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Food security and climate change assessment: Sudan

This assessment, published jointly by WFP and the UK Met Office, outlines how climate risks impact household food security and livelihoods in Sudan.
Flavia Rocha Loures


Food security and climate are closely linked in Sudan. 
Agriculture accounts for around one third of Sudan’s GDP and employs around 80% of the labour force. Agriculture is mostly rain-fed and is therefore sensitive to rainfall amounts and timings, making climate variability and change key factors in the future of Sudan’s economy, livelihoods, and food security.

Climate model projections for the 2040s show strong agreement for an increase in temperature, but no strong signal for changes in rainfall. Climate change projections for Sudan indicate a substantial warming trend across the country. In contrast, rainfall projections are mixed, with most models projecting small increases in annual rainfall and some projecting small decreases.

This report* studied three climate change scenarios that span the range of available plausible future climates for Sudan to assess the impact of projected climate change on livelihoods and food security. It provides background on the current food security situation, livelihoods composition and climate sensitivities in rural Sudan, and uses this as a basis to describe in detail the impact of three potential climate scenarios on communities in Sudan.

*The full report is available for download from the right-hand column. An overview of the methods and key findings is provided below. See the full text for much more detail.

Methods and Tools

The analysis presented in this report is based on an adaptation of the Consolidated Livelihoods Exercise for Analyzing Resilience (CLEAR) methodology (WFP, 2014); a framework for assessing climate risk and food security where a more narrative approach is taken to the food security analysis due to constraints of data availability.

Three climatologically similar zones were defined for the purpose of the climate analysis (see Box 1 on page 11 of the report). The baseline climate was assessed using reanalysis 2 data for the 1981-2010 time period, and the baseline livelihoods and food security in each of the climate zones and their climate sensitivities was assessed through a review of the relevant literature and expert interpretation. Results of the baseline assessment of climate, livelihoods and food security are presented in Section 2 of the report.

Three plausible scenarios of projected climate change that reflect the range of potential future changes in climate in Sudan were analysed, and the impact on livelihoods and food security was assessed in the context of the potential change from the present day (i.e. the baseline climate). The three scenarios are results from the analysis of three climate models for the 2031-2060 time period to represent change by the 2040s under the RCP8.5 greenhouse gas concentration scenario. The three scenarios chosen reflect three different and plausible future changes in climate in Sudan, and span the range of climate model projections. Results of the future projections are presented in Section 3 of the report, and further detail about the methods and data used for both baseline and future assessments is given in Appendix A and B.

Food security and livelihoods in Sudan (abridged)

Sudan has poverty rates at around 46% with approximately 18.5 million people living in poverty and the majority of the population lives in rural settings (65% on average).

  • Up to 80% of the labour force is engaged in agriculture, accounting for around one third of the GDP. This proportion has recently increased due to reduced revenue from oil.
  • Agricultural labour is an important source of income for poor households. Changes in production will have a secondary impact on both labour opportunities and ability for employers to pay for the labour required.
  • Sudan has a long history of resource-based conflict as a result of competition for limited resources (water, pasture for livestock, etc.). These conflicts have led
 to displacement, and food insecurity as a result of reduced access to markets and loss of livelihoods.
  • Further pressures on food security have been felt in years when reduced rainfall, either resulting from variation in total rainfall or delays in the onset of the rainy season, has led to insufficient availability of pasture, and reduced crop production and/or yield.
  • The livelihood activities in Sudan can be grouped into 19 categories, referred to as livelihood zones. These are shown in Figure 3 on page 10 of the report (see above).

Sensitivity to climate factors:

  • Climate factors affect multiple aspects of agriculture. For example, temperature increases result in increased evaporation and potentially a widening
 of the spatial range of many agricultural pests.​ Reductions in water availability can be as a result of a delay in the onset of the rainy season, reduced total rainfall, or higher temperatures increasing evaporation.
  • Coping mechanisms for managing climate risk include varying planting, switching crop types, and installing pumps to extract groundwater to reduce dependence on in-year rainfall. These coping mechanisms are less effective in dealing with the direct impacts of heat-stress, and ultimately the absolute constraints of water availability cannot be directly overcome. ​​
  • Households are able to manage food security risk through prioritisation of essential spending or temporary migration to cope with reduced income. However, dependence on high levels of rain-fed agriculture for food production and livelihoods mean that food security in Sudan is highly sensitive to prevailing climate conditions.

Results: Livelihoods and food security under three future scenarios

Scenario 1: This scenario represents a future with small increases in rainfall, particularly in the south and over higher elevation in the west. However, this scenario also exhibits increases in temperature resulting in greater evaporation, which potentially offsets much of the benefit for water availability. Year-to-year variability will remain a key challenge for livelihoods across Sudan in this scenario. Land degradation and animal health will both continue to be problems, exacerbated by increasing temperatures. This scenario will have negative impacts for cropping systems, particularly within areas where temperatures are already close to crop heat tolerance levels. Patterns of food insecurity are likely to remain similar to the present day, but with additional stress associated with higher temperatures, and possible on-going desertification in pastoral areas.

Scenario 2: The increase in temperature in Scenario 2 is greater than for Scenario 1, and average rainfall is reduced compared to the present day. This combination means water availability will be a greater challenge in this scenario. As a result, all livelihood zones are likely to be exposed to significant challenges such as land degradation and reduced crop yields, with the possibility that some crops may no longer be possible to grow. Although the climate in this scenario is more hostile, there is some reduction in the amount of variability in rainfall from year-to-year, therefore, it may be more conducive to planning and adaptation measures. As such, food insecurity is likely to increase unless significant measures are taken to address production and land degradation.

Scenario 3: Temperatures in Scenario 3 are much higher than both Scenarios 1 and 2. This scenario is also drier than the present day, on the whole, but with some increases in rainfall regionally, mainly in the current wettest areas. In addition, there is increased variability in year-to-year rainfall amounts and timings. This climate would result in reductions in water availability and increases in heat stress in most areas, combined with less reliable rains from year-to-year. As a result, there are likely to be large increases in food insecurity, particularly in already vulnerable and drought prone areas. Furthermore, crop production is likely to face important reductions in yield nationally, resulting in increased need for imports and higher market price vulnerability. Food insecurity is likely to be consistently higher with an increase in wide spread events. Livelihoods will face much stronger pressure in this scenario than the other scenarios, with local adaptations requiring modernised approaches.

Key messages

Based on this report’s findings, various conclusions can be drawn on the impacts to food security and livelihoods under numerous climate change scenarios:

Livelihoods and agricultural production systems correspond to the climatological suitability of the region. In the north, where rainfall totals are low and the onset of the rains are unreliable, pastoralism dominates; in the south where there is significantly more rainfall, and although variable, consistently arrives, cropping systems are more prevalent.

Agriculture is an important part of the economy of Sudan. Those employed in agriculture are the poorest and most often food insecure. Agriculture is also predominantly rain-fed in Sudan, which means there is an inherent sensitivity to rainfall amounts and timings, making climate change a key factor in the future of Sudan’s economy, livelihoods, and food security.

Climate change projections for Sudan all agree on the signal for a substantial warming trend of between 1.5°C and 3°C across the country. In contrast, there is no clear projected trend in mean annual rainfall for Sudan. Projections for the average change in rainfall across the models are small and span both increases and decreases, with most models indicating an increase.

The three scenarios indicate that climate change will mean higher temperatures, reductions in water availability and continued year-to-year variability in a country highly sensitive to such changes. In all scenarios, there is the potential for increases in food insecurity across Sudan, with the scale of increase dependent on the scenario.

Adaptation measures should focus on reducing sensitivity, improving resilience to variability and extremes, and improving heat tolerance and water efficiency in agricultural production. The climate projections can be thought of as a southward shift
of the current climate to varying extents in each scenario. The concept that the future climate is analogous to a hotter version of the climate further north could be helpful to inform adaptation planning.

CaptionView of rural villages in Mukjar, Darfur, where WFP implements resilience-building programs, such as the Food Assistance for Assets Programme. © WFP.

Suggested citation

WFP (2017) Food security and climate change assessment: Sudan. World Food Programme: Rome, Italy.

Related reading

FEWS NET (2011) Livelihoods Zoning “Plus” Activity in Sudan.FEWS NET: Washington D.C.

Schmidhuber, J. & Tubiello, F. N. (2007) Global Food Security Under Climate Change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(50), p. 19703–19708.

World Bank (2011) A Poverty Profile for the Southern States of Sudan. World Bank: Washington D.C.

World Bank (2011) A Poverty Profile for the Northern States of Sudan. World Bank: Washington D.C.

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