Tipping Points of Food Security in linked social-ecological systems of West Africa under Climatic Hazards

West Africa is one of the global hotspot regions in this respect as it is affected by the confluence of several megatrends of global change. Although it still remains mostly rural today, the level of urbanization is expected to increase faster than in any other region, tripling from 157 to 511 million by mid-century (UNDESA 2015). Despite recent progress in economic growth, democratization and regional cooperation, poor governance, human rights violations, prevailing poverty, ethnic marginalization and small arms and light weapons proliferation continue to serve as triggers and drivers of violent conflicts and civil strife in the region (Annan 2014, Marc et al. 2015). Further, West Africa is heavily affected by the impacts of environmental changes that are exceeding the resilience of existing agricultural systems and the adaptive capacity of local communities. These include degradation of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, increasing variability in seasonal rainfall as well as the increasing duration and intensity of extreme events, such as floods and droughts (IPCC 2012). Combined, these factors put high pressures on food systems at present, and in the future – and might force social-ecological food systems to tip into crises or even collapse in hitherto unpredictable ways (Cumming 2014). Despite improvements in food security in West Africa over recent years, approximately 10% of the population is still suffering from chronic undernourishment and more than 21% is exposed to an alarming food situation (OECD 2013, GHI 2015). However, while the impacts of social and environmental changes on food security in West Africa have been acknowledged in principle (IPCC 2014), there remain grave knowledge gaps with regards to a detailed understanding of the dynamics, interactions and possible tipping points in coupled SES regulating food (in-)security (Ericksen 2008, IPCC 2014). While systems theory suggests that complex systems can be characterized by non-linear behavior, including tipping points, tele-connectivities, and emergence, the future potential development pathways of increasingly complex SES in West Africa remains poorly understood. This is not only of great scientific interest to understand the region’s systems dynamics, but also of practical relevance for avoiding food and social crises, and for navigating the region into a crises-resilient, climate-proof and sustainable future that meets the Sustainable Development Goals.

1. Which system dynamics, particularly tipping points, can be observed and/or expected in social ecological food systems in West Africa and how do they affect food security? 2. How can tipping points be captured methodologically, understood empirically and explained theoretically, particularly in an epistemologically challenging, forward-looking manner and with a transdisciplinary practice-orientation? 3. What can be done to forecast and counteract tipping points in social-ecological food systems to prevent crises or system collapse in the future?"


Jul 01, 2017 until May 31, 2018

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