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How is climate change a threat to African agriculture?

Agriculture provides employment for about two-thirds of Africa’s working population, though climate change could threaten to radically disrupt many people’s way of life.

In Eastern Africa alone, 70% of the population and most people living in extreme poverty make a living from farming.

Climate change could destabilize local markets, curb economic growth, and heighten risk for agricultural investors, as agriculture is critical to Africa’s growth and development.

Weather patterns are becoming less favourable across the continent, increasing the volatility of crop and livestock yields. Temperatures are projected to continue rising and rainfall patterns are expected to shift more than they have already.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), African temperatures in recent decades have been warming at a rate comparable to that of most other continents, creating conditions too hot for sustainable farming.

How will food security be affected?

Sub-Saharan African countries in particular are prone to drought, which prevents crops from growing and stops populations being properly fed.

According to FAO, the number of undernourished people in Africa has increased by 45.6% since 2012. Major factors that have reduced crop productivity include excessive heat, drought stress, and increased damages from pests.

So, how will farmers have to change their growth strategies to adapt to a changing climate? Millet and sorghum are the most promising crops to focus on moving forward, as they’re more heat resistant than other options. Keep in mind though that famers still expect a yield loss of 7% by 2050 on both.

Crops such as rice and wheat are expected to be the most affected, with a yield loss by 2050 of 12% and 21% respectively – according to UNFCC.

Mozambique’s major food crops, meanwhile, are corn and sorghum. They cover a third of cultivated land in the country.

However, according to FAO, there’s a large seasonal loss. It is estimated that a 25% or greater drop in corn yields would reduce Mozambique’s GDP by 2.5%. Such a drop would affect the country’s economy severely.

What is driving climate change in Africa?

In Africa, deforestation and increased livestock farming are the biggest drivers of climate change.

Central and West Africa’s coastal rainforests are at risk of being the most destroyed. Congo Basin deforestation, for example, has doubled since 1990. Ghana is said to be losing its rainforest faster than any other country in the world according to Global Forest Watch (GFW).

Livestock farming is a major economic dependency for most communities in Africa, but it is massively detrimental to the environment.

Farming animals produces methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Methane is 28 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide emissions, while nitrous oxide from manure storage and fertilizers is 265 times worse. Those are some eye watering numbers.

How are young African climate activists are pushing for reform?

It’s not all bad news, mind! Tons of young Gen Z activists are pushing for change.

12-year-old South African climate activist Yola Mgogwana is challenging various communities to take better care of the environment, stop littering, and give up their dependency on single-use plastics.

In 2019 she was among hundreds of young people who joined a global climate action protest called #FridaysforFuture which was inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

Similarly, an 18-year-old Nkosi Nyathi from Zimbabwe has made a tremendous effort to educate and inform young people on the importance of the environment.

His interest came when he was 11 after noticing the increasing damage to farming land. He urges world leaders to work together to reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and for leaders to include communities already living with effects of climate change in policy-making decisions.

A renowned East African environmentalist from Uganda, Vanessa Nakate, launched a one woman protest against climate change.

The young environmentalist emphasizes that Africa needs to be effective at tailoring climate messages to local people in order to lower climate risks and build support for climate action.

This includes engaging communities on social media or translating climate science into useable information on risks to food production and security.

Africa’s transition to a new climate economy is underway in many places.

Already 33 countries in Africa have signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. Morocco has built the world’s largest concentrated solar facility to help achieve the country’s goal of 52 percent renewable energy production by 2030.

This is the type of focus African countries need on enhancing their adaptive capacities and reduce their vulnerability to climate change.


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