By Busani Bafana
Uncertainty about the future makes it difficult for policymakers to take decisions. As a result, scientists are exploring different future scenarios to model climate change impacts in Southern Africa.
The Southern Africa region is susceptible to droughts, floods and high temperatures that affect agriculture production, food and nutritional security as a result of climate change.
Filling an information gap
As a result, researchers in Southern Africa and the United Kingdom are using models to look into future climate change impacts on food and nutrition security. This evidence is aimed at informing policymakers to come up with decisions that will consider food systems under different climate conditions.
This research is part of the Global Challenges Research Fund – Agricultural and Food System Resilience: Increasing Capacity & Advising Policy (GCRF-AFRICAP) programme.
AFRICAP is a regional four-year research programme focused on improving evidence-based policy making to develop sustainable, productive, agricultural systems, resilient to climate change. The programme is implemented in Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia and it is led by the University of Leeds, in partnership with the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), a pan-African multi-stakeholder policy network.
With crop yields declining, hunger and malnutrition rising, Africa needs sustainable solutions to feeding the continent in the future. With droughts, floods, massive pest and disease outbreaks rising, researchers bemoan that policy decisions to deal with climate change impacts are not optimum because of limited information.
Using data from climate models, researchers have looked into Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices, assessing which are beneficial, in what locations and under what climate conditions.
Predicting the future of food
“If we are looking not only at what works now but what might work under future climate conditions then we can make best recommendations for farmers,” said Dr. Claire Quinn, Professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and AFRICAP’s lead for policy design and implementation. “For instance, if they do this particular practice, it will not only protect their yields now under current climate conditions but it will also protect them in the future.”
While agriculture is recognised as important for growing African economies now and in the future, there is concern about the extent of which national policies recognise the effect and impact of climate change on this sector, Quinn said.
For example, when governments consider commercialising agriculture they have to think about the kind of livestock and crops they might promote, irrigation systems that will work best and whether the expansion of agriculture in particular areas that might be promoted by those kinds of policies will be beneficial.
“We have great policies but it is often really hard to implement them,” said Quinn.
It is not that agriculture should not be part of economic development and growth within the African continent but ensuring that policies are climate-smart and decisions being made in there consider resilience, Quinn said.
“It is difficult to forecast or predict the future,” Quinn said, noting that using scenarios as a basis for modelling enables the exploration of different possible futures and what they might mean for agriculture in the four countries.
AFRICAP is supporting and contributing to the policy development processes in Southern Africa. In Malawi, for example, there has been great focus on the development of the National Resilience Strategy for the country and how to implement it at district level.
“What we are now exploring in Malawi with our stakeholders is an interesting model where you have a strategy that is trying to think about how we build resilience to future shocks and stresses and make sure the policy is supporting development,” said Dr. Quinn.
In Malawi, the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET), an implementing partner in the AFRICAP programme, is involved in several policy engagements including commissioning dialogues for agriculture actors and with the Ministry of Agriculture, National Planning Commission and Ministries that directly support policy.
CISANET National Director, Pamela Kuwali, said they were working on influencing policy formulation processes in the country. For example, Kuwali’s team is involved in conversations about Malawi’s Agenda 2063, the successor to Vision 2020, to ensure inputs from AFRICAP such as the scenarios model are taken on board.
Kuwali says CISANET was also set to engage the new Government of Malawi through a series of dialogue meetings to highlight gaps in food systems and resilience using evidence from the GCRF AFRICAP project.
“We are compiling an agricultural issues paper with strong focus on CISANET themes including agriculture resilience which will draw evidence and recommendations from the AFRICAP Programme,” she said.
Linked to the scenario modelling work is the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) project.
A study by the SADC Futures Project identified and analysed mega-trends defining social, economic, political and environmental conditions in the region.
“This uncertainty of future conditions greatly complicates decision-making today,” reads the study. “To address this complication, the development of scenarios to identify a range of plausible futures is an important tool for decision-makers.”