Friday, August 3, 2012


The contribution of agriculture to GDP in Africa varies across countries but assessments suggest an average contribution of 21% (ranging from 10 to 70%) of GDP (Mendelsohn et al., 2000).

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines vulnerability as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

In Africa, the agricultural sector contributes about 30% of the continent’s GDP and provides a source of livelihood for almost 70% of Africans (Climate Change and Agriculture in Africa). The agricultural sector has its own problems such as rapid urbanization pushing more fertile arable land out of production, competition with subsidized farmers in Western countries, low productivity of lands, use of obsolete equipment and many more. Compounding the problems of the African farmer is impacts of climate change; increased variability in rains, higher overall temperatures, and storm events that are more frequent and/or more intense. Due to the major role that agriculture plays in the economies of African countries, any slight negative impact on agriculture has significant effects on the people.

Projections of climate change impacts on Agriculture in Africa
Agriculture in Africa is climate-dependent, generally rainfed, and this makes the continent highly vulnerable to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), projects:
•that 75-250 million people in Africa will face severe water stress by 2020 and 350-600 million people by 2050 due to climate change
•that Agricultural production in Africa will be severely compromised due to loss of land, shorter growing seasons, and more uncertainty about what and when to plant due to climate change
•a possible 50% reduction in yields from rain-fed crops by 2020 in some North African countries, and crop net revenues likely to fall by as much as 90% by 2100 in South Africa.

So, Africa is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the impacts of climate change on African agriculture cannot be overemphasized. As climate change progresses at a faster rate, the vulnerability of Africa’s agriculture worsens.

The Approach for Vulnerability Assessment
Generally, Vulnerability of a system is a function of Exposure, Sensitivity and Adaptive Capacity, i.e.,
Vulnerability = f (Exposure, Sensitivity, Adaptive Capacity)

A vulnerability assessment must, therefore, answer these questions:
Who (or what) is vulnerable …………………………………… System
To what are they vulnerable …………………………………… Exposure
Why are they vulnerable …………………………………………… Sensitivity
What can be done to lessen this vulnerability …………… Adaptive capacity

It is so tempting, and usually the easy way out, to assess the vulnerability of Agriculture at the continental level but the impacts of climate change vary significantly due to the diversity of environments across Africa. So a general vulnerability assessment would usually leave out some hotspots due to the averaging of conditions which takes place at the continent-wide level vulnerability assessment. So as much as possible, it is advisable to lower the scale at which vulnerability assessments are done in order not to leave out specific situations that need addressing.

Importance of assessing Africa’s Agricultural vulnerability to decision makers
Assessing vulnerability is not only important for responding to future climate risks and also the process of assessment also brings out key answers needed to improve the management of current climate risks. A good vulnerability assessment will contribute to setting development priorities and monitoring progress.

First and foremost, for an effective Vulnerability Assessment, one needs to understand who and what is at risk. Understanding who and what is at risk is critical in deciding strategies and measures that may be taken to reduce risk or increase capacity to adapt. An appropriate vulnerability assessment method is very important because each the method or approach one chooses may end up giving a whole different view of the vulnerability of a particular system. Also important to bear in mind is that no method for vulnerability assessment can meet the needs of all adaptation activities. Depending on the system being assessed, a suitable method must be selected because each route one takes has got advantages and disadvantages.

“Africa is an ancient continent. Its lands are rich and fertile enough to provide a solid foundation for prosperity. Its people are proud and industrious enough to seize the opportunities that may be presented. I am confident that Africans will not be found wanting — in stamina, in determination, or in political will.” (Kofi Annan, 1998 address to the Security Council on the Secretary General’s Report on Africa)

Climate Change and Agriculture in Africa). Retrieved: 3 August 2012.

Mendelsohn, R., A. Dinar and A. Dalfelt, 2000: Climate change impacts on African agriculture. Preliminary analysis prepared for the World Bank, Washington, District of Columbia, 25 pp.


  1. So Benji what do you suggest? What are the options available to us? Unfortunately, our adaptive capacity as individual countries and even as a continent is low mainly because of poverty. It also mean that it will not be easy for individual countries to attempt to do a vulnerability assessment no matter what advantages and disadvantages they have because the resources are just not available.

    1. Afua,
      I think it is well within the means of many African countries to conduct 'decent' vulnerability assessment (VA). I don't usually advocate for the 'wholesale' VA. The option available is that we need to lower the scale of our VAs to community level, at least. And if VA is being done on Agriculture, it should be comprehensive; not only livestock, or crops, separately. We should look at an integrated system. Some minus somewhere and some plus elsewhere gives a better idea of what is happening. As I stated in the piece, assessing vulnerability is not only important for responding to future climate risks. A good vulnerability assessment will contribute to setting development priorities and monitoring progress.

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