Africa faces huge food-supply obstacles – and time is running out

A just transition must address the adaptation challenges of African countries while also moving food systems onto a sustainable footing with lower emissions. These changes all work through market mechanisms.
Climate change requires rapid, major and systemic economic changes at the local, national and global levels. Food supply is estimated to account for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions. African countries, however, are responsible for negligible emissions, yet face urgent challenges of adaptation to global warming and extreme weather events which threaten production.
A just transition must address the adaptation challenges of African countries while also moving food systems onto a sustainable footing with lower emissions. These changes all work through market mechanisms.
Emissions in food are mainly associated with meat and dairy production and the associated animal feed and land-use changes. Production and trading of meat and the main animal feed constituents such as soybeans and maize are concentrated, within and across countries. The changes required in the food systems transformation are thus about the decisions of a relatively small number of lead firms and the markets in which they operate.
Large incumbent firms have typically invested and innovated to build up their market positions. At the same time, to borrow Warren Buffett’s metaphor, they build moats around their positions to protect themselves and their profits from rivals.
What has this to do with climate change?
First, the rapid change in food systems means business models have to change and this may well be led by disruptors, as we have seen in other sectors such as motor vehicles. Incumbents are naturally invested in current production systems, have the most to lose from systems changes and are likely to delay and try to control the process of change. Conversely, dynamic competition which opens markets up to disruptors can be a powerful positive impetus for change, including by incumbents if and where they can pivot.
Second, to win broad-based support, climate change measures need to be fair. This means that we must tackle inclusion along with the transformation in production systems. Competition law and policy are important tools to work for inclusion. They can tackle the market power and anti-competitive practices that mean smaller market participants, including farmers, are undermined and have their returns squeezed by powerful suppliers and buyers.
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