Innovative policy approaches can help tackle land degradation, desertification, food insecurity, and gender inequality within the context of climate change in Africa.

A large proportion of Africa’s population is vulnerable to climate change due to their dependence on climate-sensitive livelihoods—including rainfed agriculture and natural resources—to meet food, nutrition, and income needs. In the coming decades, climate change will continue to strain resources such as soil, land, water, and forests, putting undue burdens on the most vulnerable as a result.

To avoid the most dire climate change predictions and increase the adaptive capacity of vulnerable populations, climate-related policies must be data-driven and scientifically informed. An example of this includes the work done by the Africa Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES), who are committed to informing and increasing the capacity of African policy makers and leaders to make climate-related policy decisions. AGNES spearheaded the process of unpacking Climate Change and Land—an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report—from which four policy briefs have been prepared, covering desertification, land degradation, food security and gender.


A type of land degradation, desertification is specific to drylands, and is often caused by unsustainable human activities and worsened by climate change. Desertification exacerbates reductions in crop yield and weakens the resiliency of agricultural and pastoral systems, with adverse impacts on human health, food security, economic activity, physical infrastructure, natural resources, physical security, and the environment, often disproportionately affecting women and youth. Africa is especially vulnerable to this threat as an estimated 66 percent of the continent is classified as drylands and about 319 million hectares are considered especially vulnerable. According to AGNES, combating desertification requires multi-faceted approaches and tools, including policy interventions, integrated land management practices, and the use of indigenous knowledge at local and regional levels.  

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As Africa's population continues to grow, land degradation, including desertification, threatens food and nutrition security. Photo: Dan Gold (Unsplash)

Land degradation

Agriculture and deforestation are dominant drivers of land degradation, especially the inefficient use of agricultural resources, soil loss in cultivated lands, and expansion of cultivated land. Available estimates show that 46 percent of Africa’s land is degraded, affecting at least 485 million people, translating to an annual cost of USD 9.3 billion. Continued land degradation will render more than half of all cultivated land in Africa unproductive by 2050, with the cyclical relationship between land degradation and climate change intensifying food insecurity, biodiversity loss, and economic underdevelopment. To curb degradation, AGNES calls for inclusive early warning systems and an integrated landscape approach to land management.

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Food security

Climate change directly impacts food systems, and likewise, food and nutrition security. As productive land becomes increasingly scarce, food security in Africa will require a coordinated effort across multiple sectors. Empowering women is critical to develop synergies between food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation. AGNES stresses the need for an evidence-based approach, with food production research focused on resilience to both acute and long-term climatic events. Another set of tools lies in the development and diffusion of innovations and technologies. Additionally, priority should be given to food security across climate-related adaptation and mitigation plans at local, regional, and national levels.

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While gender is colloquially used to describe the needs and issues facing women and girls, AGNES stresses the term’s broader implications, including the social norms, roles, relationships, access to and control of resources, and responsibilities afforded to men and women. Women are constrained by traditional household and care duties as well as social norms which prevent them from taking an active role in power and decision-making spaces. Applying a gendered perspective to climate change policies and projects includes gender analysis, the collection of sex-disaggregated data, and proper budgeting for gender needs. AGNES also points to the need for national Gender Action Plans (GAPs) with well-designed monitoring and evaluation tools and regular audits to track gender equity progress.   

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Social determinants prevent women from accessing capital, land, information, and extension services, making them especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Photo: Anton Eitzinger (CIAT)

Accelerated transformation across the continent must include enabling policy environments accompanied by early warning systems, support to scientific innovations, capacity building, and equitable knowledge and technology transfer systems to ensure widespread uptake. Building inclusivity into integrated landscape approaches is critical to address the needs of distinct agro-ecological and climatic zones across Africa. Inclusive actions and policies must be participatory, with tracked gender outcomes, the creation of learning platforms, and training and capacity building for policymakers. Development strategies should contribute to low-emissions and climate-resilient agricultural pathways that center food security, are bolstered by data-rich analysis, and include climate modelling.  

Climate change is a profound threat the African continent is currently facing and is especially devastating for vulnerable populations. The themes explored in these briefs are important not only for understanding the current and ongoing impacts of climate change in Africa, but also for charting the way forward, towards a more resilient and equitable Africa.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), along with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The Aga Khan University’s East Africa Institute, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), International Development Research Council (IDRC), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the African Union Commision (AUC), provided financial and technical support to the production of the briefs.

Kathlee Freeman is Communications Consultant for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Chanage, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Gender and Social Inclusion Flagship. Seble Samuel is Communications and Knowledge Management Officer for CCAFS East Africa.