Climate change is damaging food security in West Africa, says IFAD

Vector map of the Sahara desert and Sahel zone

Agricultural development agency appeals for more resources for adaptation — capital markets including cat bonds could be part of the solution

The consequences of climate change are already devastating the largely agricultural economies of the Sahel region in West Africa.

The region, where around 300m people live, has suffered temperature increases of 0.6 degrees to 1 degree over the last decade alone.

“The climate in the region is getting drier," said Pathe Sene, a climate specialist for the West Africa region at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“The period of rainfall is becoming shorter and more intense and moving later in the year. This means farmers are no longer sure when to sow and when to harvest.”

IFAD will be joining the international capital markets as a private placement issuer, hoping to borrow at concessional rates to fund concessional lending to smallholder farmers, enabling them to adapt to the consequences of climate change. It will likely issue its first bonds in early 2022.

The agency is also launching a project it calls “integrated climate risk management”. The project will cover seven Sahelian countries as part of the Great Green Wall initiative. Along with African

Development Bank, African Risk Capacity and World Food Programme, IFAD is developing agricultural insurance in the region, providing the necessary infrastructure including climate and weather stations to track the data required for insurance against weather events.

This is a model şimilar to the catastrophe bonds issued by the World Bank, among others. These instruments pay out in the event of adverse weather or natural disasters, giving the beneficiary the funds necessary to manage the recovery.

Backbone of the economy

Sene added that climate change can damage production via the increased frequency of extreme weather events like drought and flooding, and that increased humidity can lead to more diseases affecting crops and livestock.

Agriculture forms the backbone of most economies in West Africa, many of which have little industrial footprint. Sene said that droughts can cause falls in production of up to 30%.

These falls have devastating effects on the countries affected. When land becomes unusable because of climate change, livestock herders move elsewhere to find grazing land, sometimes causing clashes with local the area.

“If there are fewer resources in rural areas, many young people will migrate to cities, often living in slums,” said Sene. “Or they can end up joining terrorist groups, of which there are many in the Sahel.

Finally, they may end up taking the boat and migrating to Europe.”

IFAD is appealing for more to be spent on climate adaptation projects in the Sahel, providing technology and knowledge of farming practices that will be suitable for the new climate they live in.

“There are crops that are more suitable for the new climate in the region, and practices that will allow land to be used efficiently and productively, but the problem is the lack of resources from the international community," said Sene. “Private sector loans to the region are extremely expensive —

20% or 30% sometimes, even for short maturities.”

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