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Climate Change as a Development Opportunity

Shanta Devarajan's picture

There is considerable evidence that Africa is the continent that will be hit the first, most and worst by climate change. 

Agricultural productivity, already among the world’s lowest, could in several African countries fall by 50 percent in 10 years because of higher and more variable temperatures, which in turn could lead to faster desertification, rising sea levels, and more frequent droughts, floods and typhoons. 

One reason why African agriculture is particularly vulnerable is that only 7 percent of cultivable land is irrigated—the rest is dependent on rainfall.  Yet irrigated land can have yields that are five times those of rainfed land. 

So why is there so little irrigation in Africa? Presumably, because political and administrative costs lead the total costs to exceed the benefits of irrigation. 

In a recent paper, Aziz Bouzaher, Brian Ngo and I asked the question:  Could the threat of climate change (or the benefits of avoiding the harmful effects of climate change) tip the balance in favor of more irrigation? 

In a subsequent presentation at the Energy-Climate Change-Technology conference in Bergen, Norway, Aziz and I showed some calculations for the Zambezi River basin that suggested that this was possible. 

Specifically, the benefits of tripling irrigated area (in terms of the value added of increased crop yields) is about $1.7 billion, which is only slightly higher than the cost (about $1.5 billion).  But when you add the avoided damage from climate change, the benefits of tripling irrigated land jumps to $3.3 billion, clearly tipping the scales in favor of more irrigation.

If the calculation for the Zambezi river basin generalizes to other areas, and some of the other issues discussed in the paper—such as exploitation of Africa’s hydropower potential, sustainable land management, and reduced or avoided deforestation—also result in benefits’ (including reduced damage from climate change) exceeding costs, climate change could be a development opportunity for Africa.


Submitted by Rami tidhar on
Dear Sir. I am looking for financing for few projects in central Africa. I am not sure that the world bank policy to support goverments instead of suporting start up business in Africa is the right way. I belive that you have seen the project called ADAMA in Angola by an Israely company. This project can be dublicate in some other places in Africa. I will be very happy to comunicate with you about it. Thank you and best regards Rami

Submitted by Mapi on
Rami, As you said, the World Bank works primarily with governments, but there are some resources given directly to civil society organizations as grants to implement small projects. You can find the information below. Small grants program:,,contentMDK:20507431~menuPK:1234307~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:952535,00.html Other grants:,,contentMDK:20061756~menuPK:96315~pagePK:95645~piPK:95672~theSitePK:95480,00.html

Submitted by Anonymous on
It is true. Climate change should come as an essential concern. Though I believe that Africa has got much more urgent issues like poverty, starvation and HIV/AIDS , malaria and the like. Neverthelesss, it would be beneficial to put comiate change issue in the development process.

Submitted by Trucila Mutasa on
Regarding climate change, i would like to believe that some parts of Africa have been hit already. Though i do not have specific figures at hand, by just using my own observation, there are some parts that are failing to produce yearly crops for their own countries. For instance some African countries are failing to produce yearly crops as they had been hit by successive years of drought. For me the drought signs are the signals of climate change in those parts of the world. Its only the alarm bells have not gone off yet due to the fact that some of these countries have other political issues to sort out with more urgency than climate change. Issues like, lack of electricity for domestic and industrial use leads to reliance on fire wood and any other matter that burns for fuel, which then leads to issues like deforestation as we all know,and pollution were other substances are burnt for fire. In terms of where trees have been cut for fire, if affforestation does not immediately take place, immidiate effects will include less and less levels of rain,dessertification and so on. Lack of waste management systems is a big concern in Africa. Again this goes back to issues of political priority. So yes, i totally Agree that there is time bomb waiting to explode in Africa when it comes to climate change.

I cannot agree less with Shanta, but without sounding too difficult about Africa’s situation, I see the continent as standing at the threshold of extinction except the developed world will reinvent the political wheel to change the direction of the current drifting. The evidences of climate change discovered by scientists across the world and the details of the possible magnitude of disaster can just be an imagination of the real consequences of what will happen to the world which has been terribly bashed like an automobile used by a bad driver. I speak now as a Natural Scientist outside my profession as Development Practitioner. My Nature studies world events put together all world activities including those past tested atomic instruments and billions of explosions from war armaments used across the world are all bouncing back to the universe and on humanity in the perfection of natural equilibrium. It is usually a case of small causes and great effects in nature! The frequencies of Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, floods and unusual weather catastrophes are some of the natural returns to balance the past human activities. Human beings will directly be affected as some of these reactive powerful radiations from the universe will affect human bodies, regularly causing inexplicable cases of diseases and death, human brain-cells will particularly be susceptible. For a continent which had experienced complete stagnation in development, not just lagging behind but drifting towards a negative direction will stand the danger of being crushed by the painful reactive forces of nature which may lead to accelerated extinction. The entire world, though, will be affected of the growing effects of the climate change but other serious nations will be able mitigate the effects. The developed world and all multilateral Organisation may wish to come together to help the African continent, but they must find means of disregarding the so call Sovereignty jargons of some of these nations for a while by changing policies of providing aid which must be made to reach the intended beneficiaries. Unfortunately, majority in the African society are corrupt as I had posited in my postings during the previous discussions, it is not just the ruling class alone, indeed, it is the followers who more often than not provide the needed corrupt soil for the ruling class and offer necessary manure to sustain their growing appetite which has facilitated permanent underdevelopment. The rule of law was deliberately set aside for everyone to act in his/her own ways, billions of Dollars are spent annually to import food from developed countries to benefit the corrupt citizens and such beneficiary ever remain determined to ensure that nothing works differently in the African society. May I as a reputable African Development Practitioner implore the United Nations, the World Bank and other development agencies to find ways around working with Development Practitioners from within the continent, by offering special orientation and reorientation training programmes concerning the recent scientific research works and discoveries and then attempt to channel the needed aid through such efforts to consequently promote the impact of aid to reach the intended beneficiaries within the continent. I am afraid about the ongoing commitments by the industrialized nations at the COP5 if they may not as well be used by the African leaders and their cohorts to further underdeveloped the continent and prepare it fast for the worst.

Submitted by Dedun Sonaike-Olaniyan on
In response to your assessment of how Africa faces extinction. Rest assured Africa will never be extinct. Through the many hardships Africans have endured first from the Arabs, onwards to the Europeans back to the Arabs and now to Asians, it's not in the interest of powers that be that Africa become extinct. Africa is designed not to function properly but to be dysfunctional. Many interests in the Continent strive to keep it that way, but as with things of that nature failure is assured as individuals in Africa become more Afro-centric and chaos ensues elsewhere. Governments that want the best for their countries are almost always never elected in Africa and when they are, they are toppled and a figure head is put their. All in the name of who will benefit the European power or the Middle Eastern power. Point on case Gabon with the French, Chad with the French, The failed Coupe de'tat in the Central African Republic and closer to my heart, Nigeria and the Saudi Syndicate. It is a shame that the World bank does not directly support individual businesses in Africa but the same corrupt governments put in place to ensure the National interest of the Donor rich countries are ensured. There is a new era in Africa that many people do not see. A generation of individuals raised in the 80's and 90's who moved out of Africa are now returning and creating businesses in Africa without government involvement that will eventually lead countless people out of poverty in Africa to dare I say it self sufficiency. This road is hard and long and truly the Powers that be allow for this happen then for the first time in a thousand years, Africans will be able to determine their own destiny without interference from anyone. Take the case of Nigeria, once mobile phones were introduced the power of Nitel was severely curtailed and individual companies benefited significantly from this growth. If Africans are the oldest humans alive today based on Science, then I take all that is happening in Africa as part of our evolution. It will happen, I pray we are alive to see the fruit it bares.

Submitted by peter wakaba on
from a country specific point of view kenya typifies just what you have pointed out.more than 70% of the country is un inhabitted arid and sees only banditry and nomadic pastoralist. the case for irrigating area like the northern parts of kenya is huge. the lasrger portion of deafforestation in kenya is carried out by subsistence families looking for firewood or an income from burning charcaol. in some places denudation of forests by such popoulations has been egged on by corporates who intend to log such areas of mature trees before leaving the rest of the vegetation to the peasants. a concerted effort towards political stability for long term projects like irrigation projects on large scale and even the invitation of large scale farmers and financing will mean that many african governments will have to get their acts together and realise that this is a matter of life or death for many of their population. but for many of our leaders this threats are too far removed from them personally to be taken seriously.<\b>

Submitted by jose vargas on
Dear Sir, This Climate Change will be all over this planet, Africa can be first I lived about 10 years in Central,West and South Africa Continente, due my duties I visit about 23 countries. I have only one question for you? What is a short term your opinion regarding this Area? It will be the only way How corruption ( Mugabe) will go away from their leads?! World Bank will be glad to know your kind advise. Best Regards.

I am sure your question was meant for the moderator, but permit me express my amateur opinion as follows: Africa has so much chances to be the best continent in the globe by the abundant resources offered to it by nature, the continent has capacity to stop hunger, the tropical weather is an unparallel advantage as far as I am concerned, It takes more than 4 decades for Finland to grow to maturity the tree that grows their paper industry, the same tree will grow and ready for use in about 7 years in tropical Africa weather. Trees can be multiplying to increase agricultural yield in the continent. Nature deposited unprecedented resources as if it was a calculated design for human beings with absolute disability to have a ready-made advantage over other continent but alas, in spite of all this nothing serious has been achieved in the continent, the continent suffers low productivity, prone to draught always, lack in irrigational system for enhanced productivity and almost nil effort towards rain harvesting, zero storage facility to protect the little farm produce, land reforms are made to suits past military and political leadership, almost all rural roads are totally impassable, Africa agriculture is almost entirely aid dependent while billions of Dollar are stolen from the continent to hide in various financial institutions by the leaders including greater percentage of foreign aid. There is no government support to the farmers, except regular political jamboree that further impoverished the peasant farmers and the entire citizens. Human rights to food security in Africa are long dead like the rule of law in the continent. Immerging a fellow third world country like Malaysia who obtained the seedling of palm tree from Africa a few decades ago and at about ten years ago, the country has become self sufficient through palm oil production, having over 40 Oil Refineries. Zimbabwe was doing exceedingly well few years past, until the emptiness in the leadership demanded for a makeup that lead to self inflicted climate change which sentenced millions of the citizens to poverty. There had been efforts towards green revolution most especially by retired Military rulers and officers who knew how to intercepting donor funds at the agony of the ignorant citizens. These few men with their corrupt beneficiaries are having the field day because of lack of effective laws that will protect the entire society, yet it is till the vulnerable poor peasant farmer who produces over 90% of locally produced food crops in every African society. The opportunist farmers are only in handful quantities who explore the few linkages to international markets in exchange for foreign farm produce to Africa through their connections and influences that regularly regulate government policies to suits their unsearchable greed for wealth accumulation. The rich and powerful belabored the poor citizens who produce for them on contract-grower basis for peanut remuneration. My opinion is that the World Bank and other international agencies should use their aid meant for Africa especially on agriculture as a weapon against corrupt governments and government leaders, by directly grooming Civil Society Organisations (SCOs) across the continent to work with well over 70% poor rural farmers in order to scale up agricultural productions in the continent. As it is now, Africa is not 1% ready for the global challenges of our time, from the economic melt-downs to food crisis less talking about the climate change, no kind words is deserved by the African leaders and the lead for everyone’s role in bringing down a well prepared table with full of grace while other nations have to invent the wheel to be where they are today. Malaysia today is economically sound from a single product they brought from Africa few decades ago, yet it is a developing country where rule of laws are made to strengthen the entire society and citizens are conscious of their responsibilities in order to preserve their human rights to food security. African governments find it convenient to release less than 3% of their annual budget for the agricultural sector instead of AU prescribed 10% while the leaders and civil servants steal national resources in Billions of Dollars. Africa will shame the developed communities when it will go un-rescued into surprised extinction in spite of the growing financial aid to the continent, like the popular saying about a renowned medical expert whose only son died in the afternoon while all resources were available to assist the child to live. The unimaginable future effects of climate change will demand for greater seriousness and skills to be able to record survival. Effects noticed so far can be liking to early symptoms of pregnancy, which has no basis for comparison with the real effects at labour ward when delivery is expected with all the attendant pains, it is at such level that you will be able to take an accurate records of preparedness through the statistics of maternal and child mortality. If the developed countries will want to safe their faces from future historical shame, they must brace up to adopt more pragmatic approach to safe the African continent from the impending dangers.

Submitted by Chibunna Igwe on
Well developed argument but you are wrong to say that Africa needs the developed countries to survive. We can do it if we want without the so called developed countries. Zimbabwe had problems due the the interference of the developed countries. It must not be "white to be right". Thank you.

Submitted by Brian on
Interesting idea in regards to cost benefits in relation to climate change. I don't think climate change is going to come about in the near future personally, but I do think the factors will add up in favor of increasing irrigation for other reasons. My only concern is the sustainability factor. Can irrigation efforts be put into place that are sustainable or will governments and investors just seek out short term profitability?

Submitted by Furqan Asif Buzdar on
When there is a discussion about climate change and development, it is appropriate and adequate to interlink both the approaches for the sake of effectiveness. I perceive Africa as a paradise for this integrated approach of climate change as development opportunity.Evironmentalists have ever climate intimidations but they are less fortune in terms of resources to cope the situation. As everybody know that in Africa community livelihood is based on agriculture and at the same time we also know that climate change directly hit hard to the agriculture. Having a clear picture of the upcoming environmental degradation and prompt concerns of vulnerable community of Africa therefore it is imperative to bridge the gap between climate change and development.

Submitted by Jairo Jura on
Thank you Shanta for Introducing this crucial subject. On the face of this debate, I would like to agree with you that "Africa is the continent that will be hit the first, most and worst by climate change". However, your choice of words appear a bit alarming to me in the absence of an in depth comparative research data and analysis to support the assertion. My position is that a study should be commissioned to assess the impact of climate change viz a viz other factors in the regional global landscape to ascertain this very important information. Otherwise, thank you very much for this discussion.

Thank you for your comment, Jairo. In fact, there have been several studies that corroborate the assertions I made in the blog post. In particular, the book by Cline (2007), cited in the references to our paper and from which the map is taken, documents how Africa will suffer the biggest decline in agricultural productivity. The assertion is further supported by the book by Dinar (2008). Finally, both the IPCC (2007) and the UNDP (2007) studies provide evidence that Africa is likely to be the most vulnerable region from the effects of a rise in temperature.

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