Factsheet: Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change in Africa
1. In global terms, the current African greenhouse gas emissions are relatively insignificant
due to the low level of development and industrialisation. The entire continent is estimated to
be responsible for less than 7% of global emissions and only about 4% of CO2 emissions. At
the same time Africa is among the continents most vulnerable to climate change and climate
variability. Socioeconomic developments exacerbate the effects of climate change on
ecosystems and humanity. So, though Africa hardly contributed to climate change it is hardest
hit by its effects.
Despite the fact that
Africa has abundant arable land and human resources that could potentially be translated into
increased production, incomes and food security, it nevertheless remains a region that has the
highest proportion of people who suffer from hunger, and the largest poverty head count ratio
compared to all other developing regions.
3. Between 1981 and 2005, the number of poor people living on less than $1.25 a day has
almost doubled in sub-Saharan Africa, from 212 million in 1981 to over 388 million in 2005.
The performance of the agricultural sector and the rural economy on which the majority of
Africa’s population depend for their livelihoods, is directly linked to the state of poverty, and
determines the extent to which MDG targets can be achieved. In this regard, the biggest
challenge in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lies in transforming
Africa’s agricultural sector into an engine of economic growth and poverty reduction.
4. In many African countries, the agricultural sector has stagnated and has not achieved its
potential. Although agricultural performance has slightly improved since 2000, growth is not
yet fast enough to achieve broad-based poverty reduction and food security. In many African
countries, average annual agricultural growth is less than 3 percent, which is far lower than
in other developing regions and significantly lower than the annual target of 6 percent that
was agreed by African Union Heads of States Assembly in Maputo in 2003.
5. Compounding the slow growth in agriculture is a rapidly increasing population which is
expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, up from 922 million in 2005. The high population growth
rate combined with limited growth in agriculture could cause even more severe hunger and
poverty, unless due attention is given to developing the agricultural sector. The soaring food
prices, together with the recent global financial crisis have further raised concerns about food
shortages and their implications for the poor in Africa. Increased food prices might create new
opportunities for the African agricultural sector, but for these opportunities to materialize it
requires removal of the barriers for achieving productivity and production increases, and
improved market access.
6. The challenges that Africa’s agriculture and rural economy face could broadly be
categorized as follows: (i) production and productivity-related challenges; (ii) infrastructure
and market related challenges; (iii) environment related challenges; and (iv) institutional and
policy related challenges.
7. Overall temperatures in Africa are expected to increase by two to six degrees Celsius by
2100 (Hulme et al 2001). Regional projections vary significantly. The temperatures in the
drier subtropical regions are expected to increase more than those of the moist tropics. Mean
annual rainfall is likely to decrease by 20% along the Mediterranean coast and extending into
the northern Sahara, and to increase in tropical and eastern Africa by about 7% with more
variable and extreme weather events. Western Africa is expected to see more rainfall
variability and southern Africa less by 2100.
8. Effects of climate change will continue to challenge vulnerable people. Droughts and dry
spells will be more frequent, rain more inconsistent, and torrential downpours heavier, all
phenomena that increase the risk of erosion and vegetation damage through runoff. Higher
temperatures will increase the evaporation of soil moisture. Climate change will aggravate all
kind of stresses, which the continent is already experiencing: greater water stress, increased
crops’ and livestock’s pests and diseases, and increased saltation of coastal areas.
9. FAO (2009a) projects that global agricultural production needs to grow by 70 percent by
2050. These projections are based on population and income growth assumptions as well as
on dietary patterns. According to model studies 68% of the projected growth in crop
production in sub-Saharan Africa will come from yield growth, 7 percent from increased
cropping intensity and 25 percent from arable land expansion. These results highlight the
potential tensions that may be created between the need to increase food production and the
possible transition towards sustainable, low emission agriculture strategies if viable
opportunities are not developed to enable meeting both goals.
10. Although Africa is responsible for very little of the anthropogenic emissions of GHGs, it
does have considerable potential to assist in mitigation through amongst others: sustainable
land management practices and forestry. The technical mitigation potential of agriculture is
high and 70 percent of this potential can be realized in developing countries.
11. At the moment Africa has not benefitted much from carbon credit instruments like the
CDM: 2 percent of the total projects come from Africa. The reasons for this are that many of
the cheapest means of reducing GHG emissions can be found in large-scale industrial
enterprises in countries like China and India, where an innovative technology can prevent the
escape of large amounts of GHG. African countries in this sense are not attractive as they
have not been large polluters. The transaction costs and human capacity needed to put
together a CDM project and getting it certified are also very high, so that it is only large-scale
projects which are worth taking forward. (Toulmin, 2009)
12. Recognising these challenges, the African heads of States adopted the Comprehensive
African Agriculture Development program (CAADP) as a framework to spearhead and
accelerate agricultural and rural development in Africa. CAADP’s main objective is to assist
African countries accelerate economic growth through agriculture-led development, which
eliminates hunger, reduces poverty and enhances food and nutrition security as well as growth
in exports. CAADP is implemented by NEPAD, a program of the African Union.
13. During the 13th AU Summit in July 2009, the African Heads of States through a
declaration on the Agriculture-Climate Change sub-theme urged the African Union
Commission and NEPAD to act on three main issues, namely: (i) develop an African
agricultural-based climate change mitigation and adaptation framework; (ii) Rally expert
input and scientific knowledge to advance the recognition and integration of carbon
sequestration on agricultural landscapes and carbon financing in global climate change
mitigation and adaptation measures through the Post-Kyoto negotiations and other global-
regional dialogue; and (iii) Establish an inter-Ministerial mechanism bringing together
Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, and Water to advance inter-sectoral approach in
addressing the climate change agenda.
Options to increase agricultural production, mitigation and adaptation
14. In an FAO study a set of practices has been used, based on the main categories for
mitigation options for agriculture, identified by IPCC 2007, to assess their impacts on food
security, adaptation and mitigation. To a very large extent, the practices needed to improve
food security and adaptation are the same as those that generate mitigation. In this respect, a
‘development first approach’ is mentioned, that emphasizes that a future climate regime
should focus on development strategies with ancillary climate benefits and increases the
capability of developing countries to implement these (Davidson, 2003).
15. Potential agricultural management changes that have been proposed by FAO to increase
agricultural production, as well as to decrease output variability due to climate variability and
extreme climate events (many of which overlap with those proposed for adaptation to climate
change): (i) cropland management (e.g. improved varieties, reduced/zero tillage, agroforestry);
(ii) water management (e.g. (supplementary) irrigation, water harvesting, watershed
management); (iii) pasture and grazing management (e.g. forage quality, stocking rate
management); (iv) restoring degraded lands (e.g. re-vegetation, en-/exclosures). However, it
must be noted that there can be trade offs between short and long term benefits of
16. A number of agricultural management practices, including those employed in organic and
conservation agriculture, capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in agricultural soils.
These practices involve increasing the organic matter in soils of which carbon is a main
component. This, in turn, increases fertility, water retention and the structure of soils, leading
to better yields and greater resilience. This ‘soil carbon sequestration’ is estimated to be
nearly 90 percent of the technical mitigation potential of agriculture (FAO, 2009b). However,
care should be taken in the design of carbon sequestration activities, so that terrestrial carbon
benefits do not have trade offs with serious, gaseous losses (esp. CH4 and N2O) or causes
carbon losses outside the system boundaries (e.g. organic matter transfers). In this line,
Integrated Soil Fertility Management (including conservation agriculture) is the proposed
approach for taking into account all benefits and losses.
17. At the same time adaptation policies and measures need to be taken for vulnerable areas,
like semi-arid and coastal areas. In addition, pastoralist communities require special attention
as their livelihoods are hardest hit by climate change (especially through the increased
frequency and lengths of droughts). National policies and measures as laid out in the African
NAPAs should focus on increasing the resilience of agricultural systems. For the
comprehensive implementation of such policies and measures an integrated watershed
approach was proposed at a recent ASARECA climate change conference.
18. Adaptation policies and measures need to address the multiple stresses that agriculture is
encountering, with respect to crop and livestock diseases, water stress and saltation of coastal
areas. Solutions can be found in the sphere of: crop breeding (for resistance), agro-
biodiversity conservation and integrated seed system development, water resource
management, integrated pest management, payment for environmental services, weather
forecasts and climate information.
19. In addition, specific adaptation measures need to focus on climate change hotspots (very
vulnerable areas that are on the verge of irreversible damage), for which early warning
systems and disaster risk management needs to be employed. The most vulnerable areas were
found to be the West African Sahel; the rangelands, Great Lakes and coastal areas of Eastern
Africa; and the drier zones of Southern Africa (CGIAR, 2010).
20. Subsequently, adaptation is an integrated process that requires robust coordination and
communication among key actors. At the national level, coordination among government
ministries and between ministries and other relevant institutions is critical for planning and
implementing adaptation. It must be emphasized that adaptation is a re-iterative process;
societies adapt and re-adapt in response to climate change impacts and access new knowledge
and information (Padgham, 2010).
21. For bridging the climate change and development paradigms the following conceptual
framework has been proposed at a recent ASARECA Conference:
Subsistence Market oriented
The figure emphasizes that the combination of increasing farm household resilience and
market orientation will lead to more climate resilient development.
Financing options and MRV
22. Agriculture, specifically soil carbon sequestration, has been largely excluded from the
main climate financing mechanisms, while support for changing agricultural systems to feed
the world is insufficient. Current levels of agricultural investments in developing countries
will need to increase, following decades of decline and considering the sector’s key role in
development and food security. In this respect, the synergistic use of ODA and new/additional
climate funding could be explored (FAO, 2009a).
23. Current financial resources to support changes in agricultural systems to feed the world
are insufficient, while the main financing mechanisms for climate change mitigation largely
24. Considering the amount of available agricultural carbon finance, a combination of long-
term ODA and carbon finance seems essential. One of the key issues associated with the
establishment of financing mechanisms for mitigation is the establishment of systems to
measure, report and verify (MRV) mitigation actions and outcomes. Some agricultural
mitigation activities with positive impacts on food security will not be appropriate for
financing from carbon markets or private sector due to high transaction costs or other
investment barriers. Limited capacity in many countries and regions will also limit the extent
to which market approaches could be utilized at least in initial phases of development. At the
same time, building MRV capacity would increase the ability of countries to tap into market
sources of finance. (FAO, 2009a)
25. Considering the size of the overall required agricultural investments versus the potential
income from carbon credits, carbon finance is significant, but more important is shifting
agricultural investments towards climate smart agricultural development, that captures
synergies or mitigate potential trade-offs.
26. Barriers for adopting sustainable land management practices are not only limited to credit
to finance up-front costs, but also issues related to access to information, property rights and
tenure security; lack of access to effective research and extension services for capacity
building and technical assistance; limited access to insurance; and lack of access to markets.
This factsheet has largely based on the following documents:
- Bellow T, A Ardner, R Siebert, S Sieber, 2010, Micro-level practices to adapt to
climate change to African small-scale farmers, IFPRI Discussion Paper 00953
- CGIAR, 2009, Climate, agriculture and food security: A strategy for change, CGIAR
- Davidson O, et al, 2003, The development and climate nexus: the case of sub-Saharan
Africa, Climate Policy 3S1: S97-S113
- FAO, 2009a, Food security and agricultural mitigation in developing countries:
Options for capturing synergies, FAO
- FAO, 2009b, Coping with a changing climate: Considerations for adaptation and
mitigation in agriculture, FAO, Environment and Natural Resources Management
- Nelson GC et al, 2009, Climate Change: Impact on agriculture and costs of adaptation,
IFPRI Food Policy Report
- Padgham J, 2009, Agricultural development under a changing climate: Opportunities
and challenges for adaptation, WB joint discussion paper, August 2009, issue 1
- Toulmin, C, 2009, Climate Change in Africa, African Arguments
- Wreford A, D Moran, N Adger, 2010, Climate change and adaptation: Impacts,
adaptation and mitigation, OECD report