How Africa can feed itself, say goodbye to drought

18 January, 2023

Posted by: Njango Njung'e

How Africa can feed itself, say goodbye to drought

Category : Blog | tags: By Juliah Kibochi

Another failed rain season. The worst drought in four decades.  Half a billion people at risk. The story of a cyclic dry spell in Africa is not news, but the higher temperatures, the longer periods of drought and the dire food need are alarming.

The situation is compounded by a crippling water shortage that has left African countries, Kenya included, in the grip of a cholera outbreak. Health records show Kenya has already lost nearly 100 people to cholera this year. A humanitarian crisis is also unfolding in the Horn of Africa as nearly 23 million people stare at starvation, according to FAO.

Unfortunately, Africa is on the frontline of a climate crisis it has done little to cause and is expected to continue suffering its impacts unless the world says ‘no’ to fossil fuels. In fact, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its report last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said humanity is on thin ice and that ice is melting. Without radical action the world is hurtling towards a catastrophe.

But Africa can use this key moment to turn around its fortunes. The story of droughts and floods doesn’t have to be ours when Africa is the land of solutions; the continent with the fastest growing population and more than 60% of its people under 25. The solution to the drought crisis is not food aid. There’s nothing wrong with aid in the short-term, but ours cannot be a continent that relies on aid when we have abundant natural resources to feed ourselves.

Getting Africa out of the drought crisis also can start with the recognition that – one, we’re capable of feeding our people, two, we can turn to renewable energy to power the right systems for food production and three, transformative political leadership is crucial.

Firstly, there’s an awareness gap standing in the way of communities and food security. The link between information and food production is often understated. Poor understanding of land laws and rights means you can easily lose your land unfairly and, therefore, your means of production. Article 40 of the Kenyan Constitution protects your right to own land and be fairly compensated in case it’s taken over for a public project. The Turkana wind farm comes to mind; communities were dispossessed of their land and had no say in the project.

Secondly, without the political goodwill to implement food and climate policies and laws, food sovereignty will remain a dream. We need local and national governments to spearhead implementation of climate policies. For instance, Kenya has the Climate Act 2016, which mandates each county government to set aside a certain percentage of the budget towards adaptation. How many counties are doing this? Climate adaptation is a crucial aspect of building systems resilient to the climate crisis.

Thirdly, let’s embrace agro-ecology, where practices like crop rotation, agroforestry and herd splitting can provide a solid way to build farming systems that can weather the storm of the climate crisis. The key to sustainable farming lies in protecting our soils, proper water use and keeping harmful pesticides off our land.

The other key piece of the drought puzzle lies in leveraging renewables. The advantage of tapping into renewables is that we not only protect the planet by avoiding destructive fossil fuels, but we also use clean energy to power our farms.

As the world moves away from fossil fuels, our continent cannot be left behind. We cannot allow Africa to become the dumping ground for obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure. We must recognize the trap set before us by the West – a trap to produce oil and gas for their consumption even as they are setting up plans to ditch fossil fuels in the long term.

But moving to renewables as a continent will require global solidarity, where the West pays what it owes poor nations in terms of the climate debt. Such funding is necessary to help African countries shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

Food sovereignty is possible to Africa. We have the natural resources and the skills. What we lack is the political goodwill and funding to make it happen.

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