Warming Temperatures Could Devastate Farms in East and Southern Africa

Farmer stands in row of low-growing crops in Mozambique

Photo by World Bank Photo Collection via Creative Commons

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

If climate change keeps temperatures rising, staple crops in eight East and Southern African countries could decrease by up to 80% by midcentury. According to a new report by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a 2-degree Celsius increase in temperature (which the world is currently on track to hit) would have “a devastating impact” on small-scale farms in Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The report also recommends several actions to cope with more erratic rainfall, longer droughts, and higher temperatures, including diversifying what crops are planted and improving irrigation systems. 


Why This Matters: Everyone is impacted by climate change, but small-scale farmers in these countries are essential to life itself, but underfunded: they produce a third of the world’s food yet receive less than 2% of global climate dollars. Without adaptation, their harvests won’t be as reliable. Crop failures are immediately harmful to the farmers’ livelihoods and well-being, and result in lessened food availability, higher prices, and ultimately, food insecurity. 


“The very survival of rural farming communities depends on their ability to adapt,” Dr. Jyotsna Puri, IFAD’s Associate Vice President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, said in a statement. 


Case Study: Mozambique

Small-scale farmers in Mozambique grow staple crops like cassava and some fruits, including avocados and bananas, and keep cattle and goats. The root crop cassava is relatively climate-resilient, but it’s expected to have lower yields across the country. Better planting materials, access to equipment to process the cassava, and better pest monitoring tools can help keep the plants healthy. 


Water infrastructure is flagged as especially important in Mozambique on multiple levels: to provide freshwater supply for people, to irrigate for crops, and to mitigate flooding from increasingly heavy downpours.


A Focus on Farming at COP26

At COP26, IFAD is focusing specifically on rural, small-scale producers like the farms described in this report. “If they can’t adapt to climate change, the world’s food systems will be in serious trouble,” Dr. Puri said in an internal interview. 


Adaptation requires money, and wealthy countries still haven’t made good on their promise from six years ago of $100 billion a year in climate finance for less developed countries. In 2021, that price tag is already too low — the yearly cost of climate adaptation in these countries is now estimated as high as $300 billion per year by 2030.

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