Africa’s best bets for transforming agriculture and food systems

The next decade is a “golden opportunity” for the transformation of Africa agriculture to ensure it is climate-resilient, but doing so will require investment in irrigation, digitalisation and social protection, according to a new Discussion Starter from Clim-Eat.

Africa’s food system is expected to be worth USD 1 trillion by 2030, with rapid urbanisation and changing diets presenting new prospects for vibrant domestic markets, reduced reliance on imports, and opportunities for smallholder farmers and youth.

But the positive projections are underpinned by the need to ensure food production adapts to climate change, and that requires getting the enabling and investment environment right. Currently the continent’s reliance on rainfed agriculture means it is vulnerable to extreme weather, and adaptation is being held back by issues ranging from a lack of climate literacy amongst smallholders and difficulty accessing climate-related funding, to the lack of digitalization in rural areas leaving many farmers unable to make use of climate-informed agricultural services.

Clim-Eat Discussion Starter #5 identifies the seven best-best investment and action priorities for adapting agriculture – specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa – to the impacts of climate change. It is the result of a deliberation and analysis involving stakeholders from African farming organisations; local, regional and international research organisations and universities; foundations; international agricultural, development, environmental and climate organisations; and the private sector.

Figure 1: the seven priorities highlighted in the Discussion Starter

Priorities include four related to public or private investment. These cover a range of activities, from repurposing public funding – to ensure it supports resilience building through investments in rural infrastructure and services, to efforts to improve land tenure security, smarter use of inorganic fertilizer subsides, and encouraging private sector support for the development of climate-resilient agri-food supply chains that source from smallholder farmers.

A further two priorities focus on “technical game changers”. One concerns the use of digital technologies in the food system, such as access to and use of climate advisory services by smallholder farmers. The other focuses on the need for farmer-led sustainable irrigation to reduce reliance on rainfed agriculture, extend the crop-growing season beyond the limits of the rainy season, and protect food production from drought. The Discussion Starter notes that currently less than 10% of African crop land is irrigated, a situation the authors describe as “woeful”, especially given that the potential for expansion is enormous.

Finally, the Discussion Starter stresses the need for “creative social protection” to support farming households to transition out of poverty and climate vulnerability. This recognizes that agriculture won’t be the sole pathway for smallholder farmers and other rural dwellers to escape poverty. It covers the development of weather-index insurance and other insurance schemes; national school feeding programmes; cash-based or asset-based safety net programmes; public works programs; labour market programs and more.

“The growth of the food system in Africa will bring huge opportunities in the coming years, but in order to make the most of these the continent must build long-term resilience to climate change,” said Bruce Campbell, Clim-Eat’s Chief Innovation Strategist and lead author of the publication.

Discussion Starter co-author Edmond Totin, also an IPCC author and lecturer at Benin’s Universite Nationale d’Agriculture, said: “To build resilience, there is a need to focus on coordinated, multi-scale, long-term, transformational outcomes. The priority investments and actions outlined in this Discussion Starter are designed to cut through the noise of policy and decision-making and highlight the best bets.”

Clim-Eat Discussion Starter #5, Advancing climate change adaptation in African food systems, will be launched at a side event of the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya on 6th September 2023.

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