According to the Africa Adaptation Gap Report 2, under the optimistic scenario of the world warming by 2°C, yields of key food staples in Africa will decline by up to 40%. This decline will result in a 25% to 90% increase in the incidence of undernourishment and put 50% of Africa’s population at risk of undernourishment. The World Bank reports that rising temperatures could cause a major loss of savanna grasslands, thereby threatening pastoral livelihoods.
For a warming scenario of 3,5°C above pre-industrial levels, the water available for agriculture on the continent will decline significantly. In addition, the rise in the sea level will put over 10 million people at risk of flooding in the large coastal cities of Mozambique, Tanzania, Cameroon, Senegal, Egypt and Morocco, among others. This will inevitably lead to damaged infrastructure and disruption in the food supply to urban areas, exposing populations to elevated food prices and increased strife.
However, based on current greenhouse gas emissions, the world is on track for warming of around 3°C to 3,5°C by 2100. The implication is that the impact of climate change on the continent could be worse than we are imagining.
Crafting a robust response to climate change
To use the words of the iconic American president John F. Kennedy, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” The adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 and its wide support across the globe represents an opportune time to arrest climate change, before it spirals out of control. Climate action represents an opportunity to build resilience to climate change and policy makers should be aware of these opportunities and prioritise the relevant enabling policies. Targeting highly catalytic sectors that are capable of simultaneously ensuring climate action and creating socio-economic development opportunities is key to building resilience.
Healthy ecosystems are the foundation of climate resilience. Relying on ecosystems-based adaptation (EBA) is one way to enhance the natural resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change, while also creating socio-economic opportunities. EBA approaches, such as farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR), have proven to not only increase yields under the changing climate by an average of 128% but also to restore degraded ecosystems and hence contribute to building resilience.
In Ethiopia, FMNR has restored 2 700 hectares of barren mountain terrain. Reported benefits include increased food security and reduced poverty through increased income from forest products and livestock fodder; improved water infiltration, which has improved the ground water levels and reduced flash flooding; and reduced erosion and increased soil fertility in the region. In Senegal, FMNR has regenerated indigenous trees on 40 000 hectares of crop land. In Niger, FMNR has populated over 5 million hectares with trees, and in Mali over 500 000 hectares.
Linking EBA approaches to clean energy will lead to sustainable agro-industrialisation while simultaneously ensuring the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Doing so means African countries will be able to leverage provisions like Article 9, 10 and 11 of the Paris Agreement to mobilise additional international support towards further developing these catalytic sectors.
Policy propositions to unlock these opportunities
- One of the key policies that could be adopted by national governments to catalyse sustainable agro-industrialisation is that of getting the country’s ministry of energy to prioritise enabling policies for clean energy expansion in rural areas.
- We also need the ministries of finance to put in place appropriate policies to incentivise private sector investment in clean energy, agro-industries, etc. For example, the government could institute tax rebates for technology vendors, or they could set up of special economic zones or enterprise zones, with favourable land leases, that specifically target the setting up of agro-industrial zones.
- Ministries of trade should put in place policies that incentivise agro-exports.
- Transport and infrastructure ministries should prioritise rural roads to enhance the efficient and competitive linkage of farming areas to affluent urban markets.
The writing is on the wall. Within the threat of climate change lies an opportunity to combat both climate change and conflict through the building of resilience and the creation of livelihood opportunities. It is extremely crucial for policy makers to put in place enabling policy environments that will unlock the opportunities for sustainable and inclusive economic growth. It is up to non-state actors in the private sector, academia and even private citizens to seize upon such opportunities as they emerge. The Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly provides the much needed policy-implementation action framework to mobilise and rally synergistic action on the continent towards a strong response that could break this potential climate change-conflict nexus.
Let us rise, create and seize these opportunities now!