as to effectively implement programmes related to the improving rural livelihoods in semi arid-zones of Africa. The resolution was adopted and endorsed in the 2010 Assembly of AU Heads of state and Government EX.CL/Dec.600-643 (XVIII).

The new strategic plan of AU/SAFGRAD (2014-2018) identifies two strategic goals with four programmes focusing on major sectors or sub-sectors to meet the above mentioned priorities areas. Strategic Goal 1 seeks: To strengthen policies, institutions and strategies that help enhance the resilience of rural livelihoods in semi-arid zones of Africa. It is envisaged that this goal will be attained through implementation of trainings and capacity building support for policy development and resilience programming semi-arid zones. Besides, a programme on strengthening agricultural livelihood-based producer organisations in semi-arid zones will be implemented under this goal.

This programme will focus on supporting institutional development of agricultural livelihood-based producer organisations and their engagement with CAADP; and promotion of strategic agricultural value chains in semi-arid zones. Strategic Goal 2: To enhance African capacities in research, technology dissemination and knowledge management for building the resilience of rural livelihoods in semi-arid zones of Africa; will be attained through implementation of a programme on facilitation of agricultural research and transfer of technologies and innovations in the context of semi-arid zones. This programme will focus on supporting technology generation to strengthen resilience in semi-arid zones through capacity strengthening of research institutions; and, dissemination of technologies to enhance resilience and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. A programme on Knowledge management, networking and communication will also be implemented towards attainment of the goal. This programme will focus on documentation and sharing of success stories and lessons learnt; Coordination of UNCCD’s TPN6 activities for the Promotion of Sustainable Agricultural Farming Systems to Combat Desertification; and supporting ‘resilience-oriented’ networks under the CAADP Knowledge, Information and Skills support system. The six priorities areas as well as the four programmes represent cross cutting sectors and within the four CAADP pillars. These priorities and programs are highly relevant to the countries, regional, and continental levels.



AU/SAFGRAD Coordinator