The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has published a paper in which they analyse how ten African countries are dealing with climate change (pdf). The countries studied are the members of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). They are Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Of the 26 strategies mentioned, only two are common to all 10 countries, while five more are common to five or more. The strategies common to all member countries include the development and promotion of drought-tolerant and early-maturing crop species and exploitation of new and renewable energy sources. Most countries have areas that are classifiable as arid or semiarid, hence the need to develop drought-tolerant and early-maturing crops. Strangely, only one country recognizes the conservation of genetic resources as an important strategy although this is also potentially important for dealing with drought. Biomass energy resources account for more than 70 percent of total energy consumption in ASARECA member countries. To mitigate the potential adverse effects of biomass energy depletion, ASARECA countries plan to harness new and renewable energy sources, including solar power, wind power, hydro and geothermal sources, and biofuels.
Recent assessments have shown that the economic costs of climate change in Africa are likely to be significantly higher in relative terms than in other regions of the world. The costs of addressing the huge impacts of climate variability in Africa are already being felt on the continent. In East Africa, for example, major periodic droughts and floods have cost 5%-8% GDP per event. Their regular frequency has a direct long-term fiscal liability of over 2% GDP per year that is largely absorbed by the national governments.
And a few months ago, a US House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health heard the US State Department’s Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing, and four other experts from Conservation International (CI) – about the consequences of climate change in Africa:
Committee Chairman Donald Payne (D-NJ) in his opening remarks said, “African nations emitted only about 3% of world carbon dioxide from human-related sources in 2007. However Africa [because of its arid landscape, development challenges, and surging populations] is most likely to experiences rises in temperatures first. That’s not fair.”
“We are greatly concerned by climate change and believe that we are already living with its impacts”, testified Ambassador Rajaobelina, from severe droughts, to increasingly devastating cyclones, and rising continental temperatures.
“For people in poverty and simply trying to survive on a daily basis, even small climatic changes that impact a harvest can be catastrophic. Adaptation responses that improve the ability of the rural poor to cope with events for which they cannot plan are clearly going to be needed.”
I found out about the IFPRI report via Duncan Green and, as he says:
While climate change negotiators seem to be wading through metaphorical cement, national governments have no choice but to get on with adapting to current and future climate change, as far as they are able.
In Nairobi, there is the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ILRI is one among other centres which form the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). According to their 2009 financial report (pdf), ILRI is funded “by more than 90 private, public and government organizations of the north and South”.
Last March, I went to ILRI and did a story for Efe on the opening of a new lab at ILRI. This new lab is the BecA hub, which stands for Biosciences eastern and central Africa hub. Even though it won’t be officially launched until November, the BecA was then already working at 95 percent of its capacity. Their main research programmes at the time were about drought-resistant crops, plant parasites and livestock diseases. They were studying the local crops and livestock varieties present around them, in Kenya and the rest of East Africa. The aim was to improve the practical and material conditions for farmers and herders to produce more and better stuff. It doesn’t sound very sexy and you won’t see very often these issues featuring in the mainstream media. But a new cassava crop or a new vaccine for cows could greatly improve the lives of many people in the region.
I talked to Carlos Seré, ILRI director general, and Segenet Kelemu, BecA director. We talked about how to improve the food security in East Africa. They both seemed no-nonsense to me. They acknowledged the complexities of farming in East Africa and the impossibility of a green revolution in the conventional sense. “Here, we need a million green revolutions for the million particular problems”, Seré would tell me. They wanted the researchers to go and talk to local farmers. They wanted the research done here about the very problems of the region. Instead of big plans to save Africa, they asked for better roads and irrigation infrastructures.
Global climate change summits are fun to attend as a delegate or a journalist or to protest against. Big plans to save the world are great to make the headlines and to write flowery speeches. And, hey, both things may have actual good consequences and everything. But I keep thinking organisations and institutions based locally and dealing with local problems to improve the local situation will have a much bigger impact to improve people’s lives.
Bonus track: global warming, climate change and blah blah
Now, I’m no expert on climate change (I think I’m no expert on anything, actually). But it’s for people like me that Wikipedia was created. There is some controversy surrounding whether the current global warming is being mostly caused by humans or not. That’s not my point now (even though there’s almost complete scientific consensus on human-made climate change). One point is that the consensus about global warming actually happening, no matter whose fault it is, is even greater and that this will have likely negative consequences for us people.
Climate model projections summarized in the latest IPCC report indicate that the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the 21st century. The uncertainty in this estimate arises from the use of models with differing sensitivity to greenhouse gas concentrations and the use of differing estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions. An increase in global temperature will cause sea levels to rise and will change the amount and pattern of precipitation, probably including expansion of subtropical deserts. Warming is expected to be strongest in the Arctic and would be associated with continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice. Other likely effects include changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, species extinctions, and changes in agricultural yields. Warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe, though the nature of these regional variations is uncertain. Another major worldwide concomitant of global warming, and one which is presently happening as well as being predicted to continue, is ocean acidification, which is likewise a result of contemporary increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Of course, that’s Wikipedia speaking. But if you are really bored, go and check all those links and the sources the articles quote, that’s where all the meat is.
And the other point is, no matter whether climate change is real or if it’s our or the cows’ fault, food security in Sub Saharan Africa is already very fragile and should be addressed in ways that actually make change.
(The bolding in the quotes is mine.)