What you need to know:
- Many crops foundational to African diets, such as wheat, maize, sorghum and millet, will struggle to survive rising temperatures
- However, feeding this massive population will require significant advancements in Africa’s food systems.
The Africa Climate Summit gets underway in Nairobi next Monday, so we will jump back, then forward.
First, back to February 2022. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), those clever people in Kabete, Nairobi, who say complicated things that we don’t understand three-quarters of the time, and one of their partners, Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR), finally put out a report that we on the streets could make sense of it.
Entitled “Climate change in Africa: What will it mean for agriculture and food security?”, it was an easy, but terrifying, read. Writing about extreme weather, it said that since the 1970s, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a tenfold increase in flood events. It noted that by 2050, Africa’s population will have doubled.
However, feeding this massive population will require significant advancements in Africa’s food systems. These agricultural advances may be difficult to achieve if African farmers are at the mercy of increasingly severe climate impacts.
They had a laundry list of the many ways climate change posed an “immense challenge” for African agriculture. Many crops foundational to African diets, such as wheat, maize, sorghum and millet, will struggle to survive rising temperatures. If warming is allowed to hit the 3° mark, all present-day cropping areas for maize, millet and sorghum in Africa will become unsuitable.
Then the killer punch: “Taken all together, the future of agriculture and food security in Africa does not look bright. Experts warn that under current climate projections, Africa will only be fulfilling 13 per cent of its food needs by 2050, causing African countries to lose up to 16 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) as a result of malnutrition alone. Fortunately, there are still steps we can take to address the climate crisis and prevent this bleak vision of the future from becoming reality”.
Hunger already affects 240 million Africans daily. By 2050, warming of just 1.2 to 1.9°C, is likely to increase the number of malnourished in Africa by 25 to 95 per cent: 25 per cent in central Africa, 50 per cent in east Africa, 85 per cent in southern Africa and 95 per cent in west Africa.
The point hits home, when you consider the projected populations of selected countries in Eastern Africa. Nigeria will be out there with 400 million to feed, but East Africa as a region will be the sizzling population hotbed. The Democratic Republic of Congo is projected to have 215 million people; Ethiopia could be pulling in 215 million.
Tanzania will be weighing in with 137 million. Uganda will have edged Kenya, with 89.5 million people, and Kenya could have 85 million (if it remains the stubborn, “ungovernable” country it is, I would not wish the Kenyan presidency even on my worst enemy at that point).
Doubtless, the delegates at the Africa Climate Summit will apply themselves to “steps we can take to address the climate crisis and prevent this bleak vision of the future from becoming reality”, as ILRI and CGIAR optimistically.
But we could also fail, and it doesn’t hurt to prepare for the world that might come. By 2050, most of Kenya’s population will be concentrated along the Northern Corridor. Most Kenyans will be Western Kenyans. Landlocked Uganda, which by some counts, is home to almost 50 per cent of East Africa’s arable land, will be sandwiched between population over-rich DRC and Tanzania, and a Kenya where more parts of the country could have turned into drought-ravaged arid regions.
It’s likely that Uganda will still be an East African food power, continuing to sell to Kenya, and exporting through the ports of Mombasa. You don’t have to be a geostrategic genius to see what is likely to happen. We could have a new type of violent non-state actors; “food warlords”, the main ones based in western Kenya, controlling sections of the Northern Corridor, seizing or, at best, imposing illegal taxes on food travelling to or from the hinterland countries like Uganda. And if the country doesn’t have a strong military, it will be overrun for its arable land.
The central Congo basin is home to 36 per cent of the world's tropical peatland area, and stores 28 per cent of the world's tropical peat carbon. Appropriately, at the COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last year, DRC had 459 delegates, the highest number of representatives from Africa. Their key minister, however, displayed geopolitical myopia. Effectively, he said DRC could not be expected to preserve the peatland areas to sequester carbon for the world, while its people go hungry. That it would exploit the areas where they are, for resources deeper in the ground.
In a few years, that is the kind of talk that will attract an international coup plot. For countries like DRC, which are so big, fertile, and mineral-rich, the play of green global forces could even see it being broken up. The politics of a world whose back has been pushed to the wall by existential environmental crises, could make all past and present hot and cold wars look like child’s play.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3