GFAR blog


Wicked 3

Delivering a keynote address at the opening of the 3rd Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3), Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture , Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPARN) spoke passionately about the two most daunting “wicked problems” facing the world today, ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Malnutrition’.

She argued that these are wicked mainly because they’rehard to clearly define; inter dependent and multi casual; have unforeseen consequences; not stable and always shifting; socially complex; associated with policy failures; need a framework for many players to contribute towards addressing the problem”.

Not only is Africa confronted with the wicked problems of ‘climate change’ and ‘malnutrition’, but we have the third problem of stagnant political will!

While efforts to address climate change and malnutrition call for collaborated actions from global and multi-sectoral actors, Africa must also take responsibility and address its own wicked problems of poor governance and greed as some of the fundamental challenges holding the continent back.

Climate Change

As well noted by Lindiwe, Southern Africa “is currently facing one of the worst droughts in living memory and we believe these erratic weather patterns are the consequences of climate change …which has been dubbed a super wicked problem due to its sheer complexity on a scientific and human dimension level”.

With an average global temperature increase of almost 0.85°C over the past 130 years, the agriculture sector is taking the hardest knock — and African agriculture in particular.

The IPCC asserts that, for each 1 degree of temperature increase, grain yields decline, about 5%. Maize, wheat and other major crops have experienced significant yield reductions at the global level of 40 megatonnes per year between 1981 and 2002 due to a warmer climate.

As well noted by Lindiwe “we in Africa depend on agriculture and cannot afford a decline to our already compromised productivity”. As much as climate change is a global challenge, it is importantly a local wicked problem, one that is experienced by farmers on a daily basis. Farmers across the content are testament to the common climate related shocks of drought and precipitation variability with devastating impacts especially for resource poor farmers with limited capacity to adapt.

While Lindiwe put some faith in the UNFCCC global efforts such as the Paris Agreement, and related programmes such as the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), I remain skeptical on the local adaptation progress. I argue that with current efforts we will not make much progress against climate change mitigation and adaptation, at least not during this generation and perhaps even the next. From Cancun to Doha, agreement after agreement, the UNFCCC parties continue to make pledges (conditional and unconditional). But nothing has been done. Instead global greenhouse gases have continued to grow way beyond the levels of 1990 despite the commitments from the Parties.

For me the real challenge is climate change adaptation. The real challenge is one that relates to the livelihoods at the local level of the African resource-poor farmer whose struggles against climate change, climate variability and sustainable farming remains a challenge. “Our agriculture needs to be climate smart” …It must mitigate, adapt and sustain.


The other wicked problem is one that speaks directly to the future of the African continent. It affects the future leaders of our continent. Globally, about 50 million children under 5 are wasted with 16 million are severely wasted. In Africa, the number of stunted children is 27 million and it continues to rise. Unfortunately malnutrition links almost directly with the challenges posed by climate change.

The changing climate literally dictates the future and sustainability of farmers and their livelihoods. Often climate change is viewed as an issue specific mainly to farmers without a sober view to its wider impact on food security and nutrition. Importantly climate change is an uncertain reality with unforeseen consequences that are very difficult to target.

While there are clear global efforts geared toward helping identify, understand and adapt to the changing climate within the agriculture sector, the local impacts of climate change are simply not well understood and are often misdiagnosed.

This interdependence makes it equally difficult to address malnutrition for a greater part of the African continent that’s susceptible to droughts. With limited food supplies and growing demand, food prices continue to soar beyond reach for many of Africa’s poor.

The Sustainable Development Goals create a great link between food security and nutrition and sustainable agriculture (SDG2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture). Lindiwe argues that “The challenges of integrating nutrition activities and approaches into agricultural projects include; low levels of women empowerment to impact nutrition outcomes; there is a disconnect between agriculture and nutrition; a limited sectoral approach in coordinating mechanisms and partnerships; insufficient investment and capacity; a disconnect between research and policy making and lack of robust evidence …”we are therefore asking ourselves – what can agriculture do for nutrition?”

The scope for reducing under-nutrition in SSA by making agriculture investments nutrition-sensitive is evident …and indeed there is growing international consensus on the importance of women’s empowerment as a pathway to improve nutritional outcomes through agricultural livelihoods.

So What?

According to Lindiwe “we have to promote effective, targeted investment and build partnership, capacities and mutual accountabilities at all levels of the agricultural system so as to ensure that today’s agricultural research will meet the needs of the resource-poor end user”. This statement made me think, ‘what’s new?

In the absence of effective or perhaps binding international policy on climate change mitigation and adaptation, national policy remains the practical and indeed relevant policy sphere for local action and progress. BUT this is the very area where I believe we still have a lot to do.

Arguably, even if there was great progress made by the international community, the national challenge in Mozambique, in Malawi, in Swaziland would persist. Farmers will continue to suffer at the hands of the African policy maker who even today seems to be still waiting on the West for African solutions. Africa must take responsibility and address its own wicked problems of poor governance and greed!

In her closing remarks Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda reemphasized the theme of GCARD3 ‘No-one Left behind’ saying “When we talk of “No One Left Behind”, we are emphasizing the need to work together differently, develop collaborative strategies that are realistic to our challenges, enforce higher stakeholder commitment towards engaging, debating and formulating real policies, and we are holistic and not linear in approach. We carry each along.”

And I say unless we pause and redirect our efforts towards real alternatives to the current trend–wherein our quest to bring change only turns us back to the same things, just in slightly altered traditions– 50 years later, we will be in the same place.

The science-policy-society link remains segregated and fundamentally isolated. We must integrate, we must look back, look forward and look really deep for evidence-based solutions to achieve accelerated sustainable development with IMPACT.

Blogpost by Sandile Ngcamphalala, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – sndilen(at)
Photo Credit: @SELF

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

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