Farming reliant countries, climate change and rates of economic growt

01Jan 2017
The Guardian Reporter
Guardian On Sunday
Farming reliant countries, climate change and rates of economic growt

RECENT studies on results of what is known as the climate change exposure index, the degree to which countries are affected by rampant shifts in rainfall expectations in particular,

Charcoal production is one of the main causes of deforestation in Tanzania.

say that Africa bears the brunt of climate change costs, that is, adapting to less rainfall, lower productivity of agriculture, forced dislocation.

While this makes the matter urgent for the whole of Africa, it is internal parameters of climate change effects and adaptation strategies that provide real food for thought. How far do countries differ in terms of exposure and adaptation?

Even without looking for climate change maps and analytical pieces, everyone knows that Sahel belt countries have been the most affected by climate change, while others are also exposed to varying degrees.

At the same time there are strong internal variations, for instance a portion of the country is more exposed to effects of climate change than in other areas, with such variations noted even at the district level. And often such variations aren’t just arising from climate change arising from intense deforestation in past decades, but continue older pre-colonial trends.

One emerging question that comes up at the local and continental level is whether the specific rate of economic growth or pace of economic change that is seen in a specific country or part of a country is a derivative of its climate change status.

For instance one could advance a proposition that member states of the East African Community which have less exposure to diminished rainfall as compared to the others, that is, Uganda and Rwanda, notably, will experience better rates of growth. They will outpace Kenya and arid border regions or Tanzania’s rapid deforestation.

One way to test such certainties is to examine agro-sector growth in various African states, having different patterns of climate change exposure and adaptation scenarios. Experts will seek to discern how far the data informs readers on the state of climate change threat and how far countries are managing to cope up, for if those in a state of grave threat can perform as well as those who are less exposed, it follows that climate change is ‘business as usual,’ that it is policies and business environment that counts, not climate risk per se. This is now being tested all over.

One precise datum of spectrum of data affirms that agriculture comprises 31 per cent ($235bn) of East African economies, which didn’t say this means EAC partner states or it includes others. But agriculture is just 22 per cent of West African economies ($333bn) with both regions rated as high risk to threats.

Central Africa, characterized as in extreme risk category, has its agriculture as comprising 18 per cent of economic activity ($96bn) of the region’s economy, with a rapid problem being that the population levels aren’t stated, and can just be figured out.

While there are added specific observations on climate change threats generally, with Europe the least exposed region, this summation on the state of agriculture is precise enough as food for thought, as this sector largely gives the health map of an economy as a whole. The size of the sector, its value, is a graph.

One for instance poses the question as to whether the fact that agriculture is nearly twice as large in terms of its portion of economic activity in a country in West Africa as compared to Central Africa suggests that agriculture is more advanced in West Africa while it is in a parlous state in Central Africa zone.

The basic reason would in that sense be climate change, that there is reasonably less exposure to climate change in West Africa, which is true and thus its agriculture would tend to perform better as well. As much of West Africa is Sahel it mirrors the central zone.

Owing to the fact that controlling for cultural variations is unlikely to yield much, especially if livestock keeping is grouped in sector terms with agricultural activity, it would follow that the shrinking of agriculture in Central Africa owes to climate change or deforestation and scarce rainfall.

It means that where rainfall patterns are stable agriculture has tended to play a major part in economic activity, that people do not abandon farms rapidly except in the context of rapid urbanization. Cities and their neighbourhoods do not need climate change to diminish agricultural activity.

It evidently means that climate change is making a mess of African economies such that it is no longer possible to say that Tanzania for instance relies on agriculture for 28 per cent of GDP due to growth of industries or the services sector, as actually it is due to climate change.

While the migration aspect of populations, local dislocations are not preponderantly high as people eke out a living in the driest of climates, it’s the role in overall economy that is depressed.

In Tanzania close to 80 per cent live in rural areas, and contribute 25 per cent or less of GDP, while a portion of agro-sector performance is agri-business character.

A quick reflection about the problematic of climate change and adaptation on the basis of such data is that people tend to adapt reasonably enough to changing patterns of rainfall.

But the fallout is evident, for instance in levels of malnutrition and social conflicts arising from fighting for scarce portions of land for farming or grazing, with governments looking increasingly paralyzed on that aspect.

Yet on this aspect the patterns might not be identical, of instance of rustling, fighting, etc, as even in Tanzania herders vs farmers’ wars are recent, as grazing land narrows.

All this is pretty humdrum as it more or less represents a bird’s eye view of what the climate change scenario shows, but the problem is whether experts are rightly focused on what to do about it.

That is what is depressing, as governments and experts in Africa sing the climate change song of Europe and North America which have a marginal problem of climate change, except for the United States with its tornadoes and cyclones that are worsening in adversity and magnitude with rising sea levels and melting ice caps, among others.

Africa ought to be speaking of controlling rivers flowing to seas and pumping the water to vegetable gardens and greenhouse farming if farmers have bankable titles to the land; land is rapidly commercialized.

Evidently that is slippery territory, and experts prefer to seek climate change aid.

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