Food security impacts of industrial crop expansion in Sub-Sahara Africa (FICESSA)

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Department Name: Science Directorate Office

Abstract

There is an increasing trend recently to allocate land in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) for the production of crops that are ultimately used for non-food purposes such as bioenergy, fibre and other industrial processes. Such land conversions are often financed through direct foreign investment and are justified as an engine of economic growth. However this often happens in countries that are barely food self-sufficient raising concerns about impacts on food security.

While it is well accepted that industrial crops (ICs) compete directly and indirectly for land with food production, it is not always straightforward to assess the overall impacts of this competition on food security. Superficially food security should decrease as agricultural land is converted to ICs. Yet a number of less obvious mechanisms may lead to improvements in food security, e.g. higher household incomes can improve access to food, while access to fertilizers/pesticides/irrigation/knowledge can improve agricultural yields. In fact there are many complex feedbacks between land use change due to IC production and local/national food security in SSA. However, we have a fragmented and incomplete knowledge of these interrelations in African contexts, with few comprehensive studies conducted so far.

This interdisciplinary project aims to provide clear empirical evidence of how ICs compete for land with food crops in SSA, and the mechanisms through which this competition can affect food security, whether in a positive or a negative manner. We will undertake a combination of studies at multiple spatial scales using a variety of analytical tools to study past dynamics and explore future scenarios. Case countries include Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Swaziland.

Our consortium consists of partners with complementary strengths in academic (UT), applied (RBGK, CSIR) and policy-driven research (UNU, ODI). This will allow the effective communication of our findings to different end-users involved in (or affected by) IC expansion including policy-makers, local communities, NGOs and the private sector.

Planned Impact

Our vision is to provide knowledge that can inform the development of evidence-based policies and practical solutions that can catalyze positive food security outcomes from industrial crops (ICs) expansion in Africa. We will contribute to this vision through empirical research that will address knowledge gaps surrounding the links between the land use change effects food-ICs competition and food security. This vision fits closely with Belmont Forum's objective of producing interdisciplinary policy-relevant research, on "the dynamic interactions between food security and land use in the context of global change".

We aim to provide robust, generalisable and transferable results that will be useful to a variety of end-users (see below). We focus our research in low-income and low-middle-income economies of Africa (Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Swaziland). Furthermore most of our local case studies are situated in areas that are highly food-insecure. As a result our results have the potential to produce advice that can be of high importance in the impacted areas.

Policy-makers: ICs, including biofuel feedstocks, are a topical issue in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA). Currently several related policies are being developed, particularly in on biofuels (e.g. in South Africa). This means that ICs are a sector in which sound empirical evidence can be rapidly assimilated into the policy development process. The partners have worked/are working with policy-makers interested in the nexus of agriculture, food security and environmental change in SSA.

Private sector: We will work closely with the companies that operate in our case areas, i.e. Addax (Sierra Leone), Wienco Cotton (Ghana), BERL (Malawi), Dwangwa Sugarcane (Malawi), Niqel (Mozambique) and SWADE (Swaziland). These private ventures welcome the prospect of collaborating during this project, as they believe that obtaining a better understanding of the performance of their operations will be beneficial to their stakeholders. We will transfer to each of these private ventures the results of our research, and we expect that our findings will trickle down and benefit their IC suppliers (smallholders), workers and adjacent communities.

Certification bodies: We have partnered with two international initiatives for industrial crop certification, The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) and Bonsucro (BSI). AG, GvM and KW work closely with both organisations for their ESPA research. Both organisations have developed certification schemes that aim to enhance the sustainability of IC production. Our results will be key to provide them much needed information about IC impacts in the African context, and will be of direct interest to their affiliated practitioners, private companies, academics and policy-makers.

Civil society: We have partnered with Solidaridad Southern Africa that has a long and proven track record of influencing sustainable development at the IC project level throughout the developing world. Through this partnership we will aim not only to improve the support package Solidaridad Southern Africa offers to farmers and companies in Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland, but also to disseminate through their global network our results to stakeholders beyond our case countries, reaching thus a much wider audience. We will assess the feasibility of partnering with Solidaridad West Africa, for our work in Ghana and Sierra Leone. We will also contact Namati to establish whether they will be interested in the focus of our project. Namati works with communities affected by Addax in Sierra Leone, and helps them renegotiate the terms of the land lease.

We will explore possibilities to disseminate our research to international organizations (e.g. FAO) and science-policy interface (IPBES) to maximise the impact of this research.

Publications

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Borrell J (2019) The climatic challenge: Which plants will people use in the next century? in Environmental and Experimental Botany

 
Description - We assessed the climatic tolerance of 29 major industrial and food crops of sub-Saharan Africa and predicted which could be more impacted by future climate change. Yams, coffee, cocoa are some of the crops we identified as potentially insecure in the future.
- We assessed three important adaptive strategies for these 29 crops under climate change: 1) maintaining them and/or using other landraces of the same crop, 2) considering wild relatives for breeding programs and crop improvement, 3) replacing the crop by another crop. Different strategies may be appropriate for the different crops.
- We identified crop wild relatives that exhibit large climatic tolerances and could potentially be interesting for future breeding programs.
- We assessed which regions and populations would be more affected by a decrease in climatic suitability for the 29 major crops of interest (still ongoing).
- We identified functional, life-history and genome characteristics of crops and wild relatives associated to particular climatic resilience (still ongoing).
Exploitation Route These results can now be associated to work conducted in agronomy, economy or social sciences in order to complete our assessment of the climate change effects on agriculture in sub-saharan Africa. Ultimately these results could be used by policymakers of several developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa or international organizations and contribute to food security across the continent.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description Our main findings have been communicated in several events. Other than academic conferences, they have been disseminated in two workshops held at the University of Tokyo in Japan and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK. These two events reached partners from different Japanese, South African and British institutions and attempted to assess important issues and potential solutions related to food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. It particularly focused on how industrial crops compete for land with food crops and their effects on food security, as well as the effects of climate change on food security across the continent. Our main findings contributed greatly to this latter. These findings have also been disseminated in a major event organized by RBG Kew Foundation USA at San Francisco, US. This event brought together a great diversity of, mainly North American, stakeholders (policymakers, entrepreneurs, scientists, medias, philanthropists, etc.) in order to discuss how business can innovate in radical ways in the context of climate change and biodiversity loss. The results of our research were exhibited in a presentation and an open discussion, which largely impacted the audience and could result in new future research funding or business or political acts towards a greener economy.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
 
Title Collecting Functional Traits Data for Crops and their Wild Relatives 
Description Functional traits associated to plant resilience to environmental change were collected for tens of African crops and hundreds of their wild relatives based on online databases and RBG Kew collections. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This database allows a better mechanistic understanding of the potential effects of climate change on the distribution of crops in sub-sahran Africa and on how wild relatives could potentially be useful for breeding programs in order to adapt to this change in climatic conditions. Information will be published in a high ranked international journal in 2018. 
 
Title Collecting Genome Size Data for Crops and their Wild Relatives 
Description Genome size, ploidy levels, chromosome numbers data associated to plant potential resilience to environmental change were collected for tens of African crops and hundreds of their wild relatives based on online databases and RBG Kew collections. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This database allows a better mechanistic understanding of the potential effects of climate change on the distribution of crops in sub-sahran Africa and on how wild relatives could potentially be useful for breeding programs in order to adapt to this change in climatic conditions. Information will be published in a high ranked international journal in 2018. 
 
Title Collecting Nutritional Values Data for Sub-Saharan Crop 
Description Several nutritional variables were collected for tens of crops cultivated in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This database allows a better assessment of the potential impacts of future climate change on people's livelihoods (i.e. diet) in Sub-Saharan Africa. Information will be published in a high ranked international journal in 2018. 
 
Title Mapping Uncertainty in Species Distribution Modeling 
Description Geographic and statistical methods used to map uncertainty in ensemble forecasting of crops species distributions. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This analysis helps modelling and interpreting crops species distributions across sub Saharan Africa. Assessing map uncertainty is fundamental when taking any decision based on species distribution modelling outputs. 
 
Title Niche Analyses on Sub-Saharan Crops and their Wild Relatives 
Description Multivariate and minimum convex polygons analyses in order to analyse the effects of climate change on sub-Saharan crops and their wild relatives. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This analysis led to the writing of a paper that should be submitted in 1-2 months to a high ranked international journal. 
 
Title Species Distribution Models for Sub-Sahara Africa Crops and their Wild Relatives 
Description The team used different algorithms (GAM, RandomForest,etc. under the biomod package in R) to produce distribution maps for several sub-Saharan crops and their wild relatives. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact These maps allow a better spatial assessment of the effects of climate change on agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. This will result in a publication in a high ranked international journal in 2018. 
 
Description A talk or presentation - Talk by Samuel Pironon at a FICESSA project workshop held at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Samuel Pironon presented results of the FICESSA project on the effects of climate change on sub-Saharan crops and the potential adaptation through the use of their wild relatives. This talk reached international researchers collaborating within the FICESSA project. It contributed to a better understanding of the study system by all collaborators of the project and led to more collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Conference presentation entitled "Food and nutrition security in Africa: progress
and challenges" at the 6th International Conference on Sustainability Science (ICSS 2016), Stellenbosch, South Africa (2-3 March 2016) which sparked good discussion and questions with the audience afterwards
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation by T. Etherington at the British Ecological Society Macroecology Special Interest Group Annual Meeting, Oxford, UKShould we be matching species occurrences with concurrent environmental information when creating species distribution models?  
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk to macroecology specialist group about the species distribution models we are proposing to sue for crop modelling in the FICESSA project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation by Tom Etherington at the British Ecology Society-Macroecology Meeting, Natural History Museum, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Tom Etherington presented results of the FICESSA project on the visualization of uncertainty in species distribution modelling (i.e. mapping technique used to represent the effects of climate change on crops distributions in sub-Saharan Africa). This talk reached international researchers specialists in Macroecology, Biogeography, Climate Change Biology and led to interesting discussions and potential academic collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk and Open Debate by Samuel Pironon at a RBG Kew Foundation USA Event - The Root Code: toward a green economy, San Francisco, US 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Samuel Pironon presented results of the FICESSA project on the effects of climate change on sub-Saharan crops and the potential adaptation through the use of their wild relatives. This talk reached a wide audience across different sectors of activity, of which several important future potential supporters/charitable donors and major North American entrepreneurs (e.g. farm companies).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk by Samuel Pironon at the British Ecology Society-Macroecology Meeting, Natural History Museum, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Samuel Pironon presented results of the FICESSA project on the effects of climate change on sub-Saharan crops and the potential adaptation through the use of their wild relatives. This talk reached international researchers specialists in Macroecology, Biogeography, Climate Change Biology and led to interesting discussions and potential academic collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk by Samuel Pironon at the RBG Kew Science Seminar, Richmond, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Samuel Pironon presented results of the FICESSA project on the effects of climate change on sub-Saharan crops and several potential adaptation strategies considering agrobiodiversity. This talk reached all researchers of RBG Kew and the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK. The talk led to interesting discussions improving the quality of the ongoing study and potential future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk by Tom Etherington at a FICESSA project workshop held at the University of Tokyo, Japan 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Tom Etherington presented results of the FICESSA project on how to visualize uncertainty from species distribution models (i.e. mapping technique to represent the effects of future climate change on the distribution of crops in sub-Saharan Africa). This talk reached international researchers collaborating within the FICESSA project. It contributed to a better understanding of the methods used in this study by all collaborators of the project and led to more collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016