Africa is a continent that is bedeviled by numerous issues such as extreme poverty, corruption, insecurity and bad governance. This has probably made the inhabitants of the continent ignore the glaring environmental insults occurring all over the continent for decades. In the past few years however, Africans have now come to realize that though we may have our unique problems, we cannot afford to stand aloof on environmental issues.
Climate change poses arguably the biggest threat to Africa today(1). It is more than just an environmental issue as it has far reaching repercussions even on the economy of the continent as well as its food security. With the global population approaching 9 billion by 2050, huge demands will be placed on countries and the environment to provide sufficient food(2). Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change threats as current systems of food production will only be able to meet 13 percent of the continent’s food needs by 2050, while three out of every four people added to the planet between now and 2100 will be born in the region(2). This is a continent where already at least 265 million people (nearly one-third) are hungry(3).
In the coming half century, the land we grow our food on will change. This will make feeding Africa’s growing population a herculean task. Higher temperatures would cause total farm yields to drop by 15-20 percent across all African regions(2). Furthermore, the 65 percent of the African work force (majority of them smallholder farmers) who directly depend on agriculture as their life blood will become the most threatened by climate change and affected food patterns. These stark statistics (courtesy of the United Nations Environment Programme) represent an ominous reminder of where the continent is headed, and if nothing is done millions of people in Africa will be pushed back into starvation and extreme poverty, which has the potential to fuel civil unrest as was the case in 2007-2008, when prices of maize and soybeans peaked sparking food riots in more than 30 countries(2).
As with most problems in Africa, this climate change and food security crisis almost seems like a hopeless case, one without any respite in sight. But like my mother always says “There is no problem without solution”. Ensuring food security in Africa is impossible without climate change adaptation and practices that not only support food production to meet people’s nutritional needs, but that also prevent soil erosion and degradation, conserve and provide clean water, as well as recycle nutrients. To achieve all of these calls for an Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approach. Ecosystem-based Adaptation makes use of nature’s goods and services to help people adapt to climate change(4). The EbA approach for example, favors composting and manure, which increase the soil’s fertility and ability to retain water – key advantages against hot, dry weather; while eschewing the application of chemical fertilizers to soil.
Many of the ecological based practices and technologies we need are already in use in some parts of the African continent and elsewhere. What’s needed is to make these practices scaleable, and most importantly to make them the rule rather than the exception. In Mozambique, for example, an investment of $120 per person in ecosystem-based actions provided continuous food security for 490 people, in addition to rehabilitating mangroves and reducing over fishing through the construction of crab cages and fish ponds to supplement catches. For skeptics, the answer to whether ecological approaches can provide results in a world where it is getting more difficult to grow food is still “Yes”. The Rodale Institute completed a 30 year study spanning the United States and Europe. The study found that after 3-5 years the crop yields of ecological agriculture matched yields of industrial agriculture(2). EbA is justifiably and unequivocally the best approach that Africa (and indeed the rest of the world) can use to combat climate change and ensure food security all at once(4). It can replenish ravaged systems, increase soil fertility, improve ground water supply, and produce less CO2 all the while encouraging more biodiversity and generating greater food production.
However, as successful as such initiatives may be, sizable increases in capital are needed to expand the reach of these EbA projects. International organizations, governments, development groups and non-governmental organizations should of the essence invest their money in up-scaling what has already proven to be effective and sustainable as illustrated by the examples. This will not only be good value for money but would also ensure long-term food security in Africa.
For once Africa must take control of its own destiny, as rising food prices do not have to mean greater food insecurity in Africa under the changing climate. We must not squander this opportunity to “avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable” effects of climate change(2).
Arnell N. W., Climate change and global water resources. Global Environmental Change – Human and Policy Dimensions, 2004
Munang R & Andrews J How Africa can feed itself in the face of climate change. Aljazeera news. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/09/how-africa-can-feed-itself-face-climate-change-201392991530954835.html. Accessed 29 October 2013
Akhimien IC Think.Eat.Save United Nations Environment Programme World Environment Day Booklet; 2013
- Colls A, Ash N, Ikkala N .Ecosystem-based Adaptation: a natural response to climate change. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN; 2009
—About Charles Akhimien—
Dr Charles Immanuel Akhimien is a young medical doctor from Nigeria. A prolific writer, he is the official blogger for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for World Environment Day 2013 and the winner of the World Environment Day 2013 blogging competition. A technology buff, Charles is interested in how mobile technology can solve some of the world’s problems such as global warming and healthcare coverage in Africa. In addition, he and his partners are working on the GOBIF3, a vaccine tracker and child growth monitoring app to monitor and improve the health of young children in Nigeria. He can be found on Twitter at @iakhimien.