Climate Change and Agriculture in East Africa

ifpri-newDecember 9, 2013, Bujumbura, Burundi—Population growth in East Africa is among the highest in the world and could worsen food insecurity, which is already severe. Arable areas in the region are under severe pressure to increase their productivity to feed a rapidly increasing human population. Climate change could exacerbate the situation; adaptation is essential for sustained economic growth in the East Africa. This is the challenge facing policymakers, who must plan for the future without available information and analysis.

A new book, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and released today by three research organizations, starts to fill this information gap.  East African Agriculture and Climate Change examines the food security threats facing 11 of the countries that make up East and central Africa—Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda—and explores how climate change will increase the requirements for achieving sustainable food security throughout the region. Agriculture drives these countries’ economies and accounts for 43 percent of their annual gross domestic product.

The book is the result of collaboration among IFPRI, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), and scientists from each of the countries studied. Using sophisticated modeling and available data to develop future scenarios and explore a range of climate change consequences for agriculture, food security, and resource management, the book offers recommendations to national governments and regional agencies.

Findings from the book include the following:

  • Without adaptation, climate change will have negative effects on wheat, soybean, sorghum, and irrigated rice yields. Yield declines for each crop are different, but they range between 5 and 20 percent, with irrigated rice being the crop most negatively impacted.
  • Rainfed maize and rainfed rice yields might increase slightly because of climate change, generally because of projected higher rainfall in some areas.
  • Of the major crops grown in the region, maize is likely to have the highest price increase by 2050, with some models showing the real price doubling on the global markets.
  • With adaptation to climate change, including investment in agricultural technology (including development of new varieties), maize yields could increase across the region by more than 50 percent between now and 2050.
  • Some areas will be very hard hit by climate change, making growing crops much more difficult. One climate model suggests that parts of West Pokot County in Kenya will no longer be suitable for maize.
  • At the same time, other areas that were not previously suitable for crops probably can be brought into production. Areas in the Rift Valley that are not currently suitable for rainfed maize will become so.

The book also offers recommendations to national governments and regional economic agencies already dealing with the vulnerabilities of climate change. “There are two main ways the book can be helpful to policymakers,” said Timothy Thomas, an IFPRI research fellow.  “First, the detailed maps on projected productivity changes to key crops will help readers identify climate ‘hotspots’ where intervention should be made a priority.  Second, the book pulls together projections of changes in climate, population, income, and agricultural technology, and looks into the future to show what this means for each country in terms of agricultural productivity, food security, and nutrition.”

The maps showing scenarios in different but neighboring countries amplify the gravity of climate change’s effects.  “While one can get absorbed in local concerns, a glance at several countries together projects the complexities and impacts that would not be possible at lower scales,” said Michael Waithaka, manager of ASARECA’s Policy Analysis and Advocacy Program.

East African Agriculture and Climate Change is the final book to be released of a three-part series examining climate change and agriculture in three regions of Africa: West Africa, southern Africa, and East Africa. It will be launched today at the ASARECA General Assembly and Scientific Conference.  West African Agriculture and Climate Change was launched in April; Southern African Agriculture and Climate Change was launched in September.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyze alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries. It is a member of the CGIAR Consortium.
The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a strategic partnership of CGIAR and Future Earth, led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). CCAFS brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and tradeoffs between climate change, agriculture and food security.
The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa seeks to enhance regional collective action in agricultural research for development, extension and agricultural training and education to promote economic growth, fight poverty, eradicate hunger and enhance sustainable use of resources in Eastern and Central Africa.