Climate Change effect on Africa’s Agriculture

Climate Change effect on Africa’s Agriculture

Sigcine Manyathi
Field Preparation in Kenya. Source: One Arce Fund

Climate change, increasing sea levels, increased temperature, and extreme weather have become a threat to Africa‘s human health and safety, food, and water security as well as the socio-economic development of the continent. As a matter of fact, the IPCC identifies Africa as the most vulnerable continent when coming to climate change.

Agriculture is an important part of the economic growth in Africa, and the effects of climate change can generate significant instability in economic growth via the alteration of agricultural economies. This article aims to further dive into how climate change affects African nations and poses a challenge as well as looking at the way forward in dealing with this issue of climate change in Africa through adaptation.

“Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy and accounts for the majority of livelihoods across the continent.”

State of Climate in Africa report

THE ‘CLIMATE’ CHALLENGE FOR AFRICAN AGRICULTURE

Agriculture in Africa faces a huge risk. There has become reduced crop productivity as a consequence of repeated droughts and above-standard heat. According to NASA: Global Climate Change, climate change may affect the production of maize (corn) and wheat as early as from 2030 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. The crop yields of maize are expected to decline by 24%, while wheat is expected to grow by 17%.

Furthermore, the increased pest damage, floods, and disease-related damage all impact the food system infrastructure – an impact that then results in huge food security issues, on livelihoods, stretching from individual households to the national level. According to the State of Climate in Africa, the level of risk has been identified as “very high” if the global mean temperature increases by 2°C and 4°C above pre-industrial levels by 2080-2100.

The impact of climate change on agriculture. Source: The Financial Express

The Sahel, a region in Africa separating the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical savannas to the south, is mainly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. This region regularly experiences many droughts and floods, and this results in negative consequences to people’s food security.

“Drought, desertification and scarcity of resources have led to heightened conflicts”

Severe consequences of Global Warming.

Conflicts are seen between farmers and cattle herders. The reasons for these conflicts are that often cattle farmers find themselves having to migrate due to the scarcity of resources and the burning vegetation. The obvious, yet dramatic, results of this process are conflicts with the crop farmers in the areas they migrate to. Drying grazing lands mean cattle herders in the country are forced to migrate onto arable farmland, often putting them at loggerheads with crop farmers.

The impact of climate change does not only affect food security and agriculture, but it also has a direct impact on the seen hike in food prices, which is a policy area that tends to be often side-lined. The recent increase in food prices in Africa has caused hardship to poor and vulnerable people in the world, but sub-Saharan Africa has been seen to be the most affected. The main cause of the price increase in Africa has been outdated farming practices, poor facilities, suboptimal power generation capacity, and lack of water storage and irrigation capacity. These have limited the development of agriculture, endangered food security, and delayed agricultural-based products.

The developing region of Sub-Saharan Africa displays a threefold – ecological, cultural, and climatic – diversity. A 2009 UNECA report indicates that Africans economically depend on income that is primarily derived from agriculture and fisheries. As a result, climatic change puts indeed a significant strain on the continent.

According to the Economic Report on Africa 2009, agriculture is an extremely important sector in the African continent, on average accounting for 70% of the labor force and over 25% of the GDP. The main reason why Africa is the continent that is affected by climate change the most is its geographical characteristics that have the land lying across the warming tropics as well as the limited knowledge within the social and economic spectrums that need African countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

As the Fifth IPCC Assessment Report indicates, demographic and economic trends in Africa mean that climate impacts will be intensified. This means that the growing populations will increase their demand for water and food – but in effect, the prolonged extreme conditions such as droughts will put more pressure on the scarcity of water resources that were already in place and that will decrease the crop yields.

WHAT SHOULD BE THE WAY FORWARD FOR AFRICA?

“It is important to recognise that, even if global society ceased to emit greenhouse gasses today, further warming is inevitable in the next few decades.”

Climate Change in Africa

What is seen to be the solution or rather the better option at the moment for Africa is to adapt. This can be achieved through policymakers in agriculture and the environment joining forces with civil society and non-governmental organizations to find ways to adapt existing infrastructure to the impacts – both the inevitable and likely ones – of climate change. According to the Synthesis Report Climate Change 2014, through the process of adaptation, societies will be able to find ways to moderate the effects and the harm that comes with climate change while simultaneously trying to take advantage of the new opportunities that may come. Adaptation may not only bring aid now but could also bring aid to what is the future of Africa.

Adaptation can indeed contribute to the well-being of populations, the security of assets, and the maintenance of ecosystem goods, functions, and services now and in the future. It needs to be noted, however, that adaptation is both context-specific and location-specific. Even with significant resources and institutional investment in adaptation for the most vulnerable, there may be residual risks to food security, access to water, health, and human security.

ECO-SYSTEM ADAPTATION

Corn yields in Africa worsened by climate change. Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The adaptation of the ecosystem is another way to help Africa deal with climate change. This strategy entails mitigating the climate change impact by using natural systems like drought-resistant varieties, more diversity in crop rotation as well as more efficient methods of water storage. In Zambia, 61% of farmers who applied an ecosystem-based adaptation, such as natural resource conservation or sustainable organic agricultural practices, reported surplus yields.

Another way that can be used is protecting watersheds and reinforcing the capacity they have in order to hold water. This will then be carried to those who need it most using integrated pest management, which is a natural and cost-effective way of protecting crops that use intercropping, crop rotation, and agroforestry. These different methodologies bring nutrient diversity to the fields while ensuring the improvement of production yields is continuous and performed in a natural way. Maintaining forests and using forest foods using natural fertilizers like manure and using natural pollinators like bees, which, according to a recent study, could further increase fruit yields by 5%. As an added benefit, these alternatives are significantly cost-effective, reports indicate.

Climate change does not have to necessarily and solely bring food insecurity in Africa. It rather is bringing a unique stimulus to build resilience within African communities that could enable them to stimulate their existing ecosystems and available natural resource bases in the long run. The situation that Africa finds itself in when coming to climate change can potentially build good practices and manage the unavoidable effects of climate change.

  • Will Africa survive the already inevitable impacts of climate change?
  • Will African communities manage to fully adapt to climate-related impacts?
  • How does climate change affect the economy of Africa?

Suggested Readings

Climate adaptation and the great reset for Africa

Confronting the challenges of climate change on Africa’s coastal areas

Africa can play a leading role in the fight against climate change

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Climate Change effect on …

by Sigcine Manyathi time to read: 5 min
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