Climate Change Increases Food Prices in Sub-Saharan Africa

Climate change preceded by cyclic droughts and flash floods is already affecting agriculture, a key economic sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. In rural Kenya, Paul Koech, a 37-year-old father of six from the Kapkatet village in Narok County relies on farming for income, food security and nutrition. But due to the depressing impact of climate change, he is unable to sustainably produce and buy enough food for his family.

As the frequency and the severity of extreme droughts continue, agricultural productivity diminishes. The food supply and demand system is greatly disrupted making food availability a challenge to millions of people in Africa. Koech says that getting food and water, especially during the dry season, has become more difficult with food prices rapidly skyrocketing.

“Unlike before, at the moment I buy all the food very expensively, particularly milk for my kids”. He paused pointing at ploughed land. “I am struggling to feed my family yet I invested a lot of money in farming every season but end up getting little.” Koech regretted.

In many parts of Africa, climate change is the biggest impediment to people’s ability to grow enough food. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2019 report indicates that 821.6 million (or 1 in 9 people) with 513.9 million in Asia and 256.1 million people in Africa, respectively do not have enough food to eat. Furthermore, over two billion people, mostly in low and middle-income countries lack regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.

Like many other households in rural Kenya which have been ravaged by precarious impact of droughts, a stressor on the already volatile food prices and also overstretching the household’s budget on food, Koech couldn’t afford “three-meals a day”. “The situation becomes worse during dry season as we also buy fodder and water for our livestock. Though everything is uncertain, so getting three meals a day is not guaranteed. We only strive to get food for our supper, ” he said.

A global commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to end world hunger and ensure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for all people all year round. A goal that is supported by over 500 million rain-fed farms worldwide, which provide up to 80% of food in the developing countries according to a UN report. Achieving this goal by 2030 can be impossible due to overreaching challenges of climate change.

Anna Cheborgei another resident and small scale farmer, says that a decade ago weather conditions were favourable and the farming business was doing well. She has never lack food, but the recent persistent drought, destructive pests and diseases followed by consecutive years of reduced yields – particularly maize which is a staple food – has led to a scarcity of food and loss of income.

“I have lost a lot of farm-produced to recurrent droughts, I sold some of our cows to buy food and invest back into the farm. I spend Ksh.500 (5 USD) per day to buy food, it is very difficult to get the money when you don’t have a source of income” She explained.

The impact of adverse weather continues to affect millions of households in Africa. Their financial investments are negatively affected hence the inability to adequately adapt to a changing climate and increased vulnerability.

“We no longer predict the planting seasons because the weather changes more rapidly with prolonged droughts or heavy rainfall leading to a lot of loss in our farms”. Paul added.

Worsening climate change is likely to push prices of staple food much higher. Researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University released a new study on dietary affordability in the world, showing that nearly 1.58 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia who earn an estimated $2.84 per day, cannot afford the recommended diet.

“We found that the global median of the proposed diet would cost $2.84 per day,” said Kalle Hirvonen, the lead author and development economist in Ethiopia at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “In low-income countries, that amounts to 89.1 per cent of a household’s daily per capita income, which is more than people can actually spend on food,” Kalle explained.

As the foods get scarce, the quality becomes poorer and its prices also rise. UN reports highlighted the poor-quality diets as the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the world. The EAT-Lancet Commission study published at The Lancet Global Health indicated that the high cost of food prevents billions of people, particularly in developing countries from accessing a well-balanced diet.

“The cost of food preparation and non-food necessities ensure that an even larger number of people cannot afford that kind of healthy diet,” said senior author William Masters, an economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Against the backdrop of declining food production, African governments are making concerted efforts to address agricultural food production to increase food security. Recently, African leaders held the first Africa Food Security Leadership Dialogue (AFSLD) in Kigali-Rwanda to find concrete ways of strengthening and accelerating their support to food security programs in Africa and help African agriculture adapt to climate change through increased partnerships and coordination.

In a press release from the meeting, Gilbert Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD says that there is need to increase coordination at many levels, from addressing gaps in major infrastructure to transferring knowledge, finance and innovative technologies at the community, farm and even family level.

“IFAD is committed to continuing to work with its partners to empower the rural poor and the most vulnerable and to ensure that smallholder farmers and agripreneurs have the capital, the knowledge and the support they need to succeed – and drive greater food security and economic development at the same time,” said Gilbert Houngbo.