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Transforming agrifood systems as a solution to climate crisis


As the Africa Climate Summit begins, it is an apt time for the continent to focus on the climate crisis and its complex interplay with our agrifood systems. Adverse weather patterns attributable to climate change are wreaking havoc on agricultural production and we must urgently strengthen agrifood systems’ resilience.  

Flooding and prolonged drought have hit the continent recently, and the forecast El Niño weather pattern is likely to come with a litany of adverse effects on food security.

Already the number of severely food insecure people on the continent is estimated at 326 million, and more than a billion people in Africa cannot afford a healthy diet. We risk these dire numbers rising further if the impacts of the climate crisis on food production are not urgently addressed.  Food scarcity is also a recipe for conflicts, subsequent displacement of people and further disruption of agrifood systems.

Despite the grim picture, adaptation efforts through the transformation of agrifood systems can turn this around. 

Agrifood systems have the potential to be solutions to the climate crisis. This potential can only be realized by vastly scaling up investments at national, regional and global levels to support transformation to a more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood system.

Today’s Africa Climate Summit will bring African heads of state and government, the private sector, civil society, and the public together to discuss climate challenges and solutions. Agrifood systems will be a central part of the conversation.

Agrifood systems can contribute to climate change. However, there are many effective solutions to build resilience and mitigate emissions in the agri-food sector. Improving animal husbandry means countries can significantly cut down greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production. Other options include minimizing food loss and waste, shifting to reduced tillage in agricultural fields, nature-based solutions, decarbonizing aquatic food value chains, turning crop residues into useful bio-products such as compost, textiles and energy, and halting deforestation. The list goes on.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a ten-year strategy on Climate Change, which aims to address a broad range of interlinked challenges, including biodiversity loss, desertification, land and environmental degradation, the need for accessible, affordable renewable energy, and food and water security. The strategy notes the importance of local actors, including farmers, especially smallholders and women, forest managers, forest-dependent people, land and water resource managers, fisherfolks and aquaculturists, beekeepers, Indigenous Peoples and all other agrifood systems actors as central agents of change. 

FAO is supporting a number of interventions that have a positive bearing on the climate crisis. They include forest and landscape restoration of degraded lands, the creation of green city spaces, and building the resilience of affected rural communities through promotion of climate-smart agriculture.  

At the Africa Climate Summit, it will be critical for African countries to advocate for more innovative financing to address the climate crisis through agrifood systems. 

The FAO-Global Environment Facility (GEF) partnership has supported countries to access over USD 1.6 billion and leverage $10.8 billion in co-financing since 2006. The FAO-Green Climate Fund (GCF) partnership has catalyzed over USD 1.2 billion since 2016 in grants and co-financing. The new Food Systems Integrated Program, led by FAO and IFAD and supported by the GEF, will channel $230 billion to support more than 22 countries in transforming their agrifood systems. 

Innovative financing partnerships, investment models, blended finance and private investments can all increase opportunities for climate action in agrifood systems.  

In the meantime, it is Africa’s rural smallholders who bear much of the cost of inaction. The true costs of loss and damage borne by the agricultural sector and rural communities need to be more clearly quantified to enable adequate loss and damage finance to support the most impacted communities, especially smallholder farmers in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. 

Above all, early and effective action is the most cost-effective measure to prevent and reduce the impacts of climate change on Africa’s agrifood systems.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel is the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa. He is a guest speaker at the Africa Climate Summit.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel
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