Facing climate change in West Africa

Climate change is likely to hit West Africa hard, potentially affecting the livelihoods of millions of people. The IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program has worked closely with local stakeholders to develop possible climate strategies, showing that low investment in agriculture will leave the region particularly vulnerable.

West Africa is a major producer of crops such as cassava, millet, and sorghum but climate change could mean regional production is not able to meet the growing demand for food and livestock feed. To help policymakers develop robust climate strategies, IIASA researchers built scenarios, or future pathways, and applied the institute’s Global Biosphere Management Model alongside the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute [1].

The results show that investments in agriculture in the region, specifically to improve crop yields, could lead to greater food production. However, it could also create land trade-offs: agricultural expansion in West Africa will encroach into forest and other natural land, but it will also reduce the need for agricultural land globally. In some cases, for each hectare of land converted to agriculture in the region three times as much land could be spared in other areas [2].

To develop the scenarios for the work, the team worked closely with local experts to develop plausible futures for the region. Then they linked the scenarios with the new global socioeconomic projections developed for climate change research—the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways [3] —and adapted them to provide specific information for West Africa. This resulted in the first globally coherent, regionally relevant Representative Agricultural Pathways.

In order to create scenarios that would be useful for regional planning, the researchers conducted extensive meetings with policymakers, farmers, and other stakeholders to gain an understanding of the many factors driving agricultural production in the region.

The study resulted in a package of scenarios specifically designed for West Africa to the year 2050, which include climate change as an unavoidable outside force. The scenarios provide descriptions of potential future developments, including narratives as well as quantitative projections for factors such as population, economic growth, deforestation, land use, food production, and trade.

Globally consistent regional scenarios.


[1] Palazzo A, Rutting L, Zougmoré R, Vervoort JM, Havlik P, Jalloh A, Aubee E, Helfgott AES, et al. (2016). The future of food security, environments and livelihoods in Western Africa. Four socio-economic scenarios. CCAFS Working Paper no. 130. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Copenhagen, Denmark.

[2] Palazzo A, Vervoort JM, Mason-D’Croz D, Rutting L, Havlik P, Islam S, Bayala J, Valin H, et al. (2017). Linking regional stakeholder scenarios and shared socioeconomic pathways: Quantified West African food and climate futures in a global context. Global Environmental Change: 1-16.

[3] Fricko O, Havlik P, Rogelj J, Klimont Z, Gusti M, Johnson N, Kolp P, Strubegger M, et al. (2017). The marker quantification of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 2: A middle-of-the-road scenario for the 21st century. Global Environmental Change 42: 251-267

[4] Zougmore R, Rutting L, Sidibe A, Ouedraogo J, Zida M, Rabdo A, Ouedraogo M, Balinga M, et al. (2016). Formulation d’un Programme National du Secteur Rural robuste au Burkina Faso : Quelles thématiques nouvelles issues du processus des scénarios socio- économiques et climatiques? CCAFS Info Note. Bamako, Mali: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.*