Climate change is gradually reducing the African continent’s maize and wheat production, according to a multinational report released earlier this week.
The findings in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report include that agriculture across Africa will be hard hit by high temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and drought as 90-95% of food production on the continent is rain-fed.
It says that without adaptation, a global temperature rise of 2 ºC will cause yields of maize across Southern Africa to fall by 25%.
Global warming will also negatively affect food systems in Africa by shortening growing seasons and increasing water stress. With a 1.5 °C temperature rise, yields are projected to decline for olives in North Africa and sorghum in West Africa, along with a decline in suitable areas for coffee and tea in East Africa.
“Global warming above 2 °C will result in yield reductions for staple crops across most of Africa, compared to 2005 yields (such as a 20-40% decline in West African maize yields), even when considering adaptation options and increasing CO₂.”
“Relative to 1986 to 2005, global warming of 3 °C is projected to reduce labour capacity in agriculture by 30–50% in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The report further examines the impacts that climate change has on ecosystems and human societies, considering their vulnerabilities and their capacity to adapt to current and future changes. It also highlights the risks that continued emissions pose to humans and the environment and analyses the vulnerabilities of different regions and natural systems.
To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, speedy action is required to adapt to climate change, recommends the report.
The dangers of inaction
The report’s summary for policymakers, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, was approved on Sunday, 27 February 2022 by 195 members of different governments.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC.
Christopher Trisos, director and senior researcher with the University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development Initiative, says the agricultural productivity in Africa has slowed by 34% due to climate change, something he flags as very worrying.
Trisos is also one of the authors of the report.
“In Southern Africa there has been an increase in carbon dioxide and changing rainfall patterns, which have reduced grazing lands and affected movement of animals.
“Ecotourism has also been affected. It is now rather difficult for tourist to view animals.”
Not all doom and gloom
Other authors of the report believe that, even though things may appear bad, climate change has brought some positives too. These include forcing humans to be more creative and innovative in addressing issues of global warming.
“It is not all gloom and doom. We do have certain opportunities,” said Danial Olago, contributing author to the report. “The report also notes that in major dryland regions of Africa, the groundwater system is receiving more recharge from the heavy rainfalls. We therefore have an opportunity to exploit the groundwater and use it for agricultural purposes.”
Meanwhile, Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), says that agriculture remains an important sector for many Southern African and broader African countries’ economies.
“Any decline in production because of erratic weather conditions would devastate households’ livelihoods and economies. Climate change and mitigating methods must be prioritised at all levels in societies so that we don’t find ourselves in such a bleak future.
“Technology developers, through seed breeding, also have a role in helping improve agriculture adaptation to these changing climatic conditions.”
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