March 9 (UPI) -- New research from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, or IIASA, highlights how limited investment in agriculture in West Africa plays a vital role in the country's ability to adapt to climate change.
West Africa is a major producer of cassava, millet and sorghum, however, scientists predict crop yields and grass for livestock grazing are likely to decline in the coming years and may not meet demand for food and livestock feed.
"How and to what extent the region's agricultural sector develops in the future will have profound implications for the livelihoods of millions of people," Amanda Palazzo, a researcher at IIASA, said in a press release. "In some ways, West Africa is at the mercy of changes in the rest of the world -- there is not much that people can do to stop global change on a local level. Our study shows that, indeed, socioeconomic development and climate change in the rest of the world will affect West Africa. But that doesn't mean that policymakers are powerless to avoid the impacts."
The study found investments in agriculture to improve crop yields could lead to increased food production as well as to an expansion of agricultural area into forests and other lands. Regional productivity gains in agriculture could also help reduce the global burden on land for agricultural production.
"We found that food security in the region could improve even under the threat of climate change if the region takes a coordinated and long-term approach to investment and development," Palazzo said.
Researchers worked closely with local experts such as policymakers, farmers and other stakeholders to develop plausible futures for the region. They linked scenarios to new global socioeconomic projections developed for climate change research and adapted them to West Africa.
The study resulted in a package of specifically designed scenarios for West Africa through the year 2050 that provide descriptions of future developments, including narratives and quantitative projections for population, economic growth, deforestation, land use, food production and trade.
"This is quite unique," Joost Vervoort, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. "Often, the process ends after stakeholders and modelers finish envisioning scenarios through words and numbers. However, we design processes that allow policymakers to identify actions that are necessary to avoid potential problems or actions to take that have a good chance of yielding desirable results in all potential futures."
The study was published in Global Environmental Change.