Here's the smart way to feed Africa in 2050

by Dominic MacSorley, Concern Worldwide | Concern Worldwide
Friday, 19 September 2014 14:00 GMT

A woman works in a rice mill in Aliade community in the Gwer local government area of the central Nigerian state of Benue on October 4, 2012. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Climate-smart agriculture can help ensure a growing and urbanising Africa doesn’t go hungry

The world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and global food production will have to increase by a massive 70 percent to keep pace.

However, climate change will have a huge impact on how much food is produced and where.  

Changes in temperature will affect overall food production. In particular, maize, wheat, rice and other staples will decline. The World Bank has warned that without further measures to contain climate change a 4 degree Centigrade increase in the average global temperature may occur as early as 2060, threatening the livelihoods of billions of people.

Levels of conflict are expected to grow as resources continue to shrink.  

Even a seemingly modest increase in the world’s temperatures of 2 degrees Centigrade will fundamentally change food production systems. As cold areas get warmer or dry areas get wetter, Ireland and Scandinavia will become more suitable climates for maize production than much of southern Africa.

Urbanisation will play an even more disruptive role as more and more people move to cities away from rural farming.  Africa’s urbanisation alone is expected to increase by 150 percent over the next decade, leaving more people in its cities dependent on fewer farms for food.  

In short, without a significant investment in new solutions, there simply won’t be enough food and the potential consequences should alarm us.

With nearly a billion people already going hungry, the question must be asked: how will we manage to feed a growing world population?

The answer lies with the network of 500 million small farmers that produce 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Our very future depends on these millions of small-scale farmers and yet many are often overlooked, disenfranchised, under-supported and living a day-to- day existence.

Concern Worldwide is working in 15 of the countries that have been listed as vulnerable to climate change by the Centre for Global Development, including Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Niger, South Sudan and Rwanda. Throughout these countries we are promoting climate smart agriculture in all our livelihoods work, linking it into crop production, water, agroforestry, livestock production and energy. Our focus is on the poorest, most marginalised farmer. Our goal is to significantly increase their agricultural productivity while ensuring that the natural resources they depend on are not exploited or depleted.

We are already seeing evidence that the climate smart approach is effective.

In Zambia, crops grown using conservation agriculture techniques produced yields double those of crops grown using conventional methods.  In Malawi, our work with women farmers has enabled them to reduce their workload by 34 days per year. 

We have learned that making women the focus of training delivers better results.

They learn and adopt new ideas and techniques faster and their use of resources is typically more focused on the welfare of the family and leads to better nutritional outcomes for the family.

For Concern, it is not just about promoting improvements in crop yields.  While there is a need to substantially increase agricultural production we also need to look at the quality of this food to ensure it is rich in nutrients. 

With 805 million people worldwide chronically malnourished, we want to see a stronger link between agriculture and nutritional outcomes if we are to reduce malnutrition and stunting during the first critical 1,000 days of a child's life.

Currently, we are reaching 100,000 poor farm households with this new climate smart approach in some of the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the African continent. Our plan is to treble this to 300,000 in the next two years and then double that again to 600,000 by the year 2021. 

Ambitious, yes, but we are not alone.   

As one of the founding members of a new ‘African Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture’ involving the African Union and NEPAD, Concern is part of a group of 10 diverse global partners whose goal is to reach six million farm families with new climate-smart agriculture approaches over the next seven years. This will make a huge contribution to the African Union’s overall goal of helping 25 million farmers become more resilient to climate change, more food secure and more nutritionally secure by 2025.

Dominic MacSorley is CEO of Concern Worldwide.