Africa is in a race against time, with global climate events ahead of the race. Generic considerations of climate events tend to divert attention away from one of the major consequences, with direct, measurable and palpable effects. Although the unit of analysis of the vulnerable in this context is mostly the rural farming and sometimes non-farming households, and to a lesser extent the urban poor, emphasis tend to be more spatial than temporal. This alone has its many drawbacks and policy implications.
Africa earns the unenviable attribute of the most vulnerable continent to climate variability and change, a situation that is aggravated by the interaction of ‘multiple stresses,’ including high dependence on rain fed agriculture, widespread poverty and weak adaptive capacity. Although the repercussions of climate change are higher in Africa than other continents, Africa is one of the regions that are less prepared for the various weather-related risks and two-thirds of African countries have little or no capacity to manage these risks.
A nexus between climate change and prospects of feeding the continent seems to have attracted less practical attention than expected. Agriculture employs more than 60 per cent of Africa’s working population. But low productivity and high levels of food insecurity persist. Weather-related hazards, droughts, acute temperature variations and extreme precipitation continue to threaten agriculture and food security.
Globally, agriculture uses around 70 per cent of freshwater supply. In Africa, water sources are increasing- ly under threat. The annual rainfall across vast regions of Africa – espe- cially southern and northern Africa – is expected to decrease while there are predictions that droughts will be more frequent, more intense and will last longer. This puts to the test the claim that Africa has the world’s remaining largest arable land.
A chain is as strong as its weakest link. Although climate change events could commence within a given geopolitical boundary, the effects, nonetheless, transcend national boundaries. This is in spite of the disclosures that “a few countries in Africa have (also) developed frameworks and strategies to address national climate change challenges.”
It is no surprise therefore, that African leaders have a consensus on the inclusion of agriculture in their continental strategies. A Draft African Union Strategy on Climate Change, released in May 2014, acknowledged that “there is an urgent need for the Member States to design robust approaches that would help to effectively address the challenges associated with climate change risks, disasters and sustain- able development.”
But farmers, traders, agro-processors and consumers across East and Southern Africa are feeling the impact of consecutive seasons of drought that have scorched harvests and ruined livelihoods. Increased the malnutrition rates of rural children, rising food prices for urban residents, are consequences of livestock deaths, bush fires and bad
harvests, which have reduced the assets of pastoralists and small-scale farmers.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), some 37 countries require external assistance for food, including 28 Af- rican countries as a result of linger- ing effects of 2016 El Nino-triggered drought on harvests. As at 2017, no fewer than 17 countries struggled to come to terms with the impact of two consecutive years of drought, which has left more than 38 million people at risk. These did not include Nigeria, a hotbed of insurgent-led displacement of millions of farming households.
The prospects are grim. Stories of deaths, displacements, epidemics and nutritional deficiency diseases are becoming a commonplace. In the worst cases, where conflict has made farming impossible and re- duced humanitarian access, there will be famine. South Sudan cur- rently epitomises this, but Somalia and, increasingly, Nigeria could follow if the emergency response fal- ters. According to FAO, a total of 8.1 million people in northern Nigeria are facing acute food insecurity and require urgent life-saving response and livelihood protection.
In Somalia, the combination of conflict, civil insecurity and drought have resulted in more than double the number of people, now estimat- ed at 2.9 million, being severely food insecure from in 2016. Across Africa, there is widespread apprehension that climate change is impacting ad- versely on natural resources and the ability of ecosystems to continue de- livering the flow of essential services such as the life-support, source, and waste functions.
Concerns have been expressed that African countries currently experience decreased productiv- ity which detracts from economic growth, causes major budget dislo- cation, erodes development gains and resilience, and requires ad- ditional emergency aid from the international community in the future. As at 2017, the African Union warned that nearly 50 per cent of all emergency multilateral food as- sistance to Africa was due to natural disasters, with advancing droughts significantly threatening both liveli- hoods and economic growth
Droughts significantly threaten record Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in sub-Saharan Af- rica, an agency known as the African Risk Capacity (ARC) has warned. It is noteworthy that huge humanitarian supports have been pouring into Africa. In 2012, World Food Programme (WFP) operations, a proxy for international aid flows, assisted 54.2 million people in Africa, spending $2.7 billion – a whopping 66 per cent of WFP’s global expenditure that year.
The shrinking of inland water bodies has spelt misfortune in some parts of Africa. The FAO reckons that, over a period of fifty years, from 1963 to 2013, the Sub-Saharan Lake Chad Basin lost 90 per cent of its water mass, with massive impact on the population. The lamentation is loud that the region, commonly shared people at the risk of severe hunger and requiring immediate food and livelihood assistance.
Drought has been described by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as a complex and slowly en- croaching natural hazard with significant and pervasive socio-economic, health, political and environmental impacts, and is known to cause more deaths and displace- ment of more people than any other natural disaster.
The draft African climate change strategy document acknowledged that, although Af- rican countries have been aggrieved that the historic emitters of greenhouse gases have shown no factual interest in assisting Africa evolve resilient economics, it is up to African leaders to evolve viable pathways and solutions to all environmental challenges.
African leaders are making a point about interest in climate change. An African Union (AU) document has disclosed that the AU has “endorsed many efforts to support the improvement of climate data, information, and services, including the endorsement of the climate strategy of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the convening of a historic meeting on “Climate Information for Development Needs: An Action Plan for Africa”
Africa has, in several recent conferences and meetings on international climate change negotiations, articulated a com- mon, unified position at the Earth Summit called RIO+20 conference in Brazil, in June 2012 and the formal submission of the Africa Consensus Statement was endorsed, in unison by the Summit of the Heads of State in January, 2012 in Addis Ababa, much still remains to be done.
Drought has curtailed fodder for pastoralists and the poor rainfall is estimated to have reduced crop production in some regions to 70 percent below average levels, leaving food stocks depleted. Innovative and sustainable solutions are urgently needed to roll back the hands of drought and improve farmers’ resilience.
In the mix of panacea for the vulnerable small scale farming population, index insurance, a relatively recent innovation, has exciting potential for addressing the need for agricultural insurance in Africa. This could serve as a tool for achieving broader financial inclusion and for increasing investment in smart agricultural technologies and meeting unserved market segment in agriculture.
The mechanism, known as the African Risk Capacity (ARC), which provides participating African states with quick-disbursing funds in the event of drought, can complement index insurance and assist countries in developing drought response contingency plans to implement timely and effective responses.
Every effort, support and capacity building that can help African farmers overcome their climate vulnerability, particularly of drought, will be appropriate at this time. Time, weather and climate need rigorous management to deliver the needed safety nets, sustain food production and agrarian wealth creation all over Africa, reduce armed conflicts, improve food production and enliven the rural economies. Delayed intervention may be too costly or altogether ineffectual. The time to act is now.