Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Adapting Africa’s food system to climate change is an imperative; it’s time for action

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Kilissi experimental field for seeds production. Labors work at farming in the experimental field. Photo credit: Vincent Tremeau /World Bank Kilissi experimental field for seeds production. Labors work at farming in the experimental field. Photo credit: Vincent Tremeau /World Bank

Food security and climate change are two major development challenges of our time. In Africa, the food system is offtrack, and the climate is changing profoundly. In 2020, more than one in five people in Africa faced hunger—more than double the proportion of hungry people in any other region— and about 282 million of Africa’s population are undernourished. In West Africa alone, more than 27 million people needed immediate food assistance in 2021 due to a combination of drought, poverty, high food import prices, environmental degradation, displacement, poor trade integration, and conflict.

Adapting Africa’s food system to climate change is an imperative, not a choice.  Food security declines by 5–20% with each flood or drought, while the region experiences about a 1.4% reduction in food calories per year from key food security crops. At the same time, while agricultural exports are rising, the continent remains a net food importer at an annual cost of $43 billion, and without action, the continent’s food import bill could top $110 billion by 2025.

Current actions to build resilience to climate change and related shocks across Africa’s food systems are promising, but not nearly enough to meet the scale of the problem. If global temperatures rise by an average of 3°C trajectory, as current trends suggest, disruption to current food systems will be profound and catastrophic for millions who will struggle to survive. Even on a 1.5°C trajectory, a more ambitious and urgent set of adaptation interventions are required to prevent widescale famine.

So, what will it take to adapt Africa’s food system to climate change?

Leading adaptation options for food systems are well defined and build on evidence and experience. These include public policy solutions, food value chain and livelihood solutions, and on-farm and productive landscapes solutions. A report from the Global Center on Adaptation, The State and Trends in Adaptation Report 2021: Africa, argues that public sector investments in Africa should prioritize research and extension, water management, infrastructure, land restoration, and climate information services to build resilience among small-scale farmers, pastoralists, fishers and small businesses.

The Accelerating the Impact of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa project, AICCRA, is a new $60 million initiative that supports research and capacity-building activities carried out by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and partner organizations, with the goal of enhancing access to climate information services and validated climate-smart agriculture technologies in Africa. It takes an innovative approach to filling the “missing middle” by bridging gaps between the organizations that generate and make available climate knowledge and Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) technologies and the organizations and individuals that use this knowledge and technologies. While AICCRA investments will be concentrated in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Senegal and Zambia, spillover benefits are expected in other African countries as the project works with Regional Economic Communities and associated research networks. To date, partnerships have been forged across the continent to disseminate climate smart information services and build capacity for the adoption of climate smart agriculture technologies.

South Sudan recently benefitted from two new projects totaling $116 million that aim to strengthen the capacity of farmers, improve agricultural production, and restore livelihoods and food security.  The $62.5 million South Sudan Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods Project (RALP) supports training for farmers to help them efficiently manage their organizations, adopt new technology, and use climate smart agriculture practices to boost their yields. Secondly, the $53.7 million Emergency Locust Response Project (ELRP) is designed to boost South Sudan’s response to desert locusts by restoring livelihoods for the poorest and strengthening the country’s preparedness systems. The project will provide direct income to the most vulnerable households to enable them to produce more food for themselves and local markets. In addition, the project is promoting restoration of pasture and farming systems and is helping restore crop production in 35,000 ha of land, assisting 135,000 farmers to restart farming activities and providing livelihood support to 48,300 households.

To improve food system resilience, promote intraregional value chains, and build regional capacity to manage agricultural risks, the World Bank recently approved a $570 million Multi-Phase Programmatic Approach Program for West Africa. The first phase of the program, which amounts to $330 million brings together four countries—Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Togo—and three regional organizations —the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), and the West and Central Africa Council for Agriculture Research and Development (CORAF). A second phase is under preparation for three additional countries – Ghana, Chad and Sierra Leone. The program will simultaneously increase agricultural productivity through climate-smart agriculture, intraregional value chains and trade, and improved regional capacity to manage agricultural risk. By investing across these three areas and targeting priority landscapes, the program will create a sustainable regional infrastructure to help break the perpetual pattern of shock-recovery-shock in the region’s food systems.

Appropriate investments in the agriculture sector can help the food systems adapt by increasing productivity, resilience, and resource-use efficiency. Financing adaptation to climate change will be more cost-effective than financing increasingly frequent and severe crisis, disaster relief, and recovery responses. Indeed, the cost of action on climate adaptation of agriculture and food systems is less than a tenth of the cost of inaction: $15 billion compared to $201 billion per annum.

The growing momentum on adapting Africa’s food systems to climate change is being increasingly reflected in climate-smart investments across the continent but must go farther  to better support small-scale producers who are at the core of building resilience of African communities. Increasing and targeting flows of capital to these farmers, pastoralists, fishers, and small businesses will require designing new financing mechanisms and overcoming longstanding technical and institutional barriers, including limited capacity to manage production, marketing and price risks, and high transaction costs of lending to farmers.

African Food System: The Importance of Climate Adaptation
African Food System: The Importance of Climate Adaptation


Holger Kray

Practice Manager for Agriculture and Food Security

Chakib Jenane

Regional Director for Sustainable Development for the Western and Central Africa Region at the World Bank

Ademola Braimoh

Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank

Paavo Eliste

Lead Rural Development Specialist

Elliot W. Mghenyi

Lead Agriculture Economist in the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Practice Group

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