WaPo Pushes Phony Claim That Climate Change Harming African Crops

A recent The Washington Post (The Post) article claims that African farmers, particularly those in Ethiopia, are struggling with crop failures caused by climate change. This is false.

While crop failures do occur and have harder impacts on communities that are already poor, no data shows that drought or tropical cyclones are happening more frequently or becoming more severe, or that crop production is declining as a result. [emphasis, links added]

Worse, the evidence suggests that international organizations’ climate change efforts undermine the use of technologies proven to increase food production, harming African agricultural progress as a result.

The article, “Farmers Race to Innovate as Climate Change Threatens African Food Supply,” begins with a focus on Ethiopia and claims that the Earth’s rising average temperature means “large chunks of Africa are whipsawing between increasingly severe droughts and more frequent and intense cyclones, threatening staple foods for hundreds of millions of people.

The Post cites claims by the UN-affiliated International Monetary Fund (IMF) that “each increase of 1 degree Celsius correlates to a three-percentage-point reduction in agricultural output in developing countries,” and predicts that “crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa will decline by 5 to 17 percent by 2050, despite a rapidly growing population.”

Much of the article focuses on organizations that are promoting chicken-raising in Ethiopia as a low-emissions low-water-use livestock option and claims that cereal crops like wheat, rice, and corn (maize) are particularly susceptible to extreme weather.

All of the above claims are false.

As Climate Realism has pointed out in many articles including here, here, and here, African drought and flooding cycles are natural, and no signal from climate change can be detected in regional or continent-wide staple crop production.

Data clearly show that the IMF’s claims about warming causing a decline in African crop production are patently false.

Crop production in Africa in general, and Ethiopia in particular increased dramatically over recent decades, even as the planet has experienced a warming of more than 1℃.

Cereal yields in Africa and Ethiopia. Click to enlarge. Source

To reiterate the point, as warming has occurred, crop production and yields have increased, not decreased.

Also, real-world data and peer-reviewed agronomy research provide no reason for believing these trends will change in the future, absent political interference in to use of fossil fuels to plant, fertilize, harvest, and deliver crops.

Those are the facts, IMF and Washington Post.

Looking at crop production data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is clear that the cereal crops (including rice, wheat, maize, and others) that are claimed to be particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change have seen improvements. (See figure below)

In the past three decades of warming:

  • Ethiopian cereal production increased by 467 percent;
  • Yields increased 112 percent;
  • All-time production records were broken 9 times between 2011-2021.

Wheat in particular over the same period saw gains with only recent bad harvest seasons, which should be expected from time to time regardless of climate change.

Since 1990, Ethiopian wheat production and yield have risen 482 percent and 72 percent, respectively, and broken all-time production records eight times since 2011, the highest as recent as 2020. (See figure below)

Africa as a whole has benefitted from similar growth in crop production during the recent modest warming. (See figure below)

  • Cereal production rose 131 percent;
  • Yield rose 48 percent;
  • New all-time production records have been 7 times between 2011 to 2021.

What’s true for Ethiopia is true for other countries on the continent as well, and Africa in general, as demonstrated in numerous other Climate Realism posts here, here, here, and here.

Clearly, climate change is not causing a decline in African crop production or harming African farmers.

The Post, amazingly, admits that unclear regulations, pricing, and “confusion over what is defined as a ‘climate solution’ have kept most big investors away from climate adaptation in Africa…”

Outside investment in Africa seems to be more focused on climate change than anything else, if the Post is to be believed, even though African farmers are already low-emitters.

Discouraging Africans from using cheap, plentiful energy from fossil fuels makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to adapt to natural weather extremes.

Likewise, suggesting that “sustainable” farming practices, like organic and regenerative agriculture, should make up the bulk of African farming practices going forward will only result in lower yields and increased famine, as it did in Sri Lanka.

The Washington Post and the IMF should do their research and acknowledge these facts instead of fearmongering about African crop production.

What’s more, they should not be supporting and encouraging the kinds of farming practices that encourage poverty and famine, and should instead promote economic and agricultural prosperity via the fossil fuel resources that many regions of Africa are rich in.

Top photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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