What’s the first step in building climate-smart food systems across Africa?
By Vikas Chaudhary and Amadou Ba
I was recently in Kenya, where I met several long-time farmers. They took us around their farms and described some of the challenges they’ve faced in recent years, as unpredictable weather has wreaked havoc on their harvests.
Visiting farms and talking to farmers around Africa, it’s undeniable that climate change is having an impact. Climate change has resulted in down-sized harvests, lower incomes and greater hardship for farmers. And it’s not just farmers who are affected. Because there is less food in the market, many people aren’t getting enough food to eat. The ongoing El Nino crisis and droughts in India, Malawi, and Ethiopia have highlighted just how vulnerable food systems in developing countries are to climatic shocks. The headlines from these countries have mobilized global attention and action.
The Sahel region has not been severely affected by the ongoing El Nino crisis, but it is not immune to the impacts of climate change. For example, in Niger, droughts happen once every three years on average. This has forced farmers in Niger’s farmers to be perpetually in crisis response mode. Increasing erratic weather patterns are definitely making farmers more vulnerable—to hunger, poverty, lower incomes. Urgent actions are needed to build the resilience of farmers and the food system to better adapt to a changing climate.
There have been steps in the right direction in Niger. Early this year, the World Bank (WB) approved $111 million in new financing to boost productivity in Niger’s agriculture sector and improve its resilience to climate risks. The Niger Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) Support Project is the first Bank project in Africa designed specifically to deliver climate smart agriculture--namely increased productivity, enhanced resilience and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It is aligned with the Government of Niger’s ‘Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens’ (3N) Initiative.
We hope that efforts in Niger will pave the way for similar initiatives across Africa. The outlook is promising. Governments are increasingly committed to climate-smart agriculture, and are creating incentives, enabling environments and policies that are conducive to it. The Africa Climate Business Plan provides a good roadmap for action. But where’s a good place to start?
Our experience in Niger tells us that risk assessments are an important part of building climate-smart food systems. Indeed, to fix a problem, you need to understand it first. Identifying appropriate solutions and establishing resilience building measures starts with diagnosing the root causes of vulnerability.
The WB Agricultural Sector Risk Assessment for Niger (2012) highlighted the frequency and adverse consequences of agricultural risks--principally droughts-- on rural livelihoods, poor households, GDP, and the overall economy. The assessment allowed a shift from ‘reactive’ crisis response to more proactive resilience building. Drawing from the risk assessment, and under the leadership of the 3N High Commission, the Government of Niger developed a 10-year action plan for risk management (PAGRA) that prioritized short and medium term actions to build the resilience of the food system in Niger.
Beyond Niger, risk assessments have proven to be useful entry points for building consensus and fostering dialogue with clients to manage risk in the short term and build resilience in the medium term. The WB has conducted 15 agricultural sector risk assessments for countries including Kenya, Malawi, and Rwanda. The risk assessments have informed governments’ efforts to mainstream resilience into their agriculture and food systems and paved the way for transformative initiatives like the Niger CSA project. Risk assessments have also driven the development of other projects, which are already in the pipeline. Building resilience is a challenging endeavor. It requires long-term sustained engagement, commitment, and concerted action. It also requires recognizing and doing painstaking analysis around risks. But the reward of a more resilient food system is well worth the effort.