This article was first published in May 2019
Africa’s vulnerability to climate change is further exacerbated by other factors such as poverty, governance and institutional challenges, along with limited access to capital, including markets, infrastructure and technology. These factors have in turn contributed to Africa’s weak adaptive capacity relative to other regions of the world. African women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they shoulder an enormous portion of responsibility for subsistence agriculture. Many African countries are already confronting various forms of climate-related stress such as drought, floods and rainfall variability, which, coupled with low adaptive capacity, make them highly vulnerable to future climate change. Besides climate change, there are other megatrends that will compound the challenges African countries face in developing their economies. These include demographics, urbanisation and technology and innovation. Demographic trends will double Africa’s current population to 2.4 billion by 2050, putting pressure on the supply of natural resources such as food, water, energy and ecosystems.
Although these megatrends will present formidable challenges to African transformation, they also offer opportunities that could be harnessed to achieve sustained and inclusive growth. For example, recent technological innovations, referred to as climate-smart agriculture, can be leveraged to increase the productivity of land, labour and capital invested in farming. These include recent advances in seed technology that have produced drought-resistant seeds and high-yielding crop varieties, as well as land and water management techniques to reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter. Recently developed renewable energy technologies could also be used to power small-scale electric-powered agricultural machinery, pump water and provide small-scale irrigation and refrigeration. These technologies have the potential to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers, who constitute the bulk of Africa’s labour force. Increased output by smallholder farmers would in turn increase their incomes, reduce poverty and increase food security in the region. However, at present, a number of factors constrain the adoption of such new technologies. The cost of inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers is still beyond the reach of most farmers. Uncertainty associated with rainfall is also a deterrent to the use of improved seeds and fertilizers. There is a strong case for African governments to provide subsidies to improve access to these technologies. Furthermore, provision of risk mitigation options such as crop insurance would help to smooth incomes in cases of bad weather and increase the incentives to adopt new technology.
This African Transformation Map entry is published by the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. The African Transformation Map is co-curated by Dr. Edward K. Brown, Senior Director, Research & Policy Engagements, and Professor John Asafu-Adjaye, Senior Fellow and Head of Research at ACET.