Climate change: Effective mitigation and adaptation efforts could reduce food insecurity

In this guest contribution to the SWAC blog, Kirsty Lewis of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre explores the relationship between climate change and food insecurity in developing and least developed countries. The research projections paint both stark and cautiously optimistic pictures. Failure to adapt to and mitigate climate change will drastically increase food insecurity, however; successful adaptation and mitigation efforts could actually reduce vulnerability. What do the results of this research mean for West Africa? What are the region’s priorities for decreasing vulnerability to food insecurity in the face of climate change?

While it is well-understood that climate change will mean increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events around the world, and that we are already seeing this trend in our observations of climate, what this trend will mean in detail is harder to evaluate. Increasing floods, droughts and storms pose a threat to the stability of food production, and therefore food security, in global terms, but to respond to this threat we need evidence on the scale and geography of the threat, as well as the effectiveness of mitigation and adaptation action to tackle it.

Climate and food insecurity index

Scientists from the UK Met Office Hadley Centre have been working closely with the World Food Programme over the last five years on the challenge of incorporating our climate science knowledge with food security expertise. Together we have developed an index of vulnerability of countries to food insecurity, as a result of flood and drought events, for developing and least-developed countries. The approach we took considered the IPCC1 definition of vulnerability as a combination of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. For each of these terms we included measures of food system function that correlated with undernourishment. For the exposure component, for example, this was a measure of the number of floods and droughts that occurred over agricultural production regions and populated areas, within each country. The sensitivity component included measures of how resilient agricultural production is to adverse weather events. This included metrics such as the percentage of rain-fed agriculture. Finally the adaptive capacity component included measures of economic resilience, such as the percentage of the population below the poverty line, or structural resilience, such as the percentage of paved roads. In this way the index included, not just the impact of weather on production, but also on access to food through markets.

The index values were normalised, and so are a relative, rather than absolute, measure of vulnerability to food insecurity. The results of this index in the present day climate are shown in the figure below.

Food insecurity and climate change vulnerability index: Present day climate


Source: UK Met Office Hadley Centre

The highest levels of vulnerability are in sub-Saharan Africa; there are medium levels across much of Asia, and lower levels in South and Central America. This pattern of vulnerability corresponds to global levels of undernourishment, as the index was designed to do. However, the index was also designed so that the exposure component could include not just observed drought and flood events, but also climate model projections based on RCP scenarios.2

Adaptation scenarios

In addition we developed adaptation scenarios, which effectively alter the remaining two components of the index: sensitivity and adaptive capacity. We defined a ‘high adaptation’ scenario where both the sensitivity of agricultural production and the economic resilience were improved by around 10-15% in the 2050s, and a further 10-15% in the 2080s. In this scenario the change was not applied equally to all countries, allowing the most vulnerable countries to improve more rapidly than the least vulnerable. A second ‘low adaptation’ scenario was also created, with improvements of around 5-10% per time period to the non-climate aspects of the index.

While using the climate model projections under the RCP scenarios was a straightforward choice, selecting adaptation scenarios was a lot more difficult. The chosen high and low adaptation scenarios are representative of plausible levels of adaption, but of course these are not a forecast of future behaviour.

The resulting index projections under the different climate change and adaptation scenarios provide some interesting and informative insights into both the geography of climate change impacts on food security and the relative importance of adaptation and mitigation to address these impacts.

Mitigation, no adaptation scenario

If we assume no adaptation action is taken, i.e. we just consider the impact of climate change, we see that vulnerability to food insecurity increases by the 2050s globally, regardless of which mitigation scenario is followed.

For example, under a scenario of rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, known as RCP 2.6, (which is also consistent with a global average temperature rise of around 2°C) the level of increase of vulnerability to food insecurity is less than for the scenario of considerable future increasing emissions, known as RCP 8.5 (which is consistent with an end of the century global average temperature rise of 4°C or more). Nevertheless, both scenarios result in deteriorating food security conditions. This is because ‘inertia in the climate system’ (a delayed response of warming from previous emissions) means that we are committed to some level of climate change in the next few decades. Beyond the 2050s the two scenarios diverge. Under the RCP2.6 scenario, the rate of climate change levels off, and vulnerability to food insecurity stabilises. It is still worse than the present day, but no worse than the 2050s.

No mitigation, no adaptation scenario

Under the RCP8.5 scenario however, the levels of vulnerability to food insecurity increase considerably. This scenario of no action on either mitigation or adaptation is the worst case future, and the consequences for food insecurity are severe.

However, a scenario where no adaptation takes place is unlikely to be realistic, so we can compare these outcomes with an alternative ‘high adaptation’ scenario. In this case we see that adaptation makes a difference in reducing vulnerability to food insecurity at all timescales and with or without mitigation.

No mitigation, adaptation scenario

For example, under the RCP8.5 climate change scenario, adaptation almost keeps pace with climate change out to the 2050s, meaning that vulnerability to food insecurity remains at levels comparable, although a little worse, than the present day. After the 2050s though, the rate of climate change increases and outpaces adaptation efforts. In this scenario the 2080s are not as bad as they would be without adaption, but still worse than the present day.

Mitigation, adaptation scenario

There is one scenario where the future vulnerability to food insecurity is lower than the present day. This is the scenario where there are rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (RCP2.6), and high levels of adaptation. In this scenario adaptation keeps pace with climate change to the 2050s, and beyond this timeframe, as the climate stabilises, continued adaptation leads to reductions in vulnerability and an improving food security outlook.

Key implications

The messages from this research are clear. If we take no action to tackle climate change, the consequences for food insecurity in developing and least developed countries are severe. However, by both adapting and mitigating we can tackle climate change in a way that has positive consequences for future food insecurity.

The aim of the research that we conducted was to put information and evidence about the impacts of climate change and the effects of mitigation and adaptation efforts into the public domain. We created an interactive website to show these results, and so you can see for yourself how climate change and vulnerability to food insecurity interact.

Kirsty Lewis is Climate Security Science Manager with the Met Office Hadley Centre.

1 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Definition of ‘key vulnerability’: 

2 Representative Concentration Pathways are used for climate modelling and research. They describe four possible climate futures, all of which are considered possible depending on how much greenhouse gases are emitted in the years to come,

Urbanisation, structural change and the food system: The crucial role of rural-urban linkages

By Cecilia Tacoli,  International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

Both urban and rural areas in West Africa are undergoing considerable transformation. As an ever greater proportion of the region’s population live – and will live – in urban centres, how can policies help ensure that rural residents are not ‘left behind’, and at the same time food production satisfies the needs of the growing urban population?

One theme of growing interest for policy makers is the potential role of rural-urban linkages in supporting inclusive and sustainable development that benefits both rural and urban people and enterprises. But what exactly do we mean by rural-urban linkages? Continue reading

Dépasser l’agriculture, penser alimentation

À l’occasion de la Conférence Internationale sur l’Agriculture en Afrique de l’Ouest (ECOWAP+10) qui se tient à Dakar du 17 au 19 novembre, le Secrétariat du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest a préparé une analyse  des mutations de l’économie agro-alimentaire ouest-africaine et de ses implications pour la politique agricole. Ces mutations et leurs impacts sur la sécurité alimentaire ont également été récemment débattus lors du Forum du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest  qui s’est tenu à Milan les 26 et 27 octobre 2015 dans le cadre de l’Exposition universelle.

par Thomas Allen, Secrétariat du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CSAO/OCDE)

marketNous devons nous rendre à l’évidence : l’agriculture occupe une place de moins en moins importante dans l’économie agro-alimentaire ouest-africaine. Aujourd’hui, 40 % de la valeur ajoutée du secteur n’est plus produite par l’agriculture. Celle-ci demeure un pilier des économies de la région, mais les maillons en aval de la chaîne alimentaire se développent avec les mutations de la société. Les hommes et femmes politiques ouest-africains doivent prendre acte de ces transformations s’ils veulent que leur région profite pleinement du potentiel de croissance de son marché intérieur. Les enjeux alimentaires et nutritionnelles ne relèvent plus du seul domaine agricole, et la politique agricole ne peut plus en être le seul instrument.

Il y a désormais en Afrique de l’Ouest autant de personnes qui dépendent de l’agriculture pour assurer leurs moyens d’existence que de personnes engagées dans des activités non agricoles. C’est la transformation majeure de ces 60 dernières années. Elle est inséparable de l’explosion des villes que l’on observe à la simple lecture d’une carte. Jamais dans l’histoire de l’humanité autant d’hommes se seront déplacés, et autant de villes seront sorties de terre en un laps de temps aussi court. Il y a aujourd’hui 2 000 agglomérations de plus de 10 000 habitants ; il y en avait 150 en 1950.

On compte désormais 150 millions de personnes en ville, soit 30 fois plus qu’en 1950. Entre 2000 et 2015 seulement, la seule population urbaine ouest-africaine s’est agrandie de plus de 60 millions d’habitants. À titre de comparaison, cela revient à ajouter à la région un état de la taille de la France… Et cette croissance n’est plus alimentée par les seules migrations rurales ; la plus grande partie de ces nouveaux urbains sont nés en ville.

Sous le poids de l’urbanisation et de la croissance des revenus, le panier alimentaire des ménages ouest-africains se transforme et les enjeux de la sécurité alimentaire et nutritionnelle se déplacent. Les régimes alimentaires se diversifient, en milieu urbain en particulier, avec plus de fruits et légumes, mais également plus de produits transformés. Ces derniers représentent désormais au moins 39 % du budget alimentaire des ménages. Fait encore plus surprenant : les ménages les plus pauvres en milieu rural y consacreraient 35 %. Il ne s’agit donc pas d’un marché restreint aux seules classes moyennes urbaines.

Ces chiffres nous rappellent une vérité très simple : un aliment est généralement un produit agricole transformé. Nous ne mangeons pas du blé, ni même du maïs, mais du pain et une infinité de produits issus de leurs farines. Le mil est pilé, le manioc trempé, râpé, pilé, séché, grillé, fermenté, etc. Des millions de femmes ont souvent participé à ces tâches parfois pénibles. Aujourd’hui, certaines s’y consacrent exclusivement. C’est notamment le cas de Georgette* à Cotonou qui s’est spécialisée dans la préparation et la vente de mawé ou « aklui séché », ces granules de farine de maïs qui permettent de préparer facilement et rapidement des bouillies. Oui, la forme que prend l’extension de ce marché peut décontenancer l’observateur qui associerait automatiquement l’agro-alimentaire aux supermarchés et produits préparés surgelés. N’attendez pas de voir les rues de Niamey ou Bamako se couvrir demain à votre réveil des magasins franchisés d’une célèbre chaîne de produits surgelés.

Hommes et femmes sont de plus en plus nombreux à s’engager dans les activités liées au transport et à la vente des produits alimentaires. Les quantités échangées sur les marchés agricoles et alimentaires ont explosé : les marchés sont devenus la principale source d’approvisionnement des ménages, représentant un minimum des deux tiers de leur consommation alimentaire. Le total des transactions s’élèverait à 120 milliards de dollars en 2010. C’est tout simplement, et de très loin, le premier marché ouest-africain. Si vous ajoutez que les urbains consomment 50 % de plus que les ruraux et que l’urbanisation ne devrait pas ralentir dans les deux prochaines décennies, vous comprendrez mieux son attrait pour les investisseurs et leurs cabinets de conseil. Il importe aujourd’hui plus que jamais d’aider à la coordination de tous ces acteurs, nombreux et différents.

Quid cependant de cette difficulté supplémentaire : la plus grande part de cette économie est informelle ? Et il serait illusoire de chercher à la normaliser aujourd’hui. Il nous faut être plus imaginatifs que de proposer de simples cadres d’investissement. Des expériences d’ailleurs peuvent nous inspirer, comme le programme Qali Warma au Pérou qui a conduit à réviser les procédures d’achat public pour permettre aux producteurs locaux d’approvisionner en aliments ce programme étatique qui assure des repas scolaires aux enfants scolarisés de 3 à 6 ans. Cette initiative est une bonne illustration des défis qui se posent à l’action publique aujourd’hui : libérer les énergies venant de la base et penser les mécanismes institutionnels qui assurent la cohérence de l’ensemble dans un environnement où l’articulation agriculture/alimentation est plus complexe.

*Les noms ont été modifiés.

Économiste au Secrétariat du CSAO/OCDE, Thomas Allen travaille depuis neuf ans sur les problématiques liées aux systèmes et aux politiques alimentaires. Ses recherches portent principalement sur l’analyse et le renforcement de la sécurité alimentaire, avec un intérêt particulier pour les modélisations économiques intégrant des indicateurs de nutrition.

Références :

OCDE/CSAO (2015), ECOWAP+10 : Mutations de l’économie agro-alimentaire et implications, 

OCDE/CSAO (2013), Peuplement, marché et sécurité alimentaire, Cahiers de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, Éditions OCDE, Paris,

Crédit photo : ©SWAC/OECD

World Food Day 2015: Building Resilient Societies and Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty in the Sahel and West Africa Region

By Ousman Tall, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

The official programme marking World Food Day takes place today at the Universal Exposition in Milan, under the theme, “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty”. This theme underscores the role of social protection in ensuring that food and other basic needs of the most vulnerable individuals and households are addressed. Furthermore, embedded in this theme is the assertion that social protection programmes tied to productive activities, such as agriculture, are the most sustainable approach to eradicating poverty and achieving food and nutrition security. This has considerable implications for Sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty is pervasive in rural areas.

Sub-Saharan Africa, especially the Sahel and West Africa region, is one of the poorest and most food-insecure regions in the world. Out of the 25 poorest countries in the world, 23 are in Sub-Saharan Africa with 11 of them in the Sahel and West Africa Region. It has the world’s fastest growing population, where 65% of countries are classified as low-income countries and over half of the population is living below the poverty line.[1] To address the high levels of food insecurity and poverty, a number of social protection initiatives have been put in place, including national social protection strategies in some countries. In 2014, the European Union alone assisted 1.7 million food-insecure people and 580 000 malnourished children in the Sahel.[2] This has provided a strong argument and a basis for a pro-smallholder agricultural intervention in rural areas in the Sahel and West Africa region.

Most Recent Food Insecurity Situations in the Sahel and West Africa Region

food-insecurity-sahel-west-africa© Map produced by CILSS/Agrhymet. Source: Regional analysis of the Cadré harmonisé (CH), Bamako, 22-23 June 2015.

Linking social protection programmes with economic activities, productivity, ownership and long-term sustainability is important. Tackling risk and vulnerability and at the same time ensuring pro-poor growth through investments in social protection programmes lead to greater inclusive growth.[3] These should be the guiding principles in the design and implementation of social protection programmes. However, most social protection initiatives and interventions in the region are project-oriented, mainly addressing poverty and food insecurity during times of crisis. With the persistent nature and recurrence of crises in the region, there is a need to go beyond interventions during crises, to build the resilience of the most vulnerable populations in adapting – in a sustainable manner – to these emerging and recurrent crises. Read more

The full post is available on the OECD Insights blog

[1] Food security in focus: Sub-Saharan Africa 2014. The Economist Intelligence Unit 2014

[2] ECHO Factsheet – Sahel: Food & Nutrition Crisis – May 2015

[3] Promoting Pro-Poor Growth: Social Protection-OECD 2009

Women’s empowerment in West Africa: Increasing access to reproductive health services and rights is crucial

In this guest blogpost Marie Stopes International (MSI) responds to our call for contributions on the state of women’s empowerment in West Africa. We asked: What specific aspects of the gender agenda are identified as priorities in the region? Susan Sandars, MSI West Africa Policy Advisor, emphasises how universal access to reproductive health services and rights is essential for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

MSI counselling West AfricaLast month in New York representatives of 193 countries met to agree 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to end poverty, fight inequality and promote prosperity, while protecting the environment, by 2030. Whilst praising the agreement reached, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, highlighted that these goals could not be achieved without ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment.[1] Continue reading

Call for contributions: What is the current state of women’s empowerment in West Africa?

By Donatella Gnisci, Sahel and West Africa Club Advisor – Expo Milano 2015

taxi-en-10Current approaches to food security and sustainable development consider women’s empowerment and gender equality to be sine qua non conditions for success in the Zero Hunger Challenge and the Post-2015 development agenda. The Milan Charter also emphasises women’s fundamental roles in all private and public spheres of life at the local as well as the global level. Continue reading

Together in Milan

By Laurent Bossard, Director, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat

Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life“:  from May to October 2015, the 49th World Expo will be held in Milan providing a great number of opportunities to share knowledge, ideas, techniques, experiences and innovation. New commitments will be made in Milan, including on food security and resilience issues.

The Sahel and West Africa will be in Milan.


Benin, The Gambia and Guinea will showcase their foodstuffs in the fruit and vegetable cluster; Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana will be in the cocoa cluster; Mauritania and Senegal will be present in the area devoted to arid countries; Togo in the area related to cereals and tubers; and last but not least, Sierra Leone will participate in the rice cluster. Will the visitors who come to appreciate the colours and flavours of the Sahel and West Africa become aware that these countries are among the world’s best-performing agricultural producers?

SWAC Members and partners will also be in Milan.

All within a few steps of one another, the Expo walkways can take the same visitor to the pavilions of Austria, Belgium, the European Union, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States. These countries and institutions are – along with ECOWAS, UEMOA, CILSS and Luxembourg – among the pillars of the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD). The United Nations – some of whose agencies (e.g. FAO, UNICEF, WFP) are particularly active within SWAC and in the region – are at the heart of the Expo. The NEPAD Agency of the African Union and the OECD will be in Milan as official participants.

The SWAC will not miss this opportunity!

More than twenty million visitors are expected at this global event. This is a great means of reaffirming the universal character of food issues, and to remind everyone that hundreds of millions of people, particularly in the Sahel and West Africa, still suffer from chronic hunger, despite the aforementioned progress. Created nearly forty years ago through a joint commitment of solidarity between the international community and the countries affected by the 1973 drought and famine, SWAC must be present at Expo 2015. It will hold its annual meetings within the Sahel and West Africa Week, which will be hosted in the European pavilion from 26 to 30 October.  The SWAC will also be active throughout the Expo, and work to support Sahelian and West African countries, as well as its Members and partners. The SWAC seeks to promote ways of thinking and acting, based on dialogue, objectivity, trust and teamwork. These values are at the heart of the Expo 2015 and this website is designed as a platform for sharing ideas and promoting initiatives. It will evolve during the course of our “common journey to Milan”. All are invited to join in this journey.