By Dann Okoth
But the potential disaster, which could also see up to 52 million children in the region severely malnourished can be averted if the right policies are pursued, experts attending a regional workshop on agriculture in Nairobi offered.
These, they say, would include the necessary investments prioritisation and countries collaborating to share knowledge with each other to improve agricultural output – with the view to achieving food security the workshop organised by Global Development Network (GDN) heard. “Taking specific decisions now to manage future challenges and make the most of emerging opportunities has become imperative,” remarked Prof Chris Ackello Ogutu of the University of Nairobi as he presented a paper: “Long-term challenges to food security and rural livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa at the workshop.”
The GDN Global Research Project, “Supporting Policy Research to Inform Agricultural Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia”, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to help shape North-South and South-South debates on agricultural policies. Designed as a policy research project, it seeks to enrich the body of knowledge related to agricultural issues.
In doing so, it draws from the existing knowledge base, especially cross-country research findings, in a scientifically rigorous manner yet one that is both timely and easily accessible to policymakers and the informed public.
“There is need to spur innovation in response to climate change, population growth and new market opportunities, with increased investment in agricultural research and development, multiplication of new crop and livestock genetics and dissemination of techniques to use soil, water, labour and land more effectively and sustainably,” Mr Ogutu added.
Meanwhile, an earlier assessment by Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research found that between now and 2050; the demand for maize in the developing countries will double, and by then maize will have become the crop with the greatest production globally and in the developing world.
More than 300 million Africans are dependent on maize. Moreover, nearly all maize in Africa is grown under rain-fed conditions, and frequent droughts now put a majority of small-scale farmers in the continent at risk of starvation.
Climate change studies predict considerable warming of sub-Saharan Africa by 2050. And when temperatures rise by even one single degree Celsius, yields reduce by 65 per cent. Global temperatures are expected to rise by two degrees centigrade by 2050. This will have adverse effects on agricultural production; food prices, health and wellbeing with yields of rice, wheat and maize for example, are expected to decline by about 15 per cent, 35 per cent and nine per cent respectively. With crop yields succumbing to water and heat stress, food prices take on an extra significance.
Volatile prices will impose huge financial burdens on economies of Sub-Saharan Africa, condemning poor farmers to a constant state of underdevelopment. Ogutu says: “Without alternative livelihood strategies, price volatility leads to income volatility, inadequate access to credit, a shift towards low-risk production technologies and an inability to respond opportunistically.”