The current heat is a chilling reminder of the climate crisis and its impacts on food insecurity

Turning the challenges posed by climate change into opportunities for innovation and transformation.

By Patrick Yirenkyi Amoah and Charity Osei-Amponsah

Farmers irrigate their crops using a Sunflower Solar Irrigation System. Photo: Jeffery M Walcott / IWMI
Farmers irrigate their crops using a Sunflower Solar Irrigation System. Photo: Jeffery M Walcott / IWMI

The recent Global Climate Report released by the World Meteorological Organization shows that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with the global average near-surface temperature at 1.45°C above the pre-industrial baseline indicates that climate extremes are the aggravating factors that triggered food insecurity and other effects of climate change in 2023. For example, the number of people who are acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million in 2023 in 78 countries monitored by the World Food Programme.

There are several interventions being implemented by governments and development partners to build resilience against climate change, however, it is still not enough. Should current increasing temperatures that are contributing to food insecurity frighten decision-makers, or should they explore the opportunities it offers? This blog delves into this pressing question and suggests solutions and pathways for a resilient agri-food system in Ghana.

Understanding climate change impacts on the agrifood system

In Ghana, as in many African and Asian countries, the agri-food system remains pivotal in ensuring both food security and economic development. The agri-food system represents the interactions between and within the bio-geophysical and human environments, where diverse activities such as food production, processing, packaging, distribution, retail, consumption and waste management occur. The system serves as the primary source of livelihood for a significant portion of the population and is at the core of achieving most of the Sustainable development goals (e.g., Goals 1, 2, 3). However, the challenges posed by climate change and variability are making the agri-food system less resilient and sustainable to meet the growing demand for sufficient and nutritious food.

In regions heavily reliant on agriculture, and very sensitive to the impacts of climate change and variability such as northern Ghana, smallholder farmers who are entirely dependent on rain-fed agriculture are the most vulnerable. For instance, findings from the European Union-funded Resilience against Climate Change-Social Transformation Research and Policy Advocacy project, implemented by the International Water Management Institute, indicate that climate change effects are already being felt on agriculture and food security. The most pronounced negative impacts are occurring in climate-vulnerable regions such as the Upper West and Savannah regions, which serve as the food basket of the country. The effects of climate change, particularly through higher temperatures, water shortages, the disruption of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity in the regions generate significant impacts on the different dimensions of food security. These effects include a reduction in crop productivity, water scarcity exacerbating food insecurity, and highlighting the urgency for resilience-building within the agri-food system.

Innovations for building resilience 

While climate risks warrant careful attention, it is not the time to despair. Rather, shouldn’t stakeholders leverage the opportunities offered by the impacts of the changing climate to drive catalytic positive transformations in agriculture and food production?

Advancements in technology offer promising avenues for addressing climate change impacts to enhance agricultural productivity. Precision agriculture, for instance, utilizes data-driven approaches such as satellite imagery, drones and sensors to optimize resource use and minimize environmental impact. By accurately targeting inputs such as water, fertilizers and pesticides, farmers can increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, the development of climate-resilient crop varieties through breeding and biotechnology holds immense promise for ensuring food security in a changing climate. Scientists are working to engineer crops that are drought-tolerant, heat-resistant and pest-resistant to enhance the productivity of smallholder farming.

Climate change also presents new market opportunities for innovation within the agri-food system. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the environmental footprint of their food choices, there is growing demand for sustainably produced and climate-friendly products. This presents an opportunity for farmers to adopt regenerative farming practices that sequester carbon, improve soil health and reduce emissions.

We can also leverage climate change by investing in irrigation infrastructure, such as solar-powered, small-scale drip or sprinkler systems, which can help mitigate the effects of erratic rainfall patterns and water scarcity, allowing farmers to maintain consistent crop yields throughout the year.

The silver lining

Reflecting deeply on the current situation, it is obvious that the challenges posed by climate change to Ghana’s agri-food system are indeed daunting, but they also present an opportunity for innovation and positive transformation. As we confront the realities of a changing climate, it is imperative that we approach these challenges with resilience, creativity, context-specific innovations and determination. By leveraging advancements in technology, investing in climate-resilient crop varieties and adopting sustainable farming practices, we can adapt to the impacts of climate change.

What is crucial is to develop the capacity of smallholder farmers and marginalised communities, who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, to access and utilize innovations that best fit their needs. There is also the need to promote inclusive policies and support initiatives that prioritize equity and social justice, to ensure that the benefits of innovations are received by those who need it most.

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