World Food Day: Adapting Africa’s agriculture to the exigencies of climate change

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This World Food Day, Sunday, October 16, 2016, will mark the 71st anniversary of the creation of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) whose primary objective is to free humanity from hunger and malnutrition.

Focusing on “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too,” the theme resonates with the next UN Climate Change Conference, COP22, which takes place November 7-18, 2016 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Ahead of Marrakech, the importance of food and nutrition to Africa’s development will top the agenda of the 7th Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security scheduled to take place in Accra, Ghana, from October 26-28, 2016 on the theme, “Investing in Food Systems for Improving Child Nutrition: Key to Africa’s Renaissance.”

With nearly 240 million hungry people, Africa accounts for 30% of the 800 million people across the world who do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger despite the fact that the region is home to 65% of the world’s available arable land. Worse, Africa’s food and nutrition situation is getting worse as staples such as maize, millet, rice, cassava, yams and beans, among others, are no longer easily available to ordinary people largely due to declining yields and higher prices attributed to the impact of climate change.

Reports of thieves making away with steaming pots of soup and the intermittent wars pitching herdsmen against local farmers in parts of the continent are clear indications of the magnitude of the food-related crisis that lie ahead.

The African Development Bank’s Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department believes that without concerted action to tackle the causes and effects of climate change, the yields of major African staple crops would decline by 8% to 22% by 2050. By 2100, maize yields could decline by 20-45%, wheat by 5-50%, rice by 20-30%; and soybean yields by 30-60%. At the same time, agriculture accounts for approximately 14% of greenhouse gas emissions, with the figure projected to rise to 25% when forestry and other land-use activities are included.

Attaining the 2030 Zero Hunger target can only be attained by addressing climate change, as the millions of people suffering from chronic undernourishment are small-scale farmers, fishers and pastoralists mostly affected by rising temperatures, floods and other weather-related disasters.

The AfDB is tackling the impacts of climate change on agriculture and how agriculture fuels climate change through a multi-pronged approach spearheaded by its High 5 priorities – Light up and power Africa, Feed Africa, Industrialize Africa, Integrate Africa, and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa – which is a blueprint for the implementation of its Ten Year Strategy 2013-2022.

The first priority, Light up and power Africa also deals with climate finance, adaption and low carbon development. The Bank has committed to triple its climate finance to US $5 billion a year by 2020, including by leveraging more finance from climate funds. 

Going forward, the Bank’s Feed Africa Strategy focuses on scaling up agriculture as a business through value addition, led by the private sector and enabled by the public sector, and using innovative financing mechanisms to end hunger and rural poverty in Africa in the next decade. Enabler 6 of the Feed Africa Strategy, i.e., Increased Inclusivity, Sustainability, and Nutrition, includes shoring up climate resilience funding by providing funds to support climate adaptation and climate-smart agricultural practices. Over the years, the Bank has worked with its regional member countries (RMCs) to mobilize additional resources for climate change, some of which have a focus on climate smart agriculture. These funds include the Climate Investment Funds, the Global Environmental Facility, the Green Climate Fund, and the Africa Climate Change Fund. These efforts have helped to mainstream environment, climate change and food security, build resilience and integrate fisheries and water resource management in the Bank’s agriculture operations. 

Under the Feed Africa Strategy, the total investment required for realizing the transformation agenda over 10 years is estimated at US $315-400 billion. Over the 10-year period of the Strategy, the Bank will invest a total of US $24 billion and leverage additional funding through equity, quasi equity, debt, risk instruments, and other sources to catalyze investments at scale from the private sector in addition to co-financing from traditional donors and new players so as to meet the funding required for agricultural transformation.

Most importantly, at the Lusaka Annual Meetings in May 2016, the Bank, in partnership with the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, African Union/NEPAD, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Big Win Philanthropy, Dangote Foundation, World Bank and the World Food Program, established The African Leaders for Nutrition, a high-level body, which will include Heads of States and private sector leaders to champion accountability and elimination of malnutrition in all its forms across the continent.

“Access to food, in the right quantity and quality, is a basic human right,” AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said in May. “There is absolutely no justification that Africa, which has over 65% of all the arable land left in the world, is unable to feed itself, spending $35 billion per year on food imports – an amount projected to rise to $110 billion by 2030 if the current trends continue.”

President Adesina’s exhortation is worth reiterating on the 71st World Food Day and the 7th Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security.