Bouncing back better: increasing Africa’s resilience to climate shocks and impacts

AGRF 2020

September 4th, 2019

Today, 80% of natural disasters are climate related, and 23% of the total cost of disasters is absorbed by the agriculture sector. Accelerating adaptation and resilience in agriculture in the face of climate change is a therefore major developmental priority.

According to David Nabarro, Strategic Director of Skills, Systems and Synergies at 4SD, it’s an issue that’s now at the centre of policy concerns and practice all over the world. It’s also led to the creation of new global initiatives and institutions. 

One example is the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), whose goal, as explained by CEO Prof. Dr Patrick V. Verkooijjen, “is to catalyze concrete political action, and to create new mindsets by focusing not on the costs but the opportunities of adaptation.”

“Adaptation,” said Dr Verkooijjen, “was the orphan child of the Paris Agreement,” meaning it’s important to elevate it now at the global level and mobilize political attention. And with powerful support from Ban ki-Moon and Bill Gates, that’s exactly what the GCA is trying to achieve. 

Elsewhere, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is focused on how to grow economies in a sustainable way. According to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Co-Chair of the Commission and Former Finance Minister of Nigeria, this area of work is all about developing climate-friendly infrastructure, cities, finance, energy and agricultural systems. 

Risk is another key focus area. But as Okonjo-Iweala observed, “many countries don’t yet have risk management systems in place.” 

To address this issue, a new organization called African Risk Capacity (ARC) has been formed to help African countries develop risk and insurance mechanisms at national level. A Specialized Agency of the African Union, ARC is designed to help governments across Africa improve their capacities to better plan, prepare and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters. 

Dr Mohamed Béavogui, General Manager at ARC, provided some additional context. In the 1980s, he said, the cost of natural catastrophes was $US 30 billion. At the end of the 1990s, it was $US 100 billion. Today, it’s over $US 300 billion.

“So, the cost of climate disasters is rising,” said Béavogui. “We need to manage and finance the impact of disasters. We need to assess specific country risk, then develop climate modelling to understand the risk and prepare.”  

And preparation is essential, as several of the speakers acknowledged, as it’s much more expensive and complex to respond once a disaster has struck. “Delay and pay or plan or prosper” was a key message emerging from the panel discussion. 

But how do we ensure our food systems can bounce back after a climate shock? According to Dr Lindiwe Sibanda, Managing Director of Linds Agricultural Services and Co-Chair GACSA, we need more “bankable solutions and we need the private sector to lead in this area; the technocrats need to come in and support.”

Increased private investment in resilience was a key recommendation from many speakers. But as Mr Dominique Burgeon, Resilience Director and Strategic Programme Leader at FAO, remarked, “we need to know what to invest in and to make a strong business case for those investments.”

Using a Resilience Index, FAO works to ensure it makes the right investments in the right places, while sharing knowledge and experience to help farmers, communities and governments address the climate challenges they face. 

But much remains to be done. So far in Africa, resilience has not yet achieved the desired results because initiatives are short term and ad hoc, lacking a clear systemic approach. Adaptation is also a moving target surrounded by uncertainty, while silos are hindering coherent and unified action on the ground.

What’s needed now is for principal actors in the public and private sector to work together. As Dr Béavogui remarked, “the key word is solidarity – working together, understanding and sharing together through partnership.” 

Hopefully then we can begin to truly strengthen adaptation and resilience in African agriculture and build sustainable food systems for the future.