The African continent will be the most affected by climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In a region where 70 percent of inhabitants still directly rely on the land for their livelihoods, the amount of usable land is decreasing as the number of people who need it is increasing. Africa's population is estimated to grow to 4 billion by the end of the century, up from about 1.2 billion today. With the need for food increasing fast, some farmers are exhausting their soils, preventing their replenishment. At the same time, the United Nations reports that large areas of arable land are drying up and desertification is spreading because of overuse and global warming. These trends are putting a serious strain on food security in the region.

Four factors come into play when evaluating food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability. The IPCC states that there is a “strong consensus that climate change will have a significantly negative impact on all these aspects of food security in Africa.” There is a direct impact on crops and livestock from “increased flooding, drought, shifts in the timing and amount of rainfall, and high temperatures” and indirectly through “increased soil erosion from more frequent storms or through increased pest and disease pressure on crops and livestock caused by warmer temperatures.” On top of food being more difficult to grow, extreme weather impairs transportation for access to food. Food spoilage as well as pest and pathogen damage become more likely when food deliveries are delayed or blocked.

Food insecurity leads to massive migration to find usable land and is sparking conflicts over territory, such as in Nigeria and Kenya. Food insecurity also leads to famine, as governments in Africa's developing countries are often unable to cope with emergencies and disasters. More than 10 million people in Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan are on the verge of starvation.

There are proven and tested solutions to revive dry and overgrazed lands, but ecologists say little is being done. Practices that can replenish degraded soils include: adding clay or organic material to soils to improve drainage and their ability to hold water; crop rotations; the use of soil ameliorants like lime, gypsum and sulphates; controlling when and for how long herders can graze; and spreading new types of grass seeds. Africa's farmers, many of them subsistence farmers, will need help to implement these solutions.


Author: Erin Brown