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It's Time To Scale Up African Solutions for the Continent's Food and Climate Crises | Opinion - Newsweek

It’s Time To Scale Up African Solutions for the Continent’s Food and Climate Crises | Opinion – Newsweek

When it comes to climate change, there is no greater challenge than making sure Africa can feed itself.

Right now, the Horn of Africa is suffering its worst drought in four decades, with UNICEF warning that 20 million children are at risk of severe hunger, thirst, and disease.

What makes this crisis especially pressing is that it is not a freak event; it is Africa’s new normal. Rising global temperatures are playing havoc with the rainfall patterns that hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers rely on. Large portions of Africa are warming at a rate twice the global average, putting half a billion people at risk.

This new normal—living with climate change—calls for new thinking and a new approach. We need to free countries from the endless cycle of disaster and recovery. Instead of disaster relief, we need investment. Instead of food aid, we need climate-smart solutions for food production.

Thinking Bigger

Answers to the problems exist. Some of the best ideas are already being rolled out by young African entrepreneurs. They include start-ups such as Irri-hub, founded by Eric Onchonga, which is helping smallholders in the current drought with rainwater harvesting technology and solar-powered irrigation systems. Another is AgriTech Analytics, founded by Maryanne Gichanga, which uses satellite imaging, data analytics, and the Internet of Things to detect pests and crop diseases, and advise farmers on soil conditions. Farmers using these services have experienced a dramatic increase in crop yields; and better yields have brought better access to credit for fertilizer and seeds.

Climate-smart solutions such as these are already reaching tens of thousands of farmers. But to climate-proof agriculture across the continent, we need to reach millions more. Africa has served as a testing ground for a promising range of climate-adaptation tools and strategies. What we now need is investment to roll them out to farmers across the continent.

To attract increased financial backing, the optics around how climate adaptation must change from a means of mitigating risk to the best economic opportunity we have to secure a livable future.

Investing for Success

The economic case for investing in climate adaptation is strong. The Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) estimated that just $15 billion per year—less than the cost of running the New York metro—would be enough to pay for better water management, infrastructure, land restoration, and climate information services across Africa.

A general view of a landscape
A general view of the landscape along the National Road 13 (RN13) near Amboasary Atsimo, Madagascar, on Sept. 3, 2021.
RIJASOLO/AFP via Getty Images

These actions typically generate $5 in benefits for every $1 invested, according to the GCA. That is because climate adaptation, done well and on a large scale, generates a cascade of positive economic, social, and environmental benefits. Think sturdier crops, better yields, higher and more sustainable farm incomes, access to credit, healthier communities, and at national level, greater food security, lower food-import bills, more balanced trade and more resilient economies overall.

By contrast, inaction costs hundreds of billions of dollars every year, including disaster relief and reconstruction. Kenya alone estimates it is losing 3 percent to 4.4 percent of GDP a year to the multiple impacts of global warming. The continent today already imports over 100 million metric tons of cereals alone at an annual cost of $75 billion.

Disaster relief is a sunk cost. Climate adaptation is an investment in a more resilient future.

Developing a New Approach

This is why Africa is trying a new approach. In 2021, the 55 member states of the African Union agreed to back a plan to accelerate climate adaptation across the continent. The Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) is an example of how Africa is thinking collectively about its future. The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has pledged $12.5 billion toward it. It is hoped donors and financiers in the private sector will match this amount. Projects are already underway.

In agriculture, the African Development Bank aims to scale up access to climate-smart digital technologies and data-driven agricultural and financial services for at least 30 million farmers. In the Horn of Africa, the bank is investing $350 million to tailor digital agricultural services, including market information, insurance products, and financial services to the needs of smallholder farmers. The goal is to increase the resilience of farming communities and to create new, 21st-century jobs in AgriTech.

By scaling up investment in climate adaptation, Africa aims to become self-sufficient in food production, saving the $50 billion it spends each year on imports. The African Development Bank calls this expense “unsustainable, irresponsible, and unaffordable” and also “completely unnecessary,” and the heads of state of 34 African nations, meeting in Dakar at the start of the year agreed.

At the Feed Africa Summit in January, they pledged to mobilize $50 billion to achieve food sovereignty across the continent. “It is time for Africa to feed itself and fully unlock its agriculture potential to help feed the world,” the leaders said.

Africa’s transition toward a more resilient future has already begun. To maintain the momentum, Kenya will host an Africa Climate Summit in September with global leaders and the private sector. It will showcase some of the best climate-adaptation projects on the ground and seek to close the funding gap for the AAAP. The continent that has contributed the least to global climate change is undertaking the biggest efforts to adapt to its impacts. And this surely deserves everyone’s support.

William Ruto is president of Kenya.

Akinwumi Adesina is president of the African Development Bank.

Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.


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