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October 06, 2009

African economies need to adapt to climate change to avoid possible devastation


A group of environmental economists are warning sub-Saharan Africa that it must now start adapting its agricultural sector to expected climate shifts or risk a severe economic crisis in the future. The warning comes after researchers found that the effects of climate change in Tanzania could have devastating consequences for the nation's entire economic system.

Using sophisticated macroeconomic computer models to attempt to estimate the exact economic toll of climate change in this part of the world, researchers have estimated that by the year 2085 Tanzania could see a drop of up to 68 percent in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to the effects of climate change on its agricultural sector.

The researchers say they chose Tanzania for their study, which they call the first of its kind, since the nation's high levels of poverty, high percentage of rural population, and high susceptibility to shifts in the climate made it an ideal test case.

The study based its research on scientific predictions that temperatures in East Africa are expected to rise by two to four degrees centigrade by the end of the century.

Economist Muyeye Chambwera, co-author of the study, says that although some crops will actually benefit from the change in temperature and rainfall, the staple crops of most East African farmers will significantly suffer.

"The crops that small-holder farmers grow, such as maize and food crops - the production of those food crops is going to decline. And that will be applicable generally to the entire region," Chambwera said.

The study found that the expected impact of the climate shifts will disproportionately hit the rural poor, many of whom are subsistence farmers. 80 percent of Tanzania's workforce is in the agricultural sector, and almost half of the nation's GDP is directly tied to farming.

In addition to raising temperatures, the shift in climate is expected to paradoxically harshen both the cycles of drought and flooding, with some regions of the country expected to see a high jump in annual rainfall and others a steep decline.

Chambwera suggests that the government of Tanzania must quickly develop a nuanced and well-thought-out plan to prepare its agricultural sector for the changing climate.

He said the challenge facing the region's governments is that no blanket solution can be provided to the problem, as each area may see different effects from the climate, affecting the crops differently.

The researchers are suggesting a combination of credit, insurance, and training packages to be offered to the region's farmers, as well as an adaptation within the agricultural supply chain in order to adjust for the coming changes.

Chambwera warns that much of sub-Saharan Africa could be in line for a similar radical transformation of their economies.

"The economies of most countries in this region - not just eastern African itself but southern Africa in general - are underpinned by agriculture, which means that the agricultural sector is quite key and it is quite strategic for other countries to look at the findings for Tanzania and try to establish some of the similarities that the agricultural and economic systems have got with the Tanzanian economy," Chambwera said.

The economic models suggested that the economic toll may be relatively modest before the year 2030, giving the region's governments a short time window to begin preparing for the climate-induced economic onslaught.


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