Climate change: An added challenge for African agriculture
Benoît Faivre Dupaigre, Project Manager "Policies and Markets", FARM fondation
Agriculture is a pillar of Africa’s development. Allowing for the climate factor and its impact on the continent’s agricultural activities has therefore never been as critical, since the consumption of agricultural products in Sub-Saharan Africa will be the highest among all the parts of the world by 2050.
In a recent article from the Fondation FARM Notes, whose conclusions we are publishing below2, Benoit Faivre Dupaigre3 covers the dual issue of African food security and farming revenues in a restricted climate context. Building on the conclusions of a French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD) study, the author highlights the African continent’s extreme difficulty in meetimg this double challenge if measures are not immediately taken, especially concerning the strengthening and/or reform of agricultural policies. With this in mind, he confirms that support policies are the norm and not the exception in issues of public intervention in agriculture.
The listing of tools and measures to support agriculture used by governments in developed and developing countries is a long one: Tariff protection, subsidies for production and inputs and price support… While the effectiveness and fairness of each of these tools can unquestionably be contested, it nevertheless remains clear that their dominance in national public policies proves that nations cannot avoid them to sustain their agricultural sector, and thus preserve food security for their people.
momagri Editorial Board
In addition to productivity gaps between economic sectors across the continent, we know that the unduly slow growth of agricultural productivity in Africa is a major challenge that focuses attention on public intervention. The frequently raised issue concerns the ways and means to be implemented to respond to the regional food demand––degree of trade openness, regional specialization in an integrated continental framework and search for self-sufficiency––in a context of competitiveness loss, which is made obviously unavoidable due to the African agricultural population growth, which still endures, and against which nothing seems adequate in lowering.
Climate change appears to be an aggravating factor in addition to the challenges that must obviously be met by Africa to lift its rural population from poverty, to ensure a stable food supply for all its people and to create quality jobs for young people. If we bet that Africa has the ability to overcome a significant share of these problems thanks to its agricultural activities, we must decisively consider the ways to achieve agricultural growth. In this respect, one can be concerned by the fact that the climate negotiations are essentially focusing on mitigation issues, and that the proposals to adjust to climate change are reduced to bare bones. Is it not a defeatist stand and implicitly opt for Africa’s increased food reliance on global markets? However, further discussions on an adjustment would also be a way to reopen negotiations on the drivers of agricultural intensification.
The prospective study conducted by CIRAD and based on the FAO outlook is helpful to assess the scope of the challenges, but could also let us be overcome by pessimism. Yet the study is founded on a principle that could have a significant impact on the results achieved, and links food output and demand not only to global growth and population forecasts but also to assumptions of yield and land increases mostly based on the statements made by experts. These assumptions are thus based on the perception of current and future agro-ecological conditions, probably relying on average expectations of investment and technical progress. We know that the methods favoring a consensus among experts do not leave any room for the unexpected or temerity. Under such circumstances, one might wonder how highly affirmative interventions in agricultural policy, which have boosted agricultural growth in the past––especially during the green revolutions occurring in other regions––could be taken into account and modeled. What about a real change in the build-up plan in Africa generated by increasing public or private investment in research and infrastructures for instance, and about incentives for farmers to invest in their operations?
We have seen that applying historical output growth rates––although achieved in specific yet real conditions––opens up a more optimistic outlook to consider public intervention for African agriculture. Yet, the agricultural policies that have generated spectacular (exponential) growth in land and labor productivity were based on clear assumptions of embracing innovation supported by income support and risk management policies, either indirectly through the regulation of production and input prices, or indirectly through tools to support revenues. Often critized for their economic ineffectiveness in times of absence of economies of scale, structural policies have often allowed to manage the exits of rural people from agricultural activities. Conversely, social disasters have occurred in cases where they were not implemented in time.
As a result, price or income support policies could thus certainly play a determinant role in the creation of a new agricultural momentum. These elements have hardly been addressed in the FAO model. Yet we observed that, in the past, they directly impacted on productivity increases. If such assumption is not included in the natural thinking of experts and in the model’s options, it is fair to reintroduce it for the future.
Consequently, agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is not a dead issue, and we can bet on potential breakdowns that could alter the outlook. The future is not yet written, and one can think that, based on how changes in international trade, in business with non-agricultural sectors and in relations between agro-food operators are handled, the momentum to adopt innovative measures could be widely approved. Consequently, we must find the means to insert political economics in the prospective scenarios, and know how to assimilate the lessons of history.
1 Subtitle: 2050 Outlook for Food Security and Agricultural Productivity
2 The comprehensive text of the Note #8 of October 2015 and its conclusions are available from:
3 Project Officer for Policies and Markets at FARM