Climate Emergency Institute
Climate Science Library
​​Climate Change and Food Security Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa
​Robert Mburia, Kenya
​Original Post: Dec. 20, 2011


​​Beginning in early 2007, the world experienced public riots and protests due to food security issues. Seven of the affected countries were in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Food Program expressed concerns over the chronic food security issues (especially undernourishment) in the region, and the resultant effects on world peace and security. Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa GAO (United States Government Accountability Office) noted in 2008 that a rise in commodity prices and climate change will exacerbate food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of national and international government, as well as state actors’ non-prioritization of food security issues, low agricultural budgets, weak institutional capacity, difficulties in coordination and donors’ declining resources further aggravate food security issues in sub-Saharan Africa.

​​The year 2008 saw the reintroduction of talks on global food security and its correlation to the attainment of the ambitious Millennium Development Goals. This came as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) warned that the positive socioeconomic developments achieved during the decade may be slowed down, or worse still reversed, by climate change. This is because new threats to water and food security, agriculture production and access, as well as nutrition and public health, have emerged. Climate Change and Food Insecurity UNDP (2008) further notes that the impacts of climate change, such as the rise in sea levels, droughts, heat waves, floods, and variations in rainfall, may force another 600 million people into malnutrition and increase the number of people facing water scarcity by 1.8 billion by 2080.

​​As observed by FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) in1999, the right to food is globally the most violated human right. The situation is the worst in sub-Saharan Africa. In this region more than 150, 000 deaths and approximately 5 million illnesses are reported every year, attributable to climate change scenarios like global warming (West 2011). The World Food Summit proposed a target to reduce the number of people facing hunger by 20 million populations annually between 2000 and 2015 (World Food Summit, 1996). Some countries made huge progress in keeping with these targets for some decades. However, there has been a sharp decline in this achievement, as only 2.5 million people have been rescued from under nutrition. This is far below the target set by the World Food Summit in 1996.

​​In 2002, the World Food Program director was quoted as saying, "Never before has WFP had to contend with potential starvation of this magnitude on the African continent with the simultaneous outbreak of two enormous and complex crises exacerbated by HIV/AIDS and economic policy failures. The reality is that right now 38 million people in Africa alone face an urgent and imminent threat to their peace, security and stability ... This is an unprecedented crisis, which calls for an unprecedented response. (WFP 2002)."

​​The United Nations Security Council acknowledges that food crisis is a threat to peace and security in Africa. According to the scientists who have mapped the growing health impacts of global warming, the data show that global warming affects different regions in very different ways. Global warming is hardest on communities in poor countries. Unfortunately, the places that have contributed the least to global warming are the most vulnerable to the death and disease that higher temperatures can bring (West 2011).

​​​​Scientific reports show that green house gasses will increase the global temperatures by an average of 6 degrees by the end of the century. Phenomena such as extreme floods and drought spells, as well as heat waves, will also increase in magnitude and frequency. History shows that since the 1960s sub-Saharan Africa has seen major famine. The horn of Africa specifically sees terrible droughts every three to four years. Presently more than 30 million people in Africa require emergency food aid annually (Clover 2003), and 60% of the World’s Food Program activities are focused on Africa. Agriculture accounts for 40% of the continent’s foreign currency earnings and many other economic activities. Two thirds of manufacturing value-added are based on agricultural raw materials.

​​Climate change poses the greatest threat to agriculture and food security, especially in poor agriculture-based countries in the sub-Saharan Africa, due to low resiliency (Shar et al 2008 7 Nellemann et al 2009 in Ludi 2009). In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is threatened by multiple issues, ranging from population increase to urbanization and industrialization, to the sub-division of land and degraded resources. Climate change is further exacerbating these already horrific conditions. Most of the small scale farmers who produce food for subsistence as well as income generation are now unable to meet their basic food needs daily. The most affected members of the population are women and children, who are more often poorer, and whose daily activities include farming, fishing, and herding, among others. These groups depend mostly on water. Even where irrigated agriculture is practiced, rivers have been drying up in the recent past.

​​Ludi (2009) concurs that several sub-Saharan countries are already experiencing significant water stress due to unreliable and insufficient rainfall, as well as changes in rainfall patterns. Climate change is likely to aggravate this situation, which will mean increased pressure on the already scarce water supply, in terms of access and availability. This is also a recipe for disastrous conflicts, owing to the politically volatile nature of the region. Changes in the agro-ecological conditions attributable to climate change affect the food production and, by extension, such issues as population increase and income disparity. Land degradation is causing diminished food production in many arable lands of sub-Saharan Africa.

​​Global warming and desertification, which shift the suitability of farms, will cause more lands in low latitude areas to lose their agricultural suitability, which will be pushed upwards in areas that were previously cool. This has a direct effect on food availability and production. Sub-Saharan Africa is characterized by arid, semi arid and sub humid conditions. With the current predictions that show greater weather variability, there will be increased frequencies and magnitudes of events such as drought and flooding.

​​There are and will continue to be great fluctuations in crop yields where local food supplies greatly affect the stability of food and food security. Scmidhuber and Tubiolo (2007) note that these climatic fluctuations will be most pronounced in semi arid and sub humid regions and will significantly reduce crop yield levels and livestock numbers, as well as productivity.

​​Food instability will be a frequent occurrence, as is already experienced in countries in the Horn of Africa that were struck by famine such as has not been experienced for the last 60 years. Scmidhuber and Tubiolo (2007) further note the vicious cycle in which infectious diseases lead or contribute to aggravated hunger, making the communities more susceptible to these diseases. This may further lead to reductions in labor productivity, thereby increasing poverty, morbidity and mortality.

​​The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2008) estimates that a total of 850 million people are currently undernourished. Climate change is expected to increase these numbers by approximately 35 to 170 million populations by 2080 (Shah et al 2008). As Ludi (2009) concurs, food security and rural livelihoods are intrinsically linked to water availability and use. The carrying capacity of many managed and wild ecosystems will be greatly lowered, leading to droughts and animal death as well.

​​As well stated by OECD ( the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 2003, measures to ensure that communities adapt to climate change impacts ought to be multifaceted and multidisciplinary in nature where environmental and other socioeconomic issues are incorporated in to the programs that directly affect sub-Saharan Africa, worth noting in the fact that, while factors affecting people may be different, they are all interconnected to a great extent. For sustainable development to take place all these factors ought to be addressed, carefully incorporating all possible multiple issues that lead to food insecurity, climate change, poverty, community resilience and vulnerability.

​​Ludi and Bird (2007) offer great understanding in distinguishing between poverty and vulnerability. Vulnerability is dependent on the nature of the hazard, while risks are determined by factors like external hazards and characteristics of the population, which may make them more or less susceptible to the harm posed by the hazard. The poor populations are in significant ways unable to deal with, overcome or prevent the risks and hazards.


​Short term and long-term measures, policies and strategies, as well as institutional frameworks, should be put in place to mitigate climate change, increase communities’ resilience and adaptation to climate change impacts, ensure food security, and eliminate poverty, among other multiple negative impacts that cripple the Sub-Saharan countries. FAO (2008c) shows that the long term water policies and related policies need to take into account country- specific legal, institutional, economic, social, physical and environmental conditions. The optimistic believe that food security can sustainably be achieved so as to meet the Millennium Development Goals and heartfelt commitment to this end, while at the same time committing rational budgetary allocations, and tackling climate change issues This must involve international cooperation and coordination in regard to socioeconomic issues, climate change, poverty, systems of governance, institutional capacity building, and integration of civil society organizations and other NGO’s, to ensure sustainable development and respect of the human right to food in sub-Saharan Africa.


1. Clover, J. "FOOD SECURITY IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA." African Security Review 12.1 (2003). Web. 27 Nov. 2011.
​​2. Ludi, E. "Hunger on the Rise." FAO: FAO Home. 18 Sept. 2008. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.
​​3. Ludi, E., and K. Bird. ‘Risk and Vulnerability’. Issue brief no. 3. Vol. 3. Bern: Poverty-Wellbeing Net, 2007. Print.
​4. Nellemann, C., M. MacDevette, T. Manders, B. Eickhout, B. Svihus, A. Prins, and B. Kaltenborn, eds. The Environmental Food Crisis. The Environment’s Role in Averting Future Food Crises. A UNEP Rapid Response Assessment. Publication. Arendal: UNDP, 2009. Print.
​5. Schmidhuber, J., and F.N. Tubiello. "Global Food Security under Climate Change." PNAS 104.50 (2007): 19703-9708. 2007. Web. 27 Nov. 2011
​6. Shah, M., G. Fischer, and H. Shah, M., G. Fischer, and H. Van Velthuizen. Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture. The Challenges of Climate Change in Sub-Saharan Africa. Publication. Laxenburg: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 2008. Print.
​7. West, Larry. "Global Warming - Global Warming Leads to 150,000 Deaths Every Year." Environmental Issues - News and Information about the Environment. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011.
​8. Fighting Climate Change - Human Solidarity in a Divided World. Rep. New York: UNDP, 2008. Print.
​9. Food Insecurity Persists in Sub-Saharan Africa despite Efforts to Halve Hunger by 2015. Rep. no. GAO-08-1007R. Print.
​10. Poverty and Climate Change. Reducing Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation. Rep. Paris: OCED, 2003. Print.
​11. ‘Water for Agriculture in Africa: Resources and Challenges in the Context of Climate Change’. Rep. 2008. Print.


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