The humanitarian crisis unleashed by drought in Somalia has again highlighted the close links between extreme weather and food security. But how exactly are the two connected? And what can farmers in developing countries do to lessen the negative effects of climate change? This Q&A provides an overview of the key issues, with a focus on smallholders in Africa.
What is food security?
The term may sound like jargon for simply having enough to eat or knowing where one’s next meal is coming from, but food security is a multifaceted concept that has evolved significantly over time.
According to the current UN World Food Programme definition, people are said to be food secure when “they have availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” In other words, it’s not just about now, but the foreseeable future; and it’s not just about food, but the right kind of food, and the ability to prepare it safely. “Access” is a key component of this definition: even when there is plenty of food in markets or granaries, people will be food insecure if they cannot afford to buy it, or have nothing to barter for it. Even famines sometimes occur when food is available but not accessible.
To help aid agencies respond effectively to a food crisis in Somalia, a system was established in 2004 to precisely define and analyse local food insecurity, using a scale consisting of five categories: None/Minimal, Stressed, Crisis, Emergency, and Humanitarian Catastrophe/Famine. The evidence-based Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system, run by a range of UN agencies and NGOs, and which was thoroughly updated in 2017, has now been adopted in 25 countries across the world.
How does climate change affect food security?
One of the key effects of climate change is that extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, heatwaves, and rainfall variations become more frequent and more severe. Rising sea levels linked to climate change cause coastal erosion and loss of arable land. Rising temperatures encourage the proliferation of weeds and pests and threaten the viability of fisheries.
All this has a direct impact on agricultural production, on which the food security of most people in developing nations primarily depends. This is because agriculture in these countries is almost entirely rain-fed, and so when rains fail, or fall at the wrong time, or major storms strike, entire crops can be ruined, key infrastructure damaged or destroyed, and community assets lost. Consequently, climate change is widely seen as the greatest threat facing the estimated 500 million smallholder farmers around the world.
According to the WFP, “Changes in climatic conditions have already affected the production of some staple crops, and future climate change threatens to exacerbate this. Higher temperatures will have an impact on yields while changes in rainfall could affect both crop quality and quantity.”
Rising grain prices and falling yields hit the world’s poorest people hardest, as they spend most of their income on food. In the long term, climate change could “create a vicious cycle of disease and hunger”, WFP warns.
By 2050, child malnutrition is expected to increase by 20 percent relative to a world with no climate change.
Meanwhile, the world’s population is set to reach nine billion by 2050. With more people eating meat and dairy products, and more farmland given over to biofuel crops, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization believes that (to satisfy demand in 2050) global food production will have to increase by 70 percent over 2005 levels.
This report from the International Food Policy Research Institute analyses in great detail the effects of climate change on agriculture, with an emphasis on developing countries.
Why is agriculture in Africa especially vulnerable?
Smallholder farmers account for some 80 percent of food production in sub-Saharan Africa. With only a tiny proportion of farmland under irrigation, and reliable water sources becoming scarcer, most crops depend on rainfall, which climate change is making increasingly erratic and unpredictable.
Farming in Africa is often done in marginal areas – such as flood plains, deserts, and hillsides – where ever more frequent weather shocks cause severe damage to soil and crops. While there have always been variations in climate, the current pace and intensity of these changes mean that traditional methods of adapting to changes in weather patterns are no longer sufficient.
The millions who raise livestock in more arid areas of Africa are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather, as the current drought affecting Somalia and Kenya demonstrates.
When shocks do occur, and crops are ruined or livestock dies, the endemic poverty of most rural farmers means they little to cushion them in terms of savings and stockpiles.
Few African smallholders own the land they cultivate, so they have difficulty in obtaining credit for inputs, such as fertilisers and pesticides, or machinery.
Many also lack the ability to store their crops, while poor infrastructure often limits their access to markets. Modern yield-boosting technologies, as well as insurance policies, are beyond the reach of many smallholder farmers. Even when farmers do have extra cash, there is little incentive to invest in the land they farm if they lack the title deeds.
According to the fourth assessment report of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Africa is likely to be the continent most vulnerable to climate change. Among the risks the continent faces are reductions in food security and agricultural productivity, particularly regarding subsistence agriculture, increased water stress and, as a result of these and the potential for increased exposure to disease and other health risks, increased risks to human health.”
For further information about climate change and Africa, read this factsheet from Africa Check.
What can African farmers do about it?
Changes made to mitigate the effects and risks of climate change, whether at the regional, national, or very local level, are known as “adaptation”. Smallholder farmers facing weather shocks and other climate-change related events are already using a variety of adaptation measures. These include diversifying and rotating the crops they grow, engaging in non-agricultural income generating activities, adjusting the times they sow their lots, conserving soil and water, building irrigation systems and flood defences, using more inputs such as fertilisers, sowing improved seeds, planting trees, and integrating crops with livestock.
Farmers need support from their governments to make the right adaptation choices. This support can take the form of more reliable and localised weather forecasts, subsidies for inputs, well-trained extension workers, better facilities for livestock health, well-funded agricultural research, and improved rural infrastructure such as road networks.
This academic paper uses Ethiopia as a case study detailing how farmers are adapting to climate change. This one focuses on Uganda.
Our own special project on climate change and food security includes field-level reportage on local adaption initiatives in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zimbabwe.
This document explores in detail how countries intend to address agricultural adaptation within the context of the UNFCCC.
What about the money?
Although it directly affects the livelihoods of billions of people, agriculture has long received only a fraction of overall climate finance.
According to this World Bank report, agriculture, forestry and other types of land use combined received just $6-8 billion of the $391 billion spent on climate finance globally in 2014. Mitigation – reducing emissions and transiting to low carbon economies – has traditionally received three times as much as adaptation.
But the importance of investing in climate-resilient agriculture is gaining recognition, notably in the Sustainable Development Goals and in the Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), both adopted in 2015.
Most countries party to the UNFCC have included at least some estimates of the costs of agricultural adaption in their individual climate change action plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. Details of many INDCs can be found here and further analysis can be found here.
The newest and largest source of climate finance, the $10-billion Green Climate Fund, aims to balance its resources equally between mitigation and adaptation. Precisely what effect US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from both the Paris Agreement and the GCF will have on agricultural adaptation finance remains to be seen, but experts are pessimistic.
Globally, there are more than 50 different funds supporting adaptation projects. Some of the most important ones are outlined in our factsheet on adaptation finance.
Pentagon Foresees at Least Two More Years of Combat in Somalia
WASHINGTON — Amid its escalating campaign of drone strikes in Somalia, the Pentagon has presented the White House with an operational plan that envisions at least two more years of combat against Islamist militants there, according to American officials familiar with internal deliberations.
The proposed plan for Somalia would be the first under new rules quietly signed by President Trump in October for counterterrorism operations outside conventional war zones. The American military has carried out about 30 airstrikes in Somalia this year, twice as many as in 2016. Nearly all have come since June, including a Nov. 21 bombing that killed over 100 suspected militants at a Shabab training camp.
In a sign that the Defense Department does not envision a quick end to the deepening war in Somalia against the Shabab and the Islamic State, the proposed plan is said to include an exemption to a rule in Mr. Trump’s guidelines requiring annual vetting by staff from other agencies — including diplomats and intelligence officials — of operational plans for certain countries.
Instead, the Pentagon wants to wait 24 months before reviewing how the Somalia plan is working, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Moreover, they said, the Defense Department wants to conduct that review internally, without involvement from other agencies — a request that would further a Trump-era pattern of giving the Pentagon greater latitude and autonomy.
Luke Hartig, a senior director for counterterrorism at the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, said he supported delegating some greater authority to the Pentagon over such matters, but found it “problematic” that the military wanted to be unleashed for so long without broader oversight.
“A ton can happen in 24 months, particularly in the world of counterterrorism and when we’re talking about a volatile situation on the ground, like we have in Somalia with government formation issues and famine issues,” he said. “That’s an eternity.”
The Defense Department has submitted the plan to the National Security Council for approval by other agencies. Representatives for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and for the council declined to comment on the details, other than to stress that the military took seriously its need to mitigate or prevent killings of civilian bystanders.
“We are not going to broadcast our targeting policies to the terrorists that threaten us, but we will say in general that our counterterrorism policies continue to reflect our values as a nation,” said Marc Raimondi, a National Security Council spokesman. “The United States will continue to take extraordinary care to mitigate civilian casualties, while addressing military necessity in defeating our enemy.”
Approving the plan would also end the special authority that Mr. Trump bestowed on the top State Department official for Somalia to pause the military’s offensive operations in that country if he saw problems emerging, the officials said. The Pentagon has objected to that arrangement as an infringement on the chain of command, the officials said, and the new plan would drop it — further eroding State Department influence in the Trump administration.
Still, eliminating the State Department authority might make little difference in practice, said Joshua A. Geltzer, who was senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council during the Obama administration. Either way, he said, if the State Department wanted to stop airstrikes in Somalia and the Pentagon wanted to keep going, the dispute would be resolved in a meeting of top leaders convened by Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.
“The question of whether to allow a veto has been a source of tension before,” Mr. Geltzer said of the State Department authority. “But it’s not clear to me how much it’s worth fighting over — so long as those channels for communicating and working out concerns are functioning.”
According to the officials familiar with it, the Pentagon plan would also exempt operations in Somalia from another default rule in Mr. Trump’s guidelines: that airstrikes be allowed only when officials have determined there is a near certainty that no civilians will be killed. Instead, the officials said, the plan calls for imposing a lower standard: reasonable certainty that no bystanders will die.
However, it is also not clear whether altering that standard would result in any changes on the ground in Somalia. Mr. Trump has already approved declaring much of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” a designation for places where war zone targeting rules apply, under an Obama-era system for such operations that Mr. Trump has since replaced. That designation exempted targeting decisions in that region from a similar “near-certainty” rule aimed at protecting civilians and instead substituted the looser battlefield standards.
Nevertheless, the head of the United States Africa Command, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, decided not to use that added flexibility and instead kept the near-certainty standard in place. His decision stemmed from the challenges of distinguishing fighters from civilians from the air in Somalia, a failed state with complex clan dynamics and where a famine has uprooted people, many of them armed, in search of food and water.
Robyn Mack, a spokeswoman for General Waldhauser, declined to say whether he would again decide to keep the near-certainty standard in place if the Pentagon’s new plan were approved, writing in an email that it would be “inappropriate for Africom to speculate on future policy decisions.”
However, asked whether General Waldhauser is still imposing the near-certainty standard for strikes in Somalia, she invoked his comments at a Pentagon news conference in March, while the White House was still weighing whether to designate Somalia as an active-hostilities zone, saying what he said then “still stands.” General Waldhauser said then that he did not want to turn Somalia into a “free-fire zone,” adding, “We have to make sure that the levels of certainty that have been there previously, those are not changed.”
Ms. Mack wrote that “it is very important for Africom to have a level of certainty that mitigates or eliminates civilian casualties with our strike operations.”
Mr. Trump’s rules, which have been described by officials familiar with them even though the administration has not made them public, are called the “P.S.P.,” for principles, standards and procedures. They removed several limits that President Barack Obama imposed in 2013 on drone strikes and commando raids in places away from the more conventional war zones that the government labels “areas of active hostilities.”
Among other things, Mr. Trump dropped requirements in Mr. Obama’s rules — called the “P.P.G.,” for presidential policy guidance — for interagency vetting before each offensive strike and determinations that each person targeted pose a specific threat to Americans.
Instead, under Mr. Trump’s guidelines, permissible targets include any member of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State or any other terrorist group deemed to fall under the 2001 congressional authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, even if they are mere foot soldiers who pose no specific threat on their own.
Moreover, instead of interagency vetting before each strike, Mr. Trump’s guidelines call for agencies to approve an operational plan for particular countries, after which the military (or the C.I.A., which also operates armed drones in several countries) may carry out strikes without first getting approval from higher-ranking officials.
How drones could be game-changer in Somalia’s fight against al-Shabab
A former member of U.S. military intelligence is helping fight one of the deadliest terror groups in Africa. He is also a pioneer in the U.S. military’s use of drones and is now using that expertise to help Somalia in its fight against the Al-Qaeda-linked terror group al-Shabab.
The threat of unpredictable violence is ever-present in Somalia. Al-Shabab’s reach is vast and it is one of the most organized and dangerous of Africa’s militant groups, reports CBS News correspondent Debora Patta.
Al-Shabab no longer controls the crumbling city of Mogadishu, but has still been able to wreak havoc with its relentless bombing campaigns. Their weapon of choice has been the vehicle bomb, like the one used with devastating effect on October 14 killing over 500 people in the capital.
CBS News has been told repeatedly that al-Shabab has eyes and ears everywhere. The group’s members blend easily into local communities, and a seemingly quiet road may not look very menacing but can turn nasty in an instant.
Former U.S. military intelligence officer Brett Velicovich wants to change that. He has donated commercial drones to the Somali police force and is training them to use the technology to combat al-Shabab.
“When they go into different areas to clear parts that are under Shabab control, they will actually fly those drones low and in front of them to look out for roadside bombs,” Velicovich said.
Another al-Shabab tactic is to plant one bomb then, as first responders arrive, detonate another, killing everyone who rushed to help.
“The investigators will actually go out and they’ll fly our drones and they’ll make sure that the area is safe for first responders to come into,” Velicovich said.
Somali intelligence has told us that al-Shabaab continues to practice its bomb-making skills over and over until they get it right.
Al-Shabab footage shows how they test one of their bombs on an African peacekeeping convoy. Drone technology could help thwart attacks like these.
“It significantly alters the way they can do counter-terrorism work?” Patta asked.
“Exactly. I mean, imagine walking into a situation where you don’t know if the people in the house or the compound have weapons or if they have explosives, but if you could see from the air what you are about to walk into, that changes the game,” Velicovich said.
Al-Shabab’s bombs are increasingly more complex and more powerful. Simple drone technology could provide a much needed boost for the over-worked, under-resourced Somali counter-terrorism units.
Uganda begins Somalia troop withdrawal
Uganda’s military says it has begun the withdrawal of 281 troops serving in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
The move announced on Wednesday is part of a UN plan that will see African Union (AU) soldiers’ numbers reduced by 1,000 by the end of this year.
At the moment there are more than 20,000 soldiers serving in the AU mission (Amisom).
Uganda, which first sent troops to the country in 2007, is the biggest contributor with more than 6,000 soldiers in the force.
Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia are also expected to reduce their numbers by 31 December.
Pulling out 1,000 soldiers will not be immediately significant but it shows the international backers of Amisom want to see a handover of security to Somali soldiers and police.
African countries have been praised for bringing increased stability to Somalia but there is frustration about corruption among their forces and the failure to secure an adequate victory.
Efforts to develop Somalia’s national army are gaining ground.
The US has already increased its troop numbers in the country to more than 500 and stepped up airstrikes – boosting its co-operation with the Somali military.
But defeating the militant Islamist Al-Shabaab group will not be easy.
A massive bomb attack blamed on the al-Qaeda-affiliated militants killed more than 500 people in the capital, Mogadishu, two months ago – the deadliest in its campaign against various UN-backed governments.