Large climate risks for African farmers: IPCC was on the right track
Climate change poses severe risks to food production in many African countries. This statement of the last assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was attacked fiercely one year ago. Critics suggested this assessment lacked scientific foundation, trying to challenge the credibility of the IPCC as a whole. But the IPCC finding has been confirmed by recent research, reported by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in the renowned US-journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “None of the agricultural regions in Africa is on the safe side,” lead-author Christoph Müller says. “This is a robust conclusion, even though we still don’t know many things as precisely as we would like to.”
The authors draw this conclusion from a review of twenty studies covering a wide range of impact projections. Under future climate and, yields may be reduced to zero or increase by 168 percent, depending on the region. The projections vary by region, crop, and time horizon of the studies. Indirect climate change effects on agriculture, like cropland inundation and erosion, are often disregarded, Müller says. “The quantitative results presented in some studies therefore seem to be rather optimistic.” Uncertainties are connected to the chosen methodologies, e.g. the extrapolation of statistical relationships into the future without considering the dynamics of the world agricultural market.
“From a risk-management perspective, the focus has to be on the most critical regions in Africa and the people affected there,” Wolfgang Cramer says, chair of PIK research domain Earth System Analysis. For parts of African agriculture, climate change could also be beneficial, because of possible increases in precipitation in arid regions and because the so-called CO2-fertilization effect could enhance plants’ productivity. In other parts, climate change will be detrimental. Overall, the damaging potential is very high.
In many cases, climate change impacts are projected for African agricultural systems that already today do not meet the local demand for food. At the same time, the potential for increasing yields is very large as agricultural productivity often suffers from inefficient management. In some countries like Angola, yields could be theoretically multiplied–according to one study. Recent research sees the restoration of soils, efficient and soil-conserving cultivation methods and integrated pest management as promising for adaptation to climate risks. Equally important is the reduction of trade barriers, including the development of roads and infrastructure.
“African Agriculture has potential for improvement,” Cramer says. “Rather than closing the eyes to imminent risks from climate change, research should now study resource-efficient ways to secure food production for the coming generations.”
Article: Müller, C., Cramer, W., Hare, W.L., Lotze-Campen, H.: Climate change risks for African agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2011) [doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015078108]