Breakthrough science and innovation

N. Palmer (CIAT)

Scientists call for massive transformation in African agriculture by 2025 to protect production of key food crops

East Africa
West Africa
Priorities and Policies for CSA

Scientists documented in 2016 that climate change represents an enormous threat to food security across sub-Saharan Africa if no adaptation actions are taken. Agriculture in parts of Africa must undergo significant transformation in order to continue to produce key food crops, according to a 2016 CCAFS study published in Nature Climate Change, which was picked up by over 80 media outlets and trade publications (including BBC, Reuters and ScienceDaily). Given that solutions can take at least 15 years to implement, time is running out to transform agriculture.

“This study tells where, and crucially when, interventions need to be made to stop climate change destroying vital food supplies in Africa,” said Julian Ramirez-Villegas, lead author of the study, working with CCAFS. “We know what needs to be done, and for the first time, we now have deadlines for taking action,” he added.

Region-by-region, the study examined the likely effects of different climate change scenarios on nine crops that constitute 50% of food production in sub-Saharan Africa; they found that maize, bananas and beans are most at risk. The research was the first to allocate specific timeframes for changes in policy and practice in order to maintain required production levels and avoid placing food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers at risk.

While six of the nine crops studied are expected to remain stable under moderate and extreme climate change scenarios, up to 30% of areas growing maize (Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe) and bananas (Benin, Ghana, Togo), and up to 60% of those producing beans (Angola, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda) are projected to become unviable by the end of the century. In some areas transformations will need to take place as soon as 2025. Transformation could mean changing the type of crop grown in the area in question, improving irrigation systems, or in extreme circumstances, moving away from agriculture altogether.

“It can take decades to adjust national agricultural development and food security policies,” said Andy Jarvis, co-author of the paper and leader of CCAFS research on Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices. “Our findings show that time is running out to transform African agriculture. Solutions will require not only increased funding but also a supportive policy environment. We also need to ensure that the needs of women and marginalized groups are built into adaptation policies, to ensure they can be successfully implemented,” he explained.

Adaptation strategies will vary greatly across sub-Saharan Africa, given the highly different local contexts. Extensive research by CCAFS is already informing African governments and policymakers on the technologies and policies that can successfully help farmers to adapt to climate change in these countries.


  • International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
  • Australian National University
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)
  • University of Bonn
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Copenhagen