Research & Development Programme
Population growth and climate change can shape extensive livestock husbandry in Sub-Saharan Africa
Population growth and climate change can shape extensive livestock husbandry in Sub-Saharan Africa While work package 3 of the FoodAfrica programme focuses on climate change, it is evident that there are other simultaneous long-term trends, such as population growth and potential rise of living standards, which can shape substantially future food security in Africa and which may need to be given attention in the analysis.

Population growth has major consequences to food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. The global population increased during the years 1960–2013 by 135 per cent, whereas the population of Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 311 per cent. Simultaneously the share of Sub-Saharan Africa in the World’s population increased from 7.5 to 13.1 per cent.

The total population of Africa is currently about 1 billion. The United Nations has projected it to double by 2050 and to increase up to 4.2 billion by year 2100. The population of Nigeria, which is already among the ten most populated countries in the world, is expected to grow up to 1 billion.

UN: sources of instability to be addressed

Population growth and climate change can increase competition on food and water. The demand for food can increase substantially and particularly if both the income levels and population are increasing while potential to produce food may be reduced because of climate change.

According to the United Nations, with population growth, the number of people affected by drought, extreme heat and wildfires in sub-Saharan Africa has doubled over the last ten years, and the number of humans affected by floods, storms and mass migrations has almost tripled. Although low in prevalence, the region has seen the second-fastest rate of increase in hydrometeorological disasters, right after East Asia and the Pacific region.

The United Nations has suggested that to build resilience around the food systems in Africa, policies should address the sources if instability, including population growth, climate change and environmental. Literature has identified a number of ways to tackle these challenges and to mitigate the effects of climate change, population growth or both.

Producing more food from the same area of land while minimizing the environmental impacts has been called as sustainable intensification. To promote sustainable intensification policies need to address both sustainability and efficiency of agricultural production. Technologies, rural infrastructure and the skills of stakeholders to cope with harsh agricultural conditions need to be improved. This requires investments in education, research and logistics of the food system and many other areas. Policies may also help to develop financial or public support mechanisms which help the food system in Sub-Saharan Africa to become more resilient.

Transhumant population moves longer distances

One of the implications of population growth is that population density will rise. Although Africa is currently a sparsely populated area, there are already some indications on the impacts of increasing population density. Along with increasing human population the number of domestic animals in the Sahel region has also increased.

The use of common pastures is prevalent in the semi-arid Sahel region. Usually it is associated with extensive livestock husbandry and transhumance, i.e. seasonal movement of households and their animals from a common pasture to another. A likely manifestation of population growth has been observed in the transhumant populations. The distance and the magnitude of seasonal move for pasture in the Sahel have increased substantially since 1950’s. It is simply that people must now travel longer distances to find feed for their animals.

Transhumance is a rational way to adapt to current climatic conditions in an area where cultivated agriculture is limited by drought and soil characteristics. The pattern of movement may shape according to the current year’s weather. Preliminary results based on analyses carried out in the FoodAfrica programme suggest that the climate change and population growth can intensify transhumant pattern in the future. In the absence of feed markets, for instance, transhumance is a resilience factor that helps pastoralists to feed their animals.

The potential impacts of climate change are varying at the regional scales. If climate variability will increase, it may exacerbate food insecurity in areas which are vulnerable. In transhumant regions such as in semi-arid Ferlo area in the Northern Senegal this means that the climate in nearby rainy areas has spillovers to pastoral livestock husbandry in Ferlo. Hence, policies must consider the effects of climate change and population growth in a broader context than a single region.

More information:
Jarkko Niemi, MTT Agrifood Research Finland, jarkko.niemi@mtt.fi

Contact us
Legal notice
© Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)