Climate Change and Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa: New Concerns, Old Arguments?

climate_rsThis is a summary of an unpublished paper by Paula Silva Villanueva and Rocio Hiraldo. The paper is due to be published soon.

The purpose of this paper is to map current policy debates on climate change and agriculture in Africa. We analyse the key debates in view of key narratives and associated actor networks, and show how current discussions link to major debates within the agriculture sector over the past decades, helping to address the often missing attention to history in current debates on climate change and agriculture.

Four dominant narratives on the role of agriculture in a changing climate in the literature are identified: (1) the Growth Narrative, (2) the End of Poverty Narrative, (3) the Sustainable Land Management Narrative, and (4) the New African Green Revolution Narrative. All of these can be traced back to discussions over several decades. We identify the distinct policy implications of each these narratives and situate contemporary policies alongside antecedent visions. Beyond examining the contrasts between them, our analysis also points to connections and overlaps through the identification of common Understandings and assumptions by tracing back long standing debates on agricultural development over the past decades and identify particular ways of thinking in relation the causes and solutions that shaped agricultural policy in SSA.

Our analysis suggests that policy differences are defined at the margins and to some extent ‘toned down’ by the uncontested acceptance and prevalence of Malthusian diagnosis of over-population and impending crisis and the dominance of impact-centred analysis of vulnerability. This translates into the convergence of policy positions around the idea that the core challenges of climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture is to produce: (i) more food, (ii) more efficiently and sustainably, (iii) under more uncertain production conditions, and (iv) with reductions in GHG emissions. While new elements have been brought in, the report finds that the narratives and counter-narratives represent a re-emergence and continuation of previous debates rather than any fundamentally new perspectives. The “supremacy” of expert knowledge, predominance of risk management approaches and the prevalence of neo-liberal thinking continue to dominate the political space within which climate change comes to be framed in relation to agricultural development policies.