Aerial view on rice and manioc fields in malawi
Aerial view on rice and manioc fields in Malawi

COP27: adaptation and reparations won’t solve the problem for Africa

“Climate-smart” programmes have been the key response to the climate crisis in many African countries, particularly when it comes to agriculture.

This involves adopting systems that enhance resilience to disruptive events such as droughts, floods and outbreaks of pests or diseases.

In farming, this might include favouring drought-resistant crops, such as millet or cassava, to retain high yields, or using irrigation and other water saving methods to counter droughts. These are all beneficial strategies that facilitate adjusting or “adapting” to the changing climate.

But in most of Africa, including countries where Ripple Effect work, few initiatives have focused on decarbonisation or mitigation, that is: taking action to avoid and reduce emissions in the first place.
What we have is a proliferation of climate programmes that require African communities to continue to adapt to what has become an adverse, chronic condition.

How long will Africa keep adapting?

The climate crisis is rooted in high-income countries who are emitting greenhouse gases at an ever-increasing rate. So our agitation should aim to tackle the problem at its root cause. Unless we do this, Africa will keep paying the consequences for high emitters.

Mitigation came up strongly at COP 21 in Paris in 2015 where nations signed the hallmark and legally binding Paris Agreement with a goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Reducing greenhouse emissions should remain at the top agenda for countries who are the highest emitters of carbon, and should be the top demand from African countries and other nations that bear the brunt of the climate crisis whilst being low emitters.

African stakeholders consider adaptation a priority for Africa – and there is an argument to be made that this is what’s needed for communities that are suffering the worst impacts of the crisis. For the farmers we work with at Ripple Effect, who are on the front line of the climate crisis, the wait for mitigation is justifiably untenable. They are being forced to adapt now. But how long will adaptation be effective?

Continuing to adapt to the climate crisis is like trying to contain floodwaters downstream rather than fixing the dam that has burst upstream. The analogy of the the frog in a pot of water gradually heating up without realising the danger it is in is a fitting and frightening metaphor for the urgent crisis Africa finds itself in.

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Our climate mitigation work: reduce and regenerate

Ripple Effect is committed to climate mitigation and keeping the planet safe. As an organisation, we are going a step further than adaptation by focusing on long-term, multi-benefit approaches.

Over one million households we have worked with in six East African countries are contributing to climate mitigation as well as adapting and building resilience for their livelihoods.

Based on my 20-plus years of experience in sustainable agriculture, rural African communities can contribute to significant emission reductions by adopting the following practices.


Vegetation cover is one of the best-known natural means of decarbonisation. Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere, which is transmitted into the soil through their root systems. The carbon remains in the soil as the plant dies. EcoTree Green estimates that a tree absorbs between 10 – 40kgs of CO2 every year.

Ripple Effect’s community-led tree planting and landscape management projects are expanding the sinking of greenhouse gases. In Mwaro Province, Burundi, we have planted more than 1.5 million trees and protected 30km of watersheds. After only three years of planting, the trees will start capturing significant quantities of carbon.

If the trees grow and remain intact for 10 years, the project would have sequestrated approximately 250,000 metric tons of carbon, with an estimated rate of 10kgs per tree per year. This is equivalent to removing 5,000 small passenger cars from the roads per year.

By setting up similar projects across the continent, we can position Africa as a mighty carbon sink that is second only to the Amazon rainforest.

Tree-planting does not just sequester carbon. It creates powerful environmental, social and economic benefits such as:

  • Restored ecosystems and improved biodiversity
  • Improved nutrition for families
  • Landscapes and communities that are more resilient against climate shocks
  • Improved collective income and greater economic empowerment


Our sustainable farming practice focuses on building soil health through composting. After receiving training, over 213,000 households we work with are composting an average of 1 ton/1000kgs of organic waste annually each from growing vegetables in small kitchen gardens.

This is approximately 213,000 metric tonnes of waste being composted per year. If this waste was left to rot, it would emit 10,650 Mt of methane into the atmosphere, and would require 4,402,467 trees growing for 10 years to remove all of it from the environment.

Soil fertility management

Chemical fertilisers are major sources of greenhouse gases. According to some recent analysis, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are responsible for about 2.4% of global emissions.

In our work, we limit the use of chemical fertilisers and instead encourage alternative, natural soil fertility management practices. This might involve crop rotation, intercropping with leguminous plants, mixed farming, mulching, and planting indigenous crops. These all have the added benefit of stemming floods as well.

Our communities are applying these practices on their farms, meaning they are significantly reducing their own carbon footprint.

While the west smokes, Africa chokes

In Glasgow last year, the stated goal to “phase-out” coal was watered down to “phase-down”. It was the moment that the UK COP26 president Alok Sharma memorably broke down in tears – visibly disappointed by the failure to gain serious commitments on prevention.

Perhaps because of that failure, for COP27 civil society in Africa is taking this stance for adaptation: calling for finance to help the continent cope with the effects of climate crisis, and calling for reparations for the loss and damage the continent is experiencing.

But if discussions in Egypt this year centre on our need for money to adapt, it will amount to asking Africa to plaster over the cracks caused by the climate crisis.

Stopping emissions and becoming carbon neutral is the only way to end the climate crisis. Africa’s own emissions are negligible compared with high-income countries, but we can make our own contribution to that global initiative.

By addressing the root causes we will also save the billions that will need to be spent by future generations to fund climate adaptation.