Five Actions to Build the Resilience of Food and Agriculture Systems in Africa

We want a summit of action, not another on pledges or commitments.”

UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, Africa Climate Week 2019, Opening Plenary

In March 2019, GRP, FAO and African Union Commission facilitated the full day event Stepping up Action on Building Climate Resilient Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa as part of Africa Climate Week (ACW) in Accra Ghana.

The session attracted over 400 people and succeeded in drawing out the voices and experiences across a wide range of stakeholders. Representatives of African Development Bank to CSOs and grassroots organizations and farmers from Eastern and Western Africa all took part.

Participants shared ideas and best practice for building the resilience of food and agriculture systems, and on the future actions needed to take these to scale. These actions included reducing food and nutrition insecurity; avoiding food loss and waste; and reducing net emissions from the food and agriculture sector on the African continent. Several nature-based solutions were showcased during the conference, including, among many, the Great Green Wall initiative and the work carried out by GRP partner Danish Refugee Council in Kenya.

At the end of the session, participants had identified concrete actions for building resilient food and agriculture systems in Africa that could be immediately accelerated and advanced at the UNSG’s 2019 Climate Action Summit and COP25. A full report of these recommendations is available here.

The five main actions for building food and agriculture systems resilience identified were:

1.) MORE IS MORE: Scale and accelerate existing actions

“Agriculture is driving force for poverty alleviation on the continent and has potential to unlock economic growth” Olushola Olayide, African Union Commission

Existing interventions and initiatives that address the needs of the most vulnerable communities need to be accelerated. Now. With about 60% of Africa’s population residing in rural areas and depending directly or indirectly on agriculture and renewable natural resources for their livelihoods, income, employment, food, feed, energy and wellbeing, Africa’s food and agriculture sector is already impacted by climate change. Those interventions that specifically focus on building resilience of the people and communities most impacted by climate variability, weather extremes, and other systemic stresses need to be scaled up immediately.

2.) REPOSITION THE SPOTLIGHT: Put farmers at the centre for transformative change

“Farmers are at the centre of providing solutions to climate change. Whatever I do on my farm, I can be part of the solution, rather than a victim.” Denis Kabiito, the World Farmers’ Organisation

Farming communities and agro-entrepreneurs should be empowered as active agents to restore and sustainably manage their land. Directing support from governments and development partners to strengthen farmers institutional, technical and financial capacities is a key factor in building resilience on farms, in organisations and enterprises. Transforming African agriculture into an attractive, resilient future business prospect will make this already vital engine of the continents’ economy provide diversified opportunities and employment for young Africans (especially in rural areas), delivering multiple wins across the Sustainable Development Goals.

3.) RESTORE, RESTORE AND RESTORE SOME MORE: Halt land degradation and land conversion

 “If we don’t focus on ecology, we won’t have an economy. We need to put people to work protecting their survival base.” Natalie Topa, Danish Refugee Council

Large-scale restoration is a priority. Redirecting investment into equitable, gender-sensitive, resilient agriculture that makes use of existing nature-based solutions is central to sustainable intensification efforts. Investing into a portfolio of known and successful agro-ecological and climate smart practices can deliver nutritious and diverse food systems, safeguard biodiversity and improve livelihoods in the face of growing weather extremes and ecosystem tipping points. 

4.) MONEY MATTERS: Put the money where – and when – it matters

“Today the smallholders are on the frontline of climate change, but it reaches all of us through them.” Pauline Nantogo, Executive Director of Ecotrust

Global financing needs to reach local levels more directly (with up to 75% reaching smallholder farmers) whilst simultaneously continuing to mobilise climate finance for the wider food and agriculture sector. Building the capacity of smallholder farmers (and agribusinesses) to access existing financial mechanisms – such as grants and loans for investments – is central to making this happen. The development of new innovative finance systems to reach farmers through inclusive business models and start-up funding to test innovative solutions needs to happen in tandem. Setting up resilience investment platforms at national and international levels to connect investors with investable food and agriculture projects, smallholder farmers and agribusiness, was identified as one way of making this a reality. Specific emphasis on farmer-friendly and equitable, non-traditional financial solutions co-designed by multiple stakeholders that prioritise profitable, sustainable and resilient outcomes within a long-term vision framework should be prioritised.

5.) CHANGE THE RULES OF THE GAME: Embed resilience into food and agriculture value chains

 Resilience is not one technology, or one innovation. Resilience is about changing the whole system.” Peter Gubbels, Goundswell International

This last overarching action elevates the need to develop food, nutrition and safety standards that encompass resilience benchmarks across the entire value chain. Gaining the commitment of national, regional, international agriculture and food companies to use these standards to build resilient food and agriculture supply chains – especially with least developed countries – is a pressing pathway for action.

Climate resilience building for the agriculture and food systems requires a transition and immediate shift in paradigm. This requires actions that are context-specific and aimed at preventing, anticipating, coping, adapting and transforming to the effects of climate variability and extremes for livelihoods, food and nutrition security. Each of these five actions need to go hand in hand with social transformation for equal opportunities, inclusion, empowerment of women, youth and people living with disabilities. 

“Building climate resilient agriculture is about moving farmers from passive victims of climate change to active participants in planning how to use resources to the best of their ability and produce food under a range of conditions.” Peter Wright, CARE


Download the full list of actionable items from the eventStepping up Action on Building Climate Resilient Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa”, facilitated by the African Union Commission (AUC), the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) under the Climate Resilience Network (CRN) on behalf of the Marrakech Partnership on Global Climate Action.