Exclusive: Despite numerous macroeconomic challenges, it is possible to develop a working food system in Africa

Business Insider Africa recently had a sit down with Dr. Chidiebere E.X. Ikejemba to get an insight into the issues of climate change, food insecurity and nutrition in Africa.

Dr Chidiebere EX Ikejemba

Dr. Chidiebere E.X. Ikejemba is the Director of Climate & Environment at Camber Collective. His body of work focuses on climate equity and justice, building resilient climate-smart development programs, strengthening political will for urgent climate change action and many other levers of activation. His theory of impact operates across both the upstream and downstream of a systems chain. that encompasses, just transition, agriculture & food security, migration, economic & rural development, climate education, waste management (circularity), healthcare, corruption and democracy, energy access, gender inclusion, carbon neutrality and other dimensions. The circularity of Camber’s approach and theory of influence is, we believe, the most congruous path to balancing economic reality and humanitarianism. 

Q: Africa has the lowest carbon footprint of any other continent in the world and yet it bears the brunt of climate change, with floods plaguing some regions and droughts in others. Why is this?

I have to say this is a very interesting question, because there are multitudes of reasons as to why Africa bears the brunt of climate change despite having the least contribution to the global carbon footprint. I believe that the continent's capacity to be adaptive is very limited. There are also socio-economic factors, poverty, weak governance structures, and political unpredictability all culminates to exacerbate these vulnerabilities and further hinders the development and implementation of effective climate policies and adaptation strategies. We also shouldn't forget that Africa's geographic location, and its ecosystem variability also results in varied climate change impacts that leads to floods, droughts etc. Overall, Africa is vulnerable to climate change because of its location, economic and growth dependence on climate-sensitive sectors (i.e., agriculture and natural resources), limited adaptive capacity, high poverty and inequality, and weak governance structures. Despite its low carbon footprint (i.e., low industrialization levels, for example), this combination of factors makes the continent particularly susceptible to climate change's negative effects.

Q: Similarly, around 40% of Africa’s land is arable, yet global food production affects food inflation in Africa, why is this?


Again, as with your initial question, I believe there are also several reason as to why global food production affects food inflation in Africa. The most important one in my opinion is the fact that so many African countries depend on food import. If we dig deeper into this, we also see that reasons such as rise in population numbers, urbanization, very weak local production, and climate change increase the needs of so many nations in the continent to be dependent on imported food. From a climate change perspective, as also presented in our recently published report, we see how frequent and severe weather events disrupts global food production, and as Africa is heavily dependent on this, it becomes more susceptible to price fluctuations caused by these climate events. There are also other reasons such as the commodity markets, exchange rates etc. that also directly contributes to food inflation in Africa. There is of course, the weak regional cooperation amongst countries. Africa should invest heavily in the integration of its regional resources as this would absolutely facilitate trade in agro and food -products allowing countries with surplus production to export to countries with deficits. However, trade barriers, poor infrastructure, and a lack of harmonized policies often hinder the growth of regional agricultural trade, making African countries more sensitive to global food price fluctuations.

Q: What is the best food system Africa can adopt considering the economic climate of the continent?

OK! I must think about this for a minute. Well with an emphasis on "best", and to answer this shortly, I have to say the food system must of course be sustainable, it must really consider the smallholder farmers, especially women. Local production and consumption should be promoted and incentivized, if possible, with clear access to markets, and the enhancement of climate resiliency. That was with an emphasis on "best". We should, however, keep in mind that there is no "one-solution" to developing a system that works for the continent. Giving the differences in culture, traditions, socio-economic state, politics etc. these elements should be heavily considered when developing a food system that works. The cultivation of diverse and nutritious crops, climate-smart agriculture, and increasing agricultural productivity ought to all be emphasized in this strategy. The food system should also include investments in infrastructure that resilient to shocks, capacity building, and regional cooperation to ensure that everyone has equal access to nutritious food, lessen the negative effects of climate change, and encourage economic growth.

Q: Should Africa revert to an agro-based economy, or can we find a way to balance an industrial economy with an agro-based economy 50-50, while maximizing both systems of economics?

No! Africa should not revert to solely an agro-based economy. By integrating the agro-industrial economy, Africa can use the advantages of industrialization, like job creation, education and skills development programs and technological advancement, while additionally boosting its rural potential. Through the utilization of the vast agricultural resources of the continent and supporting the expansion of value-added agriculture industries, this balanced approach enables economic diversification and inclusive growth, reduces overreliance on a single sector, and promotes sustainable development. As with your previous question, regional integration and cooperation is also imperative in this case. African countries can work towards creating a more balanced and sustainable economy that harnesses the strengths of both the agricultural and industrial sectors. This approach can help address key development challenges, such as food security and poverty reduction.


Q: Several regions in Africa are suffering from malnutrition, what is the solution to this, especially considering that we grow highly nutritious foods in Africa?

Again, I must refer to the report we have recently published titled, Climate Change, Food Systems, and Nutrition: Challenges and Opportunities for Children’s Health in Sub-Saharan Africa (enter web link). We identify three primary challenges impacting agricultural food systems and nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa, all of which are further exacerbated by climate change. From a solutions perspective, we also present specific targeted interventions (that includes specific organizations based on their expertise) for vulnerable populations, 7 of them to be specific, that are –

1. Coalition Building: International Climate, Food Systems, Nutrition Collaboration and Advocacy

2. Impact Investment: Convergence of Climate, Food Systems & Nutrition

3. National Food Systems Support: Efficiency and Resilience


4. Decreasing Impact of Reduced Nutrient Bioavailability

5. Incentivizing Low Footprint, Resilient and Adaptive Agro-Practices for Smallholder Farmers

6. Urban-Focused Behavior Change: Sustainable Consumption Patterns

7. Innovation: Sustainable, Scalable Storage and Transport Solutions

Our approach and solution is a multifaceted approach that tackles the underlying causes and promotes the consumption of locally available nutritious foods. We also believe that, efforts should be made to strengthen social safety nets, improve water access infrastructure, and empower women, who play a crucial role in household nutrition and food security.


Q: Is it possible to develop a working food system with the effects of climate change currently hindering Africa?

Yes, absolutely! It is possible to develop a working food system in Africa despite the challenges posed by climate change. I believe some of the answers I gave to your previous question also fits into this scenario. To achieve a working food system, first, countries in Africa would need to collaborate (for example in capacity building and knowledge sharing) more closely on the impacts of climate change and food security. Then, the focus should be on really adopting sustainable agricultural practices like climate smart agriculture, crop and livelihood diversification, building resiliency, and enhancing the capacity of food systems to be adaptive, through investments in infrastructure, R&D, early warning systems and disaster risk management. This of course, as presented in our report, will require a concerted effort from local and national governments, CSOs and NGOs, the private sector, and international partners to ensure that food systems in Africa are adaptive, resilient, and sustainable in the face of a changing climate.

Q: What can Africa do as a collective unit to improve the level of food insecurity in the country?

This is a very interesting question. Because when we analyze this collective perspective, then the straightforward answer would be to strengthen regional integration and cooperation. But as I have answered in one of your previous questions, there is no one-size fits all in this case. As the impacts of climate change on the different regions can be quite diverse. Nonetheless, excluding regional cooperation, Africa can improve the level of food insecurity by building the right capacity, collaborating on research and innovation, developing best practices, developing food reserves, etc. By coming together beyond borders, pooling resources, correlating policies, and promoting joint efforts, African countries can address the complex and interconnected challenges of food insecurity together. This would really require strong regional institutions, effective governance, and an absolute commitment to collaboration and cooperation nations.

Q: What is that sweet spot between, climate change, food systems, and nutrition? What would Africa look like if these three factors intersect perfectly?


Again, another interesting question. I have not really thought about the process of a "sweet spot". But to answer your question, in my opinion, the sweet spot between climate change, food systems and nutrition is an equitable food system that provides adequate nutrition for all whilst also minimizing the impact of the whole process on the environment. If all these elements intersected correctly in Africa, then I believe we would see a more successful continent on all fronts. This would include, but not limited to diverse food production, nutritious food equity, empowered communities, better governing policies. These are just some examples. One still needs to keep in mind that this would require collaborative effort and trust amongst all stakeholders.

These are all very interesting questions that one could potentially dissect from different perspective. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that these are also some guiding principles to having an equitable food process in the continent with more emphasis placed on Children.


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