ClimSec Sahel-Early Warning System on Human Security in the Sahel Region: Considering Climate Impacts on Food Security and Farmer–Herder Conflicts

A project implemented by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) on behalf of the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs (AA)

Gardens of a subsistence farmer in the Sahel

The countries of the Sahel are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts on human security, particularly food security and conflict potential. In its Fifth Assessment Report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscores that simmering tensions will be intensified through shortages in food supply as well as persisting droughts. In the 1980’s the Sahel was subject to a drought period rendering entire regions dependent on food aid. Such events increase the propensity for livestock herders to mi-grate towards the more fertile sub-humid zones in the Sahel, where conflicts between this group and sedentary farmers are eminent. More than 80% of the Sahelian population works in the agricultural sector or is involved in livestock herding, underlining the potential impact of changing climatic conditions in the context of already strained resources.
This shows that climate change impacts have a clear link to security issues in the Sahel region. However, most of the existing approaches to observe the situation in this region focus single sectors (like the agricultural production, water availability or socio-economic triggered conflicts). There is no approach, which summarizes the potential for climate change triggered security aspects in the Sahel regions across sectors. With its small project “Early Warning Systems for Climate War Risks” PIK already started examining the climate change-food security-migration-conflict nexus. In this project climate impact models have been used to quantify climate change impacts on droughts and crop production failure. The results of this project combined with an in-depth analysis of several cases in the Sahel will be used to set up the early warning system.

The importance of weather analysis and water availability assessments

Based on weather data from satellites and weather stations on the ground as well as climate change projections, PIK will identify risks for water supply and low crop production as well as failures. Using evidence from previous projects, PIK will provide information of the water availability and the implications on crop growth provided by a crop-water impact model. This will help to identify drought-prone regions as well as maps for crop suitability for the case of Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. This will provide information whether traditional crop patterns are still useful under already changed climate conditions. Moreover, it will indicate whether changed climatic condition are a result that pastoralists are forced to move southwards and thus might run into potential conflicts with crop growers.

Assessing food availability and security

In a second step, PIK will use its impact models to identify risks for potential yield losses and failures and thus to reduced food availability and food insecurity. PIK’s crop-climate impacts’ model AMPLIFY (Agricultural Model for Production Loss Identification to support Food security) will make risks in the agricultural sector transparent. AMPLIFY makes use of semi empirical measures and remote sensing satellite data to assess crop yields and identify risks for potential yield losses and failures. The tool differentiates between weather-related and non-weather-related (agronomic management, socio-economic) yield influences. By combining re-analyzed weather and remote sensing satellite data, AMPLIFY can provide information of crop yield failures immediately after and even before a strike of a yield failure. This will be corroborated by using new products of weather and yield forecasts and statistical approaches. The statistical approaches include the in-house developed seasonal forecasting system for agricultural crop yields with the semi-statistical crop model AMPLIFY. This component will provide yield forecasts one or two months prior to the harvest. Based on the results, farmers – informed by ministries and farmers’ associations – will be able to adjust their agronomic management and thus, avert crop failures and increase farmers’ capacity to cope with climate change risks. Since the model, considers also land use, the models helps to identify production shocks, which might lead to reduced food availability and thus, causes food insecurity.

Identifying hotspots for conflicts, forced migration and food insecurity

The accumulation of the model outputs listed above allows identification of regions that will be high in crop production vs. poor production areas, as well as regions likely to become resource depleted vs. resource rich, which in turn give indication of potential conflict hot spots. However, research in the Sahel shows that the relationship between climate change, migration and conflict is very complex. Therefore, it is necessary to study government and governance structures regarding their capacity for risk assessment and risk management. This could be done on a case study basis, in which the inter-linkages between climate impacts on livelihoods, governance, inequality and resulting conflict potential can be explored. Within the project, the case studies in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso will bring food security, malnutrition, migration and conflict knowledge together. With the concise food insecurity assessment such a case study is expected to deliver robust results for future malnutrition, migration and conflict risk assessments.

Improving early warning Systems

Yield changes can have a leverage effect on food security namely that small yield losses amplify food insecurity. Short-term forecast instruments and early warning systems can support the handling of upcoming weather extremes and food shortages, which might lead to food insecurity. Based on these short-term weather and crop yield forecasts, farmers can – if still possible – adjust their agronomic management and invest in strategies to cope with production risks like crop insurances or future con-tracts of agricultural commodities. PIK plans to setup a prototype of short-term forecasting tools developed at PIK. Moreover, this tool will be compared with already existing forecasting and early warning systems. This will provide information about the limitation of already existing early warning systems in the target region and how these systems could be improved, expanded and successfully implemented to examine the entire climate change-security nexus (including migration and conflicts).

What purpose does this project serve?

An early warning system can support governments in their decision making to reduce the risks of climate and weather-induced impacts on security aspects such as food insecurity, conflicts and migration. It furthermore could give an evidence-based assessment of the climate change related security risks in the two countries for German and European foreign policy formation. The design and implementation of adequate adaption strategies would be crucial to reduce these risks as far as possible. In this work package, PIK will conduct two stakeholder workshops in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso to develop an early warning system which meets the demand of the policy makers but also raise awareness for this topic Besides this workshop, the government, the embassies as well as other experts in the relevant fields will be involved during the entire project for backstopping.

What are the parameters and who is involved?

Our project partner in this endeavor is the German Foreign Ministry. The duration of the project is aimed to be 24 months, ending in October 2020. For more detailed information on this project, please contact: Dr. Christoph Gornott (gornott[at]