Thursday, August 26, 2010

Africa needs to give itself the tools to protect against the impact of climate change

Everyone understand how agriculture is depending on the climate. But weather variability has even more impact in Africa. African farmers know too well how weather changes may affect their crops. A good weather prediction is critical for the productivity of tropical crops. Unfortunately good weather prediction is (or was) not easily available to African farmers. Now Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is changing that. The impact of ICT in Africa will be the subject of a future posting in this blog.

Going back to the weather impact, here is an extract from Fernand Bezy, "Demography and under-development", 1974:

"Tropical agriculture is unfortunately much more vulnerable than that in temperate regions. In Kenya, for example, sorghum has a yield of 1.7 tons per acre ifplanted before the rains, yield which reduces by 27% if one waits just four days after the early rains, and 50% at least for a delay of seven days. Maize, which produces between 1.5 and 2 tons per hectare depending on the season if planted before the rains, is losing 40% of its performance for a delay of six days. When nothing is done to remedy the drawbacks of agriculture in areas with highly irregular climate, crop size can vary from 1 to 8 depending on the years: in Libya, the barley harvest was 22,000 tonsin 1947, the year of drought, and 177,000 tons in 1949, the year of
plenty. When only one crop fails, the stocks carry from one year to another can enable a community to get away without too much difficulty. But should there be two or three years of drought, as in the Sahel, and then comes scarcity: people are being decimated."

It is this dependency on the weather and the need for immediate labor availability when rain comes that is one of the explanations of the large families making labor more easily available when required.

But there are other weather changes: the increasingly erratic weather patterns due to the climate change in the world, that also impact Africa. African countries are highly dependent on the exports of a few primary commodities, which render them extremely vulnerable to volatility in world prices. The recent drought in Russia has increase the wheat prices by as much as 92% since the beginning of June.

One way to protect against price volatility are world exchanges, in this case commodity exchanges. Unfortunately those are mainly based in Chicago and are difficult to access for Africans. This is why the Whitaker Group is advocating for the development of African commodities exchanges. Follow this link for a much better explanation than I can give.

I had a chance to meet with Rosa Whitaker during a Rwanda Development Forum in Washington DC in January. She impressed me by her strong will. The Whitaker Group (TWG) is the premier strategic consulting firm in the US creating sustainable prosperity in Africa. They facilitate trade and capital flows to Africa and believe in the capacity of Africa and her people to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Their web site is always a good source of information about Africa and its challenges.

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