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East Africa’s rapid population growth to worsen food insecurity

By Ronald Musoke

Food insecurity which is already a perennial challenge in East Africa could be worsened by the region’s rapidly growing population— already one of the highest in the world, a new book published by three international research institutions has warned.

The book entitled ‘East African Agriculture and Climate Change’ released on Dec.9 notes that already arable areas in the region are under severe pressure to increase their productivity to feed a rapidly increasing human population.

The book examines the food security threats facing 11 of the countries that make up East and central Africa—Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda—and explores how climate change will increase the requirements for achieving sustainable food security throughout the region.

The book which is the result of collaboration among International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)’s Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), and scientists from each of the countries notes that  because climate change could exacerbate the situation; adaptation is essential for sustained economic growth in East Africa.

According to the Society for International Development’s 2012 State of East African Report, in just seven year’s time, the combined population of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi is expected to reach about 240 million people.

Meanwhile the total land area occupied by the five East African Community member states remains 1.82 million sq km that also includes parts covered by water.

Using sophisticated modeling and available data to develop future scenarios and explore a range of climate change consequences for agriculture, food security, and resource management, the book offers recommendations to national governments and regional agencies.

The book warns that without adaptation, climate change will have negative effects on wheat; soybean, sorghum, and irrigated rice with yield declines for each crop ranging between 5 and 20 percent, with irrigated rice being the crop most negatively impacted.

Rain-fed maize and rain-fed rice yields might increase slightly because of climate change, generally because of projected higher rainfall in some areas.

With adaptation to climate change, including investment in agricultural technology (including development of new varieties), maize yields could increase across the region by more than 50 percent between now and 2050.

However, some areas in the region will be very hard hit by climate change, making growing crops much more difficult. One climate model suggests that parts of West Pokot County in Kenya will no longer be suitable for maize.

At the same time, other areas that were not previously suitable for crops probably can be brought into production. Areas in the Rift Valley that are not currently suitable for rain-fed maize will become so.

The book also offers recommendations to national governments and regional economic agencies already dealing with the vulnerabilities of climate change.

“There are two main ways the book can be helpful to policymakers,” said Timothy Thomas, an IFPRI research fellow.

“First, the detailed maps on projected productivity changes to key crops will help readers identify climate ‘hotspots’ where intervention should be made a priority.

Second, the book pulls together projections of changes in climate, population, income, and agricultural technology, and looks into the future to show what this means for each country in terms of agricultural productivity, food security, and nutrition.”

The maps showing scenarios in different but neighboring countries amplify the gravity of climate change’s effects.

“While one can get absorbed in local concerns, a glance at several countries together projects the complexities and impacts that would not be possible at lower scales,” said Michael Waithaka, manager of ASARECA’s Policy Analysis and Advocacy Programme.

East African Agriculture and Climate Change is the final book to be released of a three-part series examining climate change and agriculture in three regions of Africa: West Africa, southern Africa, and East Africa.

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