CCAFS theme leader discusses the root causes of food insecurity in East Africa

Training workshop for farmers on the interpretation and application of seasonal rainfall forecasts. Adapting to climate change through managing climate risks. Photo: J. Hansen (CCAFS)
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In this newly released video interview, made by Francesco Fiondella at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), CCAFS theme leader James Hansen discusses the causes of the current drought plaguing the Horn of Africa. He points out that even if the lack of rain is a root cause of the crisis, it is still only one of many factors that has lead to the ongoing drought. Other factors are on a more long term basis, such as poverty, which leads to vulnerability to climatic shocks and population growth, where many depend on rainfed agriculture for their livelihoods. The environmental issues plaguing the area namely water and soil degradation also exacerbate the situation further.

Another important factor is the lack of investments and an overall neglect of the agricultural sector from the international donor community, James Hansen adds. The decline in support to agricultural development has been noticeable since the beginning of the 1990:s and seems to be based on shifts in ideology more than on actual research findings. The results have been disastrous for the rural communities, whom have become trapped in poverty and dependent on external support. This has further lead to increased vulnerability to environmental shocks such as the current drought. Even though there is a resurge in reinvesting in the agricultural sector, the efforts need to be sustainable and directed well, in order to reverse the current liability and chronic poverty that contribute to vulnerability to climate shocks, James argues in his interview.

Somalia is hit harder than the other countries

Since the climate is changing the frequency of extreme events will also change. We will therefore see more droughts in East Africa. Here policies can play an important role in managing the crisis. James Hansen mentions that the countries Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are all experiencing relatively the same level of drought but the crisis is much more severe in Somalia with a huge number of lost lives, cattles and livelihoods. This can be explained by the weak and ineffective government in the country where fewer policies are effective in mitigating the effects of the drought. In Ethiopia for example, James Hansen explains, there are very strong safety net programs and overall both countries have a better organized human response community, which they seem to have learned from previous droughts. This means that the food response teams can respond more effectively and proactively and thus preventing the crisis to turn into a humanitarian disaster.

What CCAFS is doing in East Africa

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is very active in East Africa, with research work being carried out in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. In southern Ethiopia, CCAFS will be working with pastoralists on exploring index-based insurance for livestock for pastoralists, which will enhance their ability to manage climate risks. In southern Kenya CCAFS will enable rural farmers to use long term forecasts for rainfall for their upcoming growing season meaning that they can plan ahead before planting new crops. CCAFS will also look into how to best package climate information and how it is effectively communicated to rural farmers and participants.

To get more information on climate information services to manage climate risks in East Africa please read the newly released working paper The State of Climate Information Services for Agriculture and Food Security in East African Countries.

For West Africa CCAFS has also recently released The State of Climate Information Services for Agriculture and Food Security in West African Countries.

James Hansen on Food Security in East Africa from IRI on Vimeo.