Meeting the Green Economy Challenge in Africa

May 23, 2012
by Ousmane Birba

Ensuring access to safe, sufficient, nutritious, and sustainably grown food under a changing climate is a challenge for decisionmakers in Africa. Though adapting to climate change is only one of the issues that will be addressed by Rio+20 negotiators in June, it is a crucial issue facing Africa.

It is anticipated that extreme weather events will disrupt the availability of and access to food by the continent’s most vulnerable population groups. IFPRI researchers contribute evidence-based solutions to help policymakers design effective strategies for meeting the food security needs of these groups.

How can Africa increase its agriculture productivity in the context of a changing climate?

Climate change is expected to result in a decline in many crop yields, according to a few climate scenarios run by IFPRI researchers. For example, a farm-level analysis in Tunisia predicts that under climate change, land productivity would fall by 15 to 20 percent in the short term and 35 to 55 percent in the long run. A large-scale analysis for Sub-Saharan Africa finds that cereal production growth will decline by 5 percent and that foods such as wheat, sweet potato, and cassava are vulnerable to climate change.

To adapt to these changes, IFPRI research shows that farmers will likely expand their cultivation area and switch from more vulnerable crops such as hard wheat, fava beans, and chick peas to hardier crops such as soft wheat and barley. Increasing irrigation and fertilizer use and sowing at different dates may also mitigate their loss of productivity in the short run. However, increasing productivity over the long term will require mitigation efforts on a global scale.

According to IFPRI analysts, short run challenges are manageable under properly targeted investments. The long run impact, however, is more difficult to address and will require mitigation efforts at the global scale.

How can communities become more resilient to climate-induced global price shocks?

Over the next few decades, climate change is expected to reduce the global food supply, while growing incomes and population will increase demand. In addition, major food products will become more expensive: prices for rice, wheat, and maize are projected to increase by 48, 36, and 34 percent, respectively, by 2050. As a net importer of cereals, Africa is expected to be severely hit by these price increases. Trade restriction policies, such as those implemented by some export countries during the 2007-08 and 2010-2011 food crises, would exacerbate this effect. Implementing a global regulation platform would discourage such trade restriction practices.

How can farmers manage their land and water use already under pressure from increasing global demand?

The world’s cultivated area is predicted to fall by 0.7 percent by 2050, according to a moderate climate change scenario run by IFPRI. In Sub-Saharan Africa, both rainfed and irrigated areas will decrease, putting pressure on Africa’s land and water use. Although Africa has the potential to expand its cultivated land, IFPRI researchers note that increasing productivity would have a higher payoff. Investment programs that focus on productivity increases are needed to counteract the adverse impacts of climate change.

In order for farmers in Africa to be more meaningful contributors to a green economy, they must overcome the hurdle of adapting to climate change.