Climate Change and its Effects on Food Security in Africa



Nichole M. Kinney
Undergraduate Student
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802, USA







December 15, 2006


1. Introduction
Global climate change is something that this planet has had to deal with for its entire history. Every time that the climate has shifted, the population of the planet has adapted. An example of this is the ice age that occurred early in mankind’s history, which shows that humans can adapt to climate shifts. The fact that the greenhouse effect is occurring is already a proven fact; Earth would be much colder without it. However, the human contribution to the greenhouse effect by adding CO2 to the atmosphere is called global warming, which can cause a change in the current climate. This climate change will impact society, especially the people in developing areas such as Africa. Because the African people depend so much on the climate for their food, climate change is a very significant threat on their food security. We will examine the impact of climate change on food security in three regions: Nigeria, Sudan, and South Africa.

1.1. The Greenhouse Effect
It has already been proven that the greenhouse effect exists. Radiation from the sun encounters the Earth’s atmosphere and about thirty percent of it is reflected back out to space. This reflected energy is known as the Earth’s albedo. The seventy percent that goes through the atmosphere is scattered to the Earth’s surface where some of it is absorbed by the surface of the Earth, which causes it to heat up and emit its own radiation in the form of longwave (infrared) radiation. Greenhouse gasses such as water vapor and CO2 absorb this infrared radiation, which raises the temperature on Earth. Using an equation based on the radiating temperature of the sun and Earth’s longwave emission to space, we can figure out that the temperature of the earth is about 255K. The problem with that is that the freezing point of water is 273K, so 255K is not a realistic temperature for Earth. As it turns out, the equation does not account for radiation absorbed by the atmosphere, which is essentially what causes the greenhouse effect. The difference in the temperature due to the greenhouse effect is about 33K, so Earth’s temperature is realistically 288K, which is above freezing, so humans can survive easier than if the Earth’s temperature really was 255K. Because today’s society would be very different at 255K if humans could survive at that temperature, the greenhouse effect is essential to our society today. However, it is when the greenhouse effect is enhanced by the CO2 that humans dump into the atmosphere that it becomes global warming.

1.2. Global Warming
Greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane allow the atmosphere to absorb the Earth’s radiation. We are fairly certain that mankind is contributing to global warming because developed countries are using billions of barrels of oil, which when processed into energy releases CO2, in order to sustain their economy. This extra radiation that is being trapped in the atmosphere will increase the temperature of the Earth, which results in the melting of the ice caps in areas such as Greenland and Alaska. The freshwater from the melted ice caps ends up in the oceans, where it stays on top of the salty ocean water because it is less dense that salt water. Eventually, this water starts to get very cold, which starts to cool the temperature of the Earth, which in turn can lead to a climate shift.

2. African Climate and the Impact of Climate Extremes
The climate in African generally ranges from a tropical rainforest climate in the center of the continent to a desert climate toward the northern and southern portions of the continent. The average annual rainfall in the tropical rainforest regions is about 70 in., and the average temperature is about 26.7° C (80° F) ( Ziegenbein, 2006). On the other hand, the average annual rainfall in the desert regions is less than 10 in., and the temperature can range from 32.2° C (90° F) in the summer to 0° C (32° F) in the winter at night (Ziegenbein, 2006). The average annual rainfall and temperature can, at times, create a severe climate. High temperatures and low rainfall can cause droughts, and an active rainy season can bring floods, both of which are conditions that affect the lives of the people who live in Africa.

2.1. Droughts and Floods in Sudan
Sudan generally has a desert climate, which means that the country is can be subjected to severe droughts. In January 2001, Sudan suffered severe drought, and on January 14, 2001, the Climate Information Project (CIP) reported that the lack of rain caused wells to dry up and the water table to drop to a low level. Later, on January 22, the CIP reported that the severe drought was continuing, and that the hardest hit provinces were northern Kordofan and Darfur. However, later that year, in August 2001, the CIP reported that rainfall caused the Nile River to overflow, which caused the worst flooding in years to hit northern Sudan (Ross, 2005).

2.2. South African Flooding
South Africa has a climate that ranges from sub-tropical to temperate, and occasionally there is flooding. In August 2006, a newspaper in Johannesburg reported that an unusually harsh winter resulted in heavy rains that caused severe flooding in the southern part of the country (“South Africa Endures A Harsh Winter”, 2006). The flooding that occurred in February 2002 was the worst flooding in decades (“The floods: A regional disaster”, 2006). It was caused by weeks of severe storms, including Cyclone Eline, which resulted in rivers overflowing and dams breaking (“The floods: A regional disaster”, 2006).

2.3. Desertification in Nigeria
Nigeria, because it is located close to both the equator and the Sahara Desert, is typically hot all year. (Climate – Nigeria, 2002). The combination of droughts, the country’s proximity to the Sahara Desert, and poor land use makes desertification is an enormous problem in Nigeria. The country typically looses around 0.6 kilometer of land per year to the Sahara Desert, and 38% of the country is currently experiencing the effects of desertification (Odumosu, 2006). Desertification has a negative impact on soil fertility, crop yields, and livestock production, which in turn threatens the well being of the people in the region.

2.4. Analysis of the Impacts of the Climate in Africa
All of these severe climate events have had an impact on the people of Africa. The droughts in Sudan put around 900,000 people at risk of famine, as well as caused tribal conflicts over supplies of food and water, while the floods in Sudan displaced thousands of people and destroyed entire villages (Ross, 2005). The 2006 South Africa floods disrupted the transportation system by flooding roads so that they could not be traveled on, as well as delaying flights (“South Africa Endures A Harsh Winter”, 2006). Hundreds were killed and 1.25 million people were left homeless in the 2002 South Africa floods. Crops and food supplies were washed away, so that many people faced starvation, and there was about $10 billions worth of damage to crops, livestock, and property (“The floods: A regional disaster”, 2006). In Nigeria, desertification is threatening the homes of 25 million people and the farmland of at least 50,000 farmers. Vegetation and water supplies are being lost, which threatens the people living in the area with starvation (Othman, 2006).


3. Current African Climate and Projected Changes
The three areas that we are examining all have an arid climate, and are prone to droughts (Figure 3). There is a lot of debate over exactly how the climate is going to change in the future, but most models predict an increase in variability (Figures 1 and 2). Variability is “a measure of the frequency distribution of the value of climate variables and their range over a given time period” (Ziervogel, 2006). There is going to be a greater range between high and low values; for example, there will be higher than normal temperatures during the summer and colder than normal temperatures in the winter. On top of that, there will be an increase in the frequency of the occurrence of these extremes, as well as the intensity of the events (Ziervogel, 2006). What this ultimately leads to is an increase in the number and severity of droughts and floods, which results in an increase in food security.

3.1. Impacts of Climate Change on Food Security
An increase in climate variability will have an enormous effect on the food security of the people in Africa. On average, Africans have only a little money to spend on basic needs such a food, supplies, health care, and schooling. An increase in climate extremes places stress on food production, which means that money that could have been spent on something like schooling would have to be used for food instead (Ziervogel, 2006). On top of that, there would also be stress places on the transportation system because heat reduces the life of roads and windstorms create delays in the transportation of goods. This leads to higher prices, which in turn leads to a decrease in productivity, food supplies, and incomes (Ziervogel, 2006). Another negative effect of climate change is that it decreases food utility. A flood or a drought reduces the availability of food, as well as the range of foods. This leads to a lower frequency of meals and inadequate nutrients, which in turn leads to malnutrition (Ziervogel, 2006). Other effects of climate change include crop failures, a variability of prices and food quality in the market, desertification, and soil erosion.
            The end results are food shortages and starvation, especially among rural people. This leads to the displacement of rural people into other areas, which creates cultural conflicts among the different African tribes (Ziervogel, 2006). Farmlands and cattle are destroyed, which results in even more food insecurity.

4. Adaptations
Here we will examine the methods used to adapt to climate change and analyze how effective the methods were.

4.1. Limpopo, South Africa
A strategy that was used in Limpopo was to install a water pump and create a communal farming project. Its goal was to aid women in producing vegetables in order to combat malnutrition. The land was originally cultivated by 59 women and 5 men who planted subsistence crops at first, and then moved on to crops that could be sold (Ziervogel, 2006).

4.2. Bara, Sudan and Nigeria
The Community- Based Rangeland Rehabilitation Project was set up by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which ran from 1994-2000 (Ziervogel, 2006). Its two objectives were to prevent degration and improve rangelands, and to reduce production failure so that the people do not leave the area and the population stabilizes (Ziervogel, 2006). The African people were trained how to implement and upkeep the program, which included better land management, assigning grazing allotments to herders, and agro-forestry systems were set up to improve soil fertility. In Nigeria, irrigation systems have been set up in order to increase productivity.

4.3. Analysis of the Effectiveness of the Programs
In South Africa, success has fluctuated. In years in which the pump worked, there was an increase in food security. The people in the region made profits, which went to buying good food to eat, getting better health care, and sending children to school (Ziervogel, 2006). When the pump failed, people did not plant and harvest crops, and marketing was poor. Resources and time were wasted, and it was hard to plan for crops because no one knew when the pump would be fixed. In Sudan, the outcomes were positive: there was more income, which went to raising and reselling livestock, seeds for planting small gardens, school, and health care (Ziervogel, 2006).

5. Conclusion
Overall, there is a climate change that is occurring due to the increase of greenhouse gasses. Even though the extent of the climate change is somewhat uncertain, we do need to do everything that we possibly can to cut back on oil production. Because one extreme drought or flood can have an enormous effect on the living conditions in Africa, the people living there are very reliant on the climate, and are thus very vulnerable to any changes. If one severe flood can cause $10 billion worth of damage, then a shift in climate where it is possible that more of these types of floods could happen more frequently would be disastrous to the Africans. If global warming does create a significant climate shift, then it is possible that thousands of Africans could starve or loose their homes. As long as the developing areas in Africa are helped by developed nations such as the U.S and England, then the African governments can continue to support programs such as the ones implemented in South Africa and Sudan, which would hopefully decrease the vulnerability of the people in Africa.





Figure 1: Shows climate variability in June, July, and August. The blue dots show an increase in precipitation, while the red ones show a decrease in precipitation.



Figure 2: Shows climate variability in December, January, and February. The blue dots show an increase in precipitation, while the red ones show a decrease in precipitation.



Figure 3: Average monthly temperature and precipitation in Nigeria.













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