What climate change means for agriculture and food security

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UNESCO, Nairobi, Kenya

Although some aspects of African agriculture may benefit from climate change, rising temperatures and the extreme events they drive, such as droughts and floods, appear more likely to threaten crops and livestock across the continent. Climate change can have less direct effect too, by affecting the pollinators, pests, weeds and parasites. Together, these changes have already been linked to rising food prices, reduced food security, and increased malnutrition — three trends that show little signs of slowing. According to the IPCC, by 2020, up to 250 million Africans are likely to suffer from food insecurity as a result of climate-driven crop failure, loss of livestock, and a lack of water.

According to the World Bank, by 2040, drought and increased heat could reduce by 40-80 per cent the area of sub- Saharan Africa suited growing maize, millet or sorghum. It says a 2°C increase in temperature (projected for 2040), could reduce maize yields by 5 to 22 per cent, wheat by 10 to 17 per cent, and sorghum by 15 to 17 per cent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that the arid and semi-arid area of sub-Saharan Africa could expand by 60 to 90 million hectares – the size of France – by 2080.

The devastation extreme climatic conditions can cause is evident. The famine in Somalia that killed an estimated 260,000 people between 2010 and 2012 was the direct result of severe drought across the region. Erratic rainfall and prolonged dry spells have sustained high food prices across the Sahel region, making it increasingly difficult for families to feed themselves.

Tea Production in Kenya

Over 500,000 Kenyans who rely on tea production for their income have seen erratic rainfall, greater frost in the winter, and higher summer temperatures harm their livelihoods. With a projected 2°C increase in temperature threatening to drive farmers up to forested mountain slopes to maintain production, the government has acknowledged the harmful impacts of climate change and is developing a plan for intervention.