East Africa could be the lucky exception to the disastrous effects of climate change as scientists predict increased precipitation as temperatures rise.
Four scientists — working with the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca) — Kizito Kwena, William Ndegwa, Imad Ali-Babiker and Hezron Mogaka — say the flipside to rising temperatures is that East Africa is likely to get wetter mid-century.
Citing separate studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank, the researchers say the projected 2°C increase in surface temperatures will result in an 11 per cent increase in rainfall over 80 per cent of the region.
“As unfamiliar as this counter-narrative seems, climate change presents the region an opportunity to think and act differently, to change the way it views growth and interacts with the environment,” says of their paper titled The curse of food insecurity and climate change in Africa.
The scientists say the 2025 zero hunger target set by African leaders is achievable, if governments in the region invest at least 10 per cent of their GDP in agriculture and direct resources into climate-smart agriculture.
According to Dr Kwena, while most climate models remain optimistic about the rainfall situation in East Africa — where vast areas of land are arid or semi-arid — the challenge is that governments may not be prepared to maximise the associated benefits.
“Climate change is not disaster all round. Climate models are predicting drought in one part of the continent and increased rainfall in the other. That is a huge opportunity considering the vast areas in the region that are arid or semi-arid. The challenge is how we harness this opportunity,” said Dr Kwena.
And while there have been attempts, Dr Kwena said most climate-smart interventions have been limited to a farm or plot level, which restricts the impacts that could be achieved if climate smart agriculture technologies were applied on a larger scale.
There will also be a need for some adjustments. For instance, if the arid and semi-arid areas of the region become wetter, communities may be required to adopt new livelihood activities. These views stand in sharp contrast to other scenarios that predict that in many parts of Africa, every 1°C increase in temperature will result in a five per cent decline in food yields.
“Already, there have been several climate-induced grain shocks in the world. In the medium-term, climate change causes production losses and increases cost structures. In the long-term, climate change causes production collapse,” said Asareca’s executive secretary Professor Francis Wachira, adding, “With this kind of forecast, it is important to make our cropping systems better adapted to a warming world.”
Climate-smart agriculture would enhance the resilience of food systems while also contributing to reduction of emissions, Prof Wachira said, adding that every dollar invested in agricultural research and development results in a 68kg reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide while a one per cent increase in agricultural water productivity frees up 24 litres of water per person per day.
Prof Wachira added that despite its potential, Africa remains a net importer of food even as other regions of the world have tripled their output.
In East and Central Africa, crop yields have stagnated over the past half a century, leading to sharp declines in per capita food production and an increase in poverty and hunger.
He pointed to market failures and over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture as the major factors behind the under-performance of African agriculture, a situation he warns will be exacerbated by climate change.