What you need to know:
- if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise at current rates, climate models predict an additional 4°C of warming during this century. The need for greater investment in climate mitigation and adaptation has never been clearer.
Ethiopia has long suffered from recurrent large-scale famines, most notably in the early 1980s, when at least one million people died, and millions more were displaced.
This year, however, Ethiopia has become a net exporter of wheat for the first time, an extraordinary feat given its vulnerability to climate change and food-security crises.
While many factors contributed to this accomplishment, it mainly reflects the central role that new technologies have played in transforming Ethiopia’s agricultural sector.
The Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme, established by the International Fertiliser Development Centre, has been instrumental in deploying proven and high-performance agricultural technologies at scale, with the aim of helping farmers increase the production of millet, maize, rice, wheat, and other staples.
As a result of the yield-increasing performance of these technologies, the area allocated to heat-tolerant wheat varieties in Ethiopia has grown from 5,000 hectares in 2018 to more than 2.2 million hectares in 2023, putting the country on the path to food self-sufficiency.
The “polycrisis” world of increasingly volatile global supply chains has accelerated the drive toward greater self-reliance. The war in Ukraine triggered a surge in food prices in Africa, with the wheat sub-index, for example, reaching a multiyear high in May 2022. Ethiopia was hit particularly hard, because it had been importing almost half of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Now the continent is reeling from the export ban that India, the world’s largest rice exporter, recently imposed on several varieties.
Amid this challenging environment, the Ethiopian government’s remarkable ability to use technology to boost domestic production and to reduce the risks associated with over-reliance on food imports may well represent a breakthrough.
Such progress, especially in a country that was an agricultural basket case for several humiliating decades, offers hope for Africa, which has been on the frontline of the climate crisis, with food insecurity often fuelling political unrest.
Africa’s food-import bill is set to rise dramatically in the coming years, partly because of geopolitically induced shocks and projected population growth. But global warming will also fuel this surge.
Such a gloomy prediction may well come true. This year is on track to be the hottest on record, around 1.4°C above pre-industrial average temperatures.
Moreover, if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise at current rates, climate models predict an additional 4°C of warming during this century. The need for greater investment in climate mitigation and adaptation has never been clearer.
Faced with over-reliance on food imports and daunting climate forecasts, Africa must move away from the traditional rain-fed model of agricultural production.
Following Ethiopia’s lead, the continent should embrace technology to boost agricultural productivity and improve food security. This will require aggressive investment in precision-agriculture technologies, such as variable-rate irrigation, that maximise productivity in a resource-constrained environment.
In addition to water-saving innovations, policymakers should invest in high-yield seed varieties that perform well under dry conditions and in agricultural equipment to mechanise the sector.
Deploying a wide range of technologies to transform Africa’s agriculture sector will address food-security concerns as well as environmental and sustainability issues.
Such a move is long overdue: even though Africa is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, it has yet to benefit from the green revolution that has boosted yields elsewhere.
The harsh realities of climate change and geopolitical upheaval may finally create sufficiently strong incentives to unlock the continent’s potential and ensure greater self-sufficiency and resilience in food production.
Mr Hippolyte Fofack is a former chief economist and director of research at the African Export-Import Bank