A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Global projections of this type simultaneously obscure and understate scenarios for different regions. Disaggregated data for four African regions points to a large and sustained divergence between population growth and baseline productivity growth in agriculture. These are regions with a collective population of over 870 million and some of the world’s highest levels of malnutrition. In West Africa, the population will increase by 2.1 per cent per annum on average, while a simple continuation of past productivity gains would increase maize productivity by 1.4 per cent per annum to 2030 (see Figure 8).
In South and South-East Africa, maize productivity growth is projected to be barely any higher, though population growth is projected to be slower. While the productivity–population growth divergence is less marked in other parts of the world, projections for East Asia (excluding China), India, and the rest of South and Central Asia all point to a future in which agriculture struggles to keep pace with the demands associated with a growing population (see Figure 8b).
Regional price projections reflect underlying shifts in supply and demand. Figure 9 provides an insight into the magnitude of food staple price inflation for a number of crops and regions. In Central Africa, consumers of maize face the prospect of a 20 per cent increase in prices over the next decade, with an equivalent increase over the following decade.
In the Andean countries, wheat and maize prices will rise by 25 per cent to 2020; and, in the case of maize, by 65 per cent to 2030.
The bad news is that these are good case scenarios because they do not factor in climate change effects. Climate change is a potent risk multiplier in agriculture. Our projections capture the simulated impact of climate change on world prices for the major traded food staples (see Figure 10). In the case of maize, the incremental effect of climate change on price inflation is around 86 per cent. There are also marked effects for rice and wheat. In summary, these expected effects would wipe out any positive impacts from expected increases in household incomes, trapping generations in vicious circle of food insecurity.
The impact of climate change on food prices is clearly closely linked to the impacts that climate change will have on crop production. Here too, our scenarios point towards some disturbing warning signals. Some of the major internationally traded grains included in our model are important food staples for a large group of low-income countries. For example, maize is a major staple across much of sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Andean countries. In each case, our scenario points to climate change damaging agricultural productivity (see Figure 11).
Climate change will have adverse effects on aggregate production volumes (Figure 12), as well as agricultural productivity (Figure 11), across all developing regions. Projections raise particularly worrying concerns for maize production in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the trends captured in our scenarios to 2030 are consistent with long-term trend analysis carried out by IFPRI for a wider set of crops. That analysis points to a marked climate change effect in reducing yields of sweet potatoes and yams, cassava, and wheat by 2050 (respectively 13, 8, and 22 per cent lower than under a scenario without climate change).62