Climate Change and Food Security

Throughout much of Africa, agriculture is an industry that employs a sizable portion of the populace especially in rural areas and contributes in equal measure to their economies. However, historically and increasingly, this vital sector has continued to suffer neglect by successful governments at the expense of emerging sectors such as manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, hospitality, transport, communication, finance, energy, infrastructure and oil and gas exploration and prospecting. This has contributed to governments across the continent not honouring the 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security where they pledged at least 10 per cent of their budget to agriculture.
Even though there is a general consensus among climate scientists that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been caused by human activities”, there is a contrasting view. Other hypotheses which have proposed to explain all or most of the observed increase in global temperature include:

  1. The warming is within the range of natural variation
  2. The warming is a consequence of coming out of a prior cool period as the little ice age
  3. The warming is primarily a result of variances in solar irradiance, possibly via modulation of cloud cover
  4. The observed warming actually reflects Urban Heat Island, as most readings are done in heavily populated areas which have been expanding over the last few decades with growing population (Oreskes, 2004) 

In spite of the differing opinion, global warming clearly has adverse effects on weather dependent industries such as agriculture. Many developing countries like Kenya depend to a great extent on these industries to contribute significantly to their GDP. Yet such poor countries are at a greater risk both in terms of exposure to climatic changes and sensitivity to such changes as well as in terms of their low capacity and means to govern a changing climate. Over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture further exacerbates the risk to starvation due to climate change as whenever “poor weather conditions” are experienced, food shortages occur.  

Global warming adversely affects food security in various ways. They include a decline in rainfall which in turn leads to lower water resources for agriculture, frequent prolonged droughts and dry spells and increased heat stress. These are accompanied by more outbreaks of pests and diseases for crops, livestock and humans, above historical normal rainfall and flash floods which damage food crops already growing in the field. Their increased frequency, intensity and magnitude adversely impact on food, health, water and income security. 

The month of August in the year 2011 saw millions of people in East Africa being affected by the worst drought and the consequent famine in 60 years history. The drought was due to La Nina, a wide-ranging climatic phenomenon over the pacific, which, at irregular intervals, causes a sharp decline in rainfall, even for the East African region. These vagaries of the weather mostly affect the pastoralists whose freedom to simply move out of an area in search of greener pastures and readily available water is increasingly becoming more restricted. No wonder, a recent study by the US National Academy of Sciences has projected that above average temperature levels raise the likelihood of conflict in the East Africa region. A very good example is the border area between Kenya and Ethiopia where clashes between the different pastoralist tribes from the two countries frequently fight over resources.

As noted earlier, since the economy of developing countries depends heavily on agriculture and climate change models predict a decrease in agricultural output and food security, poverty of households will increase. A high population growth rate is expected to put more pressure on the existing natural resources especially water and wood to supply energy. Already, statistics estimate that by the year 2050, there will be 9 billion inhabitants in the world while arable land continues to shrink as the days go by. 

In light of these factors and many others, the Canadian 4-H Council will host a seven day youth conference about how to feed a hungry world to celebrate their 100th anniversary. This event, dubbed the “Youth Ag-Summit” (YAS) is in the month of August 2013 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. For climate change and agriculture, major international organizations such as FAO, WFP, and IFAD just to mention a few reckon that climate-smart agriculture is the way forward in this vital sector. Possible strategies they recommend to prevent food insecurity from increasing due to climate change include:

  1. “People centred” strategies such as setting up community based grain banks, helping rural households diversify their sources of income, and social protection schemes;
  2. Improved water management practices such as building infrastructure for more efficient irrigation systems and small-scale water capture, storage and use;
  3. Adopting farming practices aimed at conserving soil moisture, organic matter and nutrients –such as crop rotation and using mulch stubble and straw;
  4. Use of short-cycle seed varieties that allow for harvesting before the peak of the cyclone season.

All in all, African policy makers are confronted with an even greater challenge on how to tackle climate change in agriculture not withstanding the bottlenecks agriculture has continued to encounter due to decades of neglect of the sector and rural development. We hope that the 120 global youth who earned their spots and got selected to attend the YAS will conceive ideas that will help “Feed a Hungry Planet” in the future and continue for a long time to come.

Media and Climate Change

It is now widely accepted that climate change will affect a society’s crucial areas such as public health, energy supply, water supply, transport just to mention a few. But not only that, global warming is poised to exacerbate the incidence of both slow- and fast-paced extreme climate events such as droughts, floods as well as contribute to increased physical instability which derives from increased water quantities in relation to glaciers and permafrost areas. 

The past decade has brought mixed experiences for the African media industry. While it has largely blossomed and acquired new opportunities for sharing knowledge and information, it has also encountered challenges such as government crackdowns and gagging attempts. The latter mainly stems from issues concerning fundamental freedoms. As it is widely acknowledged, the media was critical to the success of the Arab Spring and climate action in some regions of the world especially in North America and Europe. 

The greatest challenge in the climate change field is that a majority of the populace finds aspects of climate change especially science and governance vague and unclear. Indeed, some of the greatest obstacles to climate adaptation interventions are cognitive and institutional barriers. The latter are related to the governance system while the former are the more complex barriers internal to an individual. This has made adapting to a changing climate in many regions of the world seem immense and unformed by the day’s decision makers, political class as well as the private sector players. 

Frequently, what we come across in many media outlets related to climate change is mostly its impacts specifically the increasing droughts and floods. The stories we rarely see in the media platforms seldom concern capacity building stories related to financial, cognitive, social and institutional aspects. These are the issues the African media should be concentrating on with the same vitality and enthusiasm as other issues such as graft, youth unemployment, peace and security just to mention a few issues. 

Luckily, this situation has not escaped the attention of concerned individuals and groups. With support from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the International Institute for Environment and Development and Internews are working on a Guidebook for climate change journalists in Africa. The Guidebook will include among other things the priority for media coverage of climate change in African media outlets, various organizations working on climate change and their contact addresses, examples of best practice climate change adaptation cases in Africa and other related content.  

And that’s not all, a recent media workshop organized by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) in Nairobi, Kenya culminated in the formation of the Pan African Media Alliance for Climate Change (PAMACC). PACJA, a consortium of over five hundred civil society organizations working in forty three African countries believes that PAMACC will help vigorously push the African climate justice agenda. This is in an effort to cut a better climate outlook for the continent and apprehend the dependence on international media to carry out the African climate change narrative. 

The World Resources Institute (Spearman and McGray, 2011) has described adaptation in the development context as being broadly characterized by three types of efforts:

  1. Community-based adaptation
  2. Program- and project-based adaptation, and
  3. National policy initiatives

I believe the African media outlets could take charge of climate issues if they could focus their energy in the above mentioned approaches and tell success stories that are yet to be captured. With the efforts to significantly cut emissions that have recently hit four hundred parts per million mark and secure climate finance for poor countries largely remaining a pipe dream, communities across the continent are being advised to begin to adapt themselves  and not wait for governments and institutions. However, it is widely known that not everybody will adapt in time and so some people will have to bear the greatest cost of a changing climate. 

The priority for Africa in the present context is how adaptive capacity can be built and supported. This I believe will revolve around the decision making process, policy development as well as innovation and risk assessment. The African media should help build hope among young people by highlighting success stories in climate action by young people because they are not highlighted. Clearly, climate action is something young people can do as they go about their daily lives especially Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) activities.

The media given its powerful influencing nature would also be helpful in breaking previously held and unhelpful perceptions of climate actors and the sense that there is no point in taking climate action. It is only after doing away with actors’ cognitive barriers to climate change governance interventions that relevant institutions will aid to tackle the adverse effects of a changing climate.