By AGRA Content Hub

By. Dr. Agnes Kalibata – Article published in the 2019 Change Readiness Index

In a situation that has become predictably familiar, parts of Africa this year faced the horrendous consequences of natural disasters that are linked to climate change.

Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa in March, killing at least 700 people and wiping out entire villages. Early estimates said that 1.7 million people had been affected.[1] While the sheer ferocity of Idai was new, we can’t say the same about the droughts which have been all too common in Africa. Currently, 10.7 million people are facing hunger[2] across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia following poor rains.

Climate risks has increased global inequality[3] with Africa, where 70% of the population depends on rain-fed, smallholder agriculture, among the worst affected regions. A recent study[4] shows that climate change has driven GDP per capita more than 20% lower that it would have been without climate change in sub-Saharan African countries including Sudan, Burkina Faso and Niger.

In the face of such a challenge, the task ahead is clear and not easy. What is also clear is that Africa is not short of tools and technologies to adapt. Deploying these tools and technologies on a transformational scale is the challenge. The continent is also not short of resources or the intention to make these resources available; fragmentation and poor coordination has resulted in wastage of resources and marginal impact.

As evidenced by the Change Readiness Index, in general, African nations are prominent amongst those with high climate vulnerability and the lowest readiness for change. Sudan for example, is ranked at number 136 in this year’s index, meaning that it is not in a strong position to cope with change which is compounded by unpredictability as a result of climate impacts.

Table 7

Climate Change in Africa: Preparing the Civil Society for the Challenge


The CRI’s People & Civil Society Pillar measures important variables which greatly impact a country’s ability to confront climate threats and events. These include sub-pillars on human capital, inclusiveness of growth, access to information, gender parity, and voice of the civil society. There are also primary data covering the effectiveness of climate change advocacy by civil society. 2019 CRI data show that, generally, differences between high income countries and low and lower-middle income countries are the most striking within the Civil Society Pillar. In Sub Saharan Africa, the average Civil Society overall score ranks below all other regions. However, despite this overall trend, we observe variability within the Pillar wherein income is not a determining factor for all indicators. For example, Zimbabwe’s gender scores rank among those of many upper-middle income country levels.

Three sectors, one goal

Working together to address these challenges is not a choice we make, it is the only way we can win. Three key partners – governments, private sector and civil society – all have a role to play.

The institution I head, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), is dedicated to painting a new picture and creating a thriving African agricultural sector. We invest in boosting yields through improved seeds, fertilizers and climate-resilient technologies. We have been working to help farmers cope when the rains don’t come, or come too strong.


We do not work alone. We cooperate with a wide range of partners: governments, the private sector, civil society, research institutions and implementing partners to deliver these technologies to farmers. Each of these partners has a unique role to play.

Where governments lead with targeted policies and creating an enabling environment, for instance, results are evident. For example, Rwanda’s vision for 2050 envisages a developed climate resilient and low-carbon economy. This will be driven by, among others, sustainable intensification of agriculture;  agricultural diversity in local and export markets; sustainable forestry, agroforestry and biomass energy; ecotourism, conservation and payment for ecosystem services promotion in protected areas; integrated approach to sustainable land use planning and management;   integrated water resource management and planning. This positive change improves resilience as a result of targeted policies and enabling environment.

The profit imperative of the private sector is a powerful force for good, when properly directed by government policies encouraging investment, ownership and sustainable business practices. And when I say private sector, I also mean farmers. African smallholder farmers provide 80% of the food eaten on the continent. We see them as businesses that could thrive given the right support with a major boost to national economies.

Civil society – technical implementing organizations like AGRA, research institutions especially the CGIAR, think tanks, community organizations and farmer organizations, and many other actors – drives implementation with communities, particularly in places where government and the private sector are weaker. It advocates the needs of vulnerable groups to decision makers and brings new knowledge and skills to local communities

While each of these sectors make a valuable contribution, it is only by collaborating that we will effectively prepare societies, businesses and whole economies for the impacts of climate change.

Coordinated interventions work

There are, of course, many ways to make farmers more resilient to climate change: crop diversification, agroforestry, adoption of more efficient and weather tolerant crop varieties, drip-irrigation, appropriate fertilizers, and soil fertility management. Importantly, the digital and mapping technologies help farmers’ access climate models than improve farming choices, while encouraging innovations in finance and insurance against climate risks.

We are seeing a rise in the adoption of Africa’s staple crops[5] for greater climate resilience. For example, the orange-fleshed sweet potato developed by the International Potato Center (CIP) and enriched with vitamin A is taking root in most parts of the continent. It offers the quickest nutritional returns compared to other tubers and matures in three months compared to cassava and yam that take up to a year. It is a definite winner against climate change. In Uganda, working with Oxfam, the Foundation for Urban and Rural Advancement programme helps smallholders who cannot grow their traditional crops because of changing weather patterns. The program provides training on new crops, distributes seedlings and provides remediation against flooding.

Both of these are valuable interventions. But a project here and a project there isn’t going to transform whole economies and lead to widespread adaptation to climate risks. The public and private sectors need to work with civil society to scale up, avoid fragmentation of efforts and enhance coordination and alignment to what works and to countries’ own efforts and priorities.

Table 8

The Civil Society Voice: An Advocate for Climate Change Readiness


2019 CRI data measure the Civil Society’s ability to influence and participate in policy making (voice of civil society), as well as its effectiveness in advocating for improved climate change policies (effective climate advocates). Notably, Sub-Saharan Africa scores lower than the composite of all Low Income countries on both fronts, and the EU outperforms the averages for High Income Countries. The data suggest that in Sub-Saharan Africa, achieving climate ready policies will benefit from a stronger voice for civil society and steps to improve advocacy for climate change.



Achieving Change at Scale

In Western Kenya, for example, climate resilience is being promoted through a multi-prong approach. The use of improved high-yield seeds, blended crop nutrition supplements and market diversification, are combined with improved biodiversity and forest management. The target is to reach 100,000 farmers who adopt sustainable land management practices, increase maize production by 300,000 MT and put 10,000 hectares of degraded forest land under sustainable forest management.

Our experience is that initiatives like this must develop the capacity of local authorities and country governments to manage, monitor and regulate natural resources. It engages communities, who have now created their own natural resources management committee. It brings in the private sector as a key player in ensuring sustainability of the systems that are being developed. In short, it unites all three sectors in one common purpose.

We must also ensure that scalable solutions are brought to the more challenging environments of countries like South Sudan – which performs below its income level on the Change Readiness Index. In one example, civil society, development partners and the private sector are working together in the Partnership for Recovery and Resilience to tackle food insecurity and health risks, including those caused by climate change. While it is too early to talk of results, the approach shows promise by putting communities and people at the centre.  The hard work of building strong civil society engagement with implementing partners, development partners, and private sector – and linking them with governments are necessary for future success.


Adaptation is Africa’s only hope

If we needed more evidence for action, the recent landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s climate science body, showed that if global temperatures rise more than 1.5°C by the end of the century, African countries will face irreversible destruction.

Truth is, end of the century is a reference point, and these changes are already here with us. The short-term approach of reacting after disaster hits with food aid and finance, is no longer sufficient. Every effort must be made to ensure that countries, communities, farmers and business are ready to cope.

Plainly put, we must adapt to live. Promoting ecosystems based adaptation by building and sustainably managing natural capital from the farm level to national and regional levels will be critical. This approach guarantees multiple development outcomes that increase resilience and change readiness capacities. We must also give farmers technologies including seeds that area adapted to local agro-ecological conditions and that are higher yielding.

Climate insurance and finance will also be critical. Efforts like those by the African Risk Capacity (ARC)[6] should be scaled up. ARC targets to insure 30 countries against drought, flood and cyclone disasters by 2020. This translates to the possibility of US $1.5 billion in coverage for some 150 million people

All these efforts will take the kind of inclusive, collaborative partnerships I have outlined above. We cannot be successful if we only plough our own furrows and do not work together for a prosperous Africa.








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