22 December 2014
The Challenge of Africa’s Transformation: Issues of Food Security and Climate Change
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Two years ago, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a very important milestone for agriculture and food security on the continent, the African Union (AU) declared 2014 the year of agriculture.

Two years ago, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a very important milestone for agriculture and food security on the continent, the African Union (AU) declared 2014 the year of agriculture. Today, African economies continue to grow at an average rate of 5.3%. Despite this growth, the current wealth generated has not spread to the poor majority whose livelihoods depend mainly on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fishing.

Currently, agriculture continues to provide employment to more than 70% of the African population, contributes about 50% of total export value, and 30% of Africa’s GDP. However, over 40% of Africans continue to experience food insecurity on a daily basis. As a result of underperformance from this sector, the continent spends colossal amounts of money annually, between US$40 billion and US$50 billion, on food imports despite having nearly 60% of unexploited arable land capable of producing enough food for Africa and surplus for markets. In addition, an increase in global warming of more than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels and the ensuing climate change and variability are projected to cause further stress to food systems, aggravate current food deficits, and exacerbate the incidence of hunger and malnutrition.

Based on this recognition, ClimDev-Africa organized the fourth climate for development conference (CCDA IV) from 8-10 October 2014, under the theme ‘Africa can feed Africa now: translating climate knowledge into action.’ The conference brought together multiple stakeholders to interrogate, deliberate and share best practices on how Africa can tap into opportunities offered by climate change to ensure food production. Conference participants also addressed means of turning smart agriculture know-how into dividends that can catalyze development by making use of climate information services and knowledge to: transform the agricultural sector; build resilient economies; and reduce the impacts of climate change.

The conference provided a space for key stakeholders to highlight how most African economies rely on climate-sensitive sectors that are highly exposed to climate variability, drought and floods. They stressed that these climate impacts are disrupting agricultural output, endangering livelihoods and health, and pushing marginalized groups further down into peripheral, vicious cycles of poverty. Participants further illustrated how climate change challenges could be turned into opportunities to unlock agricultural potential through: improved access and effective use of climate information; and the deployment of proven agricultural technologies and innovations to raise farm productivity, increase farmers’ incomes and ensure food security.

Agriculture remains the mainstay of Africa’s development and of the well-being of a majority of people. Africa’s transformation will be contingent on a stable agricultural base and an industrial agricultural pathway that enhances the agricultural value chain. All this will indeed require sufficient and reliable energy supply. As such, CCDA IV recommended linking investments to affordable energy sources and infrastructures that will enable: the transformation of rural economies: livelihoods improvements; and food security.

Another key recommendation related to the understanding and deliverance of climate data and information, and technology and innovation to enhance the implementation of priority actions and practices at all levels that will be critical to improve agricultural performance and decision making for African farmers. For example, Kilimo Salama (“Safe Agriculture”) an innovative weather-based index insurance programme has helped 187,000 farmers in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania to face climate risks. Combined with another pioneering mobile phone technology (M-Pesa), it has provided farmers with quick access to payouts and improved their lives. In delivering climate data combined with information, technology and innovation, African countries can hasten the pace of their transition from subsistence agrarian economies to those that are inclusive and business-oriented.

In addition, in light of Africa’s high number of young inhabitants and rapid urbanization, focusing on agricultural value chains, rural entrepreneurship and information and communications technology (ICT) could also bring lucrative employment opportunities to rural areas and curb the rate of youth rural-urban migration. Attracting and retaining young people in the agricultural sector is critical for rural society transformation. It will entail the development of rural small and medium enterprises (SMEs), access to microfinance, as well as infrastructure development to improve rural-urban connectivity. Thus, in recognition of the role that youth, technology and finance have to play for the improvement of agriculture, CCDA IV participants recommended:

• Climate funds should target and ensure that: finance is being channeled effectively and is meeting the specific needs of key stakeholders, including researchers, smallholder farmers and communities; as well as providing a window for accessing finance for agriculture under the UNFCCC.

• Rebranding agriculture and commensurate drivers such as technology, institutions and local and youth entrepreneurship to: lift the sector from current modes of underdevelopment to a booming sector with green jobs; and provide the scaffolding that will support climate-smart investments.

According to the latest African Progress Panel Report ‘Agriculture remains the Achilles’ heel of Africa’s development success story,’ for Africa to sustain its current economic growth and accelerate the pace of economic transformation, it will have to: capitalize on the current youthful demographic dividend; increase investments in agriculture to raise productivity and increase farm incomes; and address rural poverty and achieve food security for all through improved access and effective use of climate information, and the deployment of proven agricultural technologies and innovations.

Climate change remains an urgent priority for Africa’s continued growth and structural transformation. Agriculture is crucial in Africa’s transition to a climate-resilient growth strategy. Africa needs the agricultural sector to evolve out of natural resource dependency and to use commensurate resources to create a broader base for sustainable development. Experiences of industrialized countries have shown that, in order to grow their economies, they relied on their agricultural sectors. Indeed, the agricultural sector has preceded or accompanied high growth in many developed economies. Africa’s race to a transformational agricultural sector will have to take along key sectors such as energy and water, which intersect to provide strong pillars for inclusive socioeconomic development. Africa’s policy makers need to use climate change as an opportunity, a business venture that can unleash lucrative businesses across the region in key productive sectors. African communities cannot continue to mortgage their future. They need viable sustainable livelihoods today. This is a collective responsibility that we must all share and act upon.