Women selling vegetables at Lusaka's City Market. Photo: Salim Dawood

Rising temperatures, increased CO2 concentrations: will Africa defeat hunger by 2030?

Rising temperatures, water scarcity, greater CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, and extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts, and floods might hinder food production. As a result, hunger is likely to be included as one of the major global impacts of climate change 

According to the Global Hunger Index report of 2019, yields of major food crops such as maize and wheat are declining. This is due to extreme weather events, plant diseases, and declining water resources.  Chad, Madagascar, Yemen, and Zambia have alarming levels of hunger. In addition, the report states that 43 countries out of 117 in the world were ranked to have serious levels of hunger.

According to recent data, far too many individuals are suffering from hunger and undernutrition. Nearly 690 million people are undernourished and 144 million children suffer from stunting, a sign of chronic undernutrition. In addition, 47 million children suffer from wasting, a sign of acute undernutrition. Moreover, in 2018, 5.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays, in many cases as a result of undernutrition.

Looking at this data, it is unsurprising to hear that we are not on track to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030. At the current pace, approximately 37 countries will fail even to reach low hunger by 2030 according to the GHI Severity Scale.

Impact on livelihoods

The 2019 GHI report highlights that weather anomalies and climate change, particularly extreme events, can contribute to rising food prices. This can jeopardize people’s access to food and threaten people’s nutrition. 

Aside from this, recent studies show that higher CO2 concentrations reduce the protein, zinc, and iron content of crops.

It is further reported that climate change will also increasingly affect water resources for food production as it alters the rates of precipitation and evaporation as well as groundwater levels. At present, 1.8 billion people—just under one-quarter of the world population—live in water-stressed areas, and this number is expected to grow to about half of the world population by 2030. 

To cope with these disasters, people may, generally speaking, reduce their food consumption, consume lower-quality food, sell their assets, change their livelihoods, migrate, or pursue several of these strategies at once. Whatever they decide, each has its own links to hunger and food insecurity, the report highlighted. 

Climate impacts particularly affect women, who are often responsible not only for producing food but also for managing and distributing it within families and communities.

The report further highlights that the changing climate may worsen food losses in global food systems. Currently, large amounts of food are already lost or wasted. 

Given that the current food system contributes between 21 and 37 percent of total net anthropogenic emissions, these losses exacerbate climate change yet they do not contribute to food security or nutrition. 

Inadequate response

The 2019 GHI report states that the actions taken by most countries to tackle hunger are inadequate for the scale of the threat that climate change poses to food security.

In Zambia, various partners like Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and opposition leaders have expressed concern over the lack of political will in the fight against hunger.

Many have remarked that the government needs to prioritise the fight against hunger and poverty. This is particularly important to achieve the Vision 2030 goals and for Zambia to become a middle-income nation.

Hunger indicator trends for Zambia. Image: GHI

Can Zambia win the fight?

William Chilufya, country engagement manager at Hivos Southern Africa: Just Climate Action, said there was hope for the country to win the fight against hunger. However, Chilifya called for concerted efforts in order to achieve any meaningful gains soon.

In an interview with Climate Tracker, Mr Chilufya highlighted the importance of crop diversification. This is because certain crops behave differently  and the failure of one would leave hope for the success of the other.

“For me, diversification is the key, such that if one crop is submerged, the other crop will have a chance to survive. You find that these foods grow in different manners. For example, rice loves floods so if there were rice crops in flooded areas, the farmers wouldn’t have been at a loss,” said Chilufya. 

Chilufya also highlighted the importance of early warning systems. EWS are key to informing farmers on what steps to take and when to do so as they grow certain crops. 

University of Zambia geography and environmental studies department lecturer, Dr Kabwe .H. Mubanga, noted in an interview that Zambia’s dependence on maize has a direct effect on the country’s hunger levels.

Dr Mubanga explained that maize is a weak and expensive to cultivate crop. Maize is also susceptible to high temperatures. Dr Mubanga added that the crop requires a lot of fertiliser and rainfall and wondered why the government insists on subsidizing it.

Instead, he called for a shift in  farming production at both household and policy level.

“There are a lot of strategies that can be used to escalate the sustainability of farming. As  farming is done more sustainably , food security increases. So both at policy level and at household level, we need to change the way we do farming production,” said Dr Mubanga.

What the future looks like

The 2019 GHI describes transformation as a fundamental change in the attributes of human and natural systems. This is now recognized as central to climate-resilient development pathways addressing the goals of Agenda 2030, particularly the Sustainable Development Goal 2 Zero Hunger and the Paris Agreement. 

The report states that these pathways must include actions for mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development. More broadly, the report demands a profound shift toward sustainability, facilitated by changes in individual and collective behaviours and a fairer balance of political, cultural, and institutional power in society. 

Both mitigation and adaptation measures need to be combined with safety net policies that protect the most vulnerable people from hunger, food insecurity, and other adverse impacts resulting from  these measures. 

Furthermore, good governance, capacity building, participatory planning, and downward accountability are essential. These shall help people and institutions negotiate and define measures that are fair and sustainable and ensure food security.

Overall, despite the help of cooperating partners, Chilufya emphasised the need for the government to do more in mitigating the impact of climate change. According to Chilufya,there has been little political will in the fight against hunger.