In developing countries, the agriculture sector is expected to produce food and income to support food and nutrition security as well as contribute to poverty reduction for a growing population. Climate change is already threatening to significantly undermine these expectations as its impacts in the sector are direct and pose serious adverse effects on the populace. The agricultural sector including crops, forests, livestock and fisheries productivity will be affected by changes in climatic conditions including:
- Availability of good quality water
- Habitats and species distribution
- Timing and length of growing season
- Distribution of agro-ecological zones
- Ecosystem stresses (erosion by water and wind, acidification, salinization, biological degradation) and so on.
Climate change affects everyone albeit differently depending on their livelihoods and socio-economic status. The most adverse effects will be on those already vulnerable, people depending on climate-sensitive/dependent livelihoods such as agriculture and tourism. These are the disadvantaged poor and marginalized groups especially women and youth who neither yield political nor economic power to cope with a changing climate. Let us now see how climate variability impacts on the fishery and aquaculture sub sector could affect a typical food system in for instance the rural Kano Plains of Western Kenya. The region traditionally depends to a large extent on fishing as an economic activity to make a living. The illustration is only hypothetical as climate change effects are very specific to the local context.
A decade ago, Mr. Ouma Ogendo was an accountant with a multinational company in Kisumu who quit his prestigious job to establish a fish hatchery venture in a greenhouse in his rural home area. Until last year, his business was very successful entailing rearing catfish fingerlings, then selling them to fishermen who used them as bait to catch Nile perch in the nearby Lake Victoria. Using a modern method of breeding the fingerlings – such as the re-circulation aquaculture system – which involves rearing fish in vessels under controlled and automated systems for maximum and quick yields, he controlled all factors such as predators, pollution and temperature. However, this year was particularly bad for him as the invasion of the menacing water hyacinth led to a steep decline in fishing in the lake. This meant that demand for the fingerlings also dropped forcing him to close shop and seek alternative ways of making a living. In addition, extreme precipitation during this year’s rainy season led to the nearby River Nyando bursting its banks and overflowing built dykes resulting to flooding which damaged his greenhouse, effectively shattering his dream of running his own aquaculture business. These unanticipated climate variability events have significant impacts on the local food system.
Since all the fingerlings Ogendo had remaining for sale got damaged coupled with the problems of water hyacinth and floods damaging roads leading to the local market, the availability of fish for food decreases due to trouble with food processing (storage) and distribution. As a consequence of the fore goings, local market prices for fish and other food items goes up significantly, forcing households to buy other cheaper products such as cassava, sweet potatoes, and indigenous vegetables such as gynadropsis and black nightshade. As such, access to highly nutritious food is limited and Ogendo eventually decides to abandon aquaculture altogether to grow such crops which work better with local conditions. His decision (and similar others like him in the area) ultimately affects local food production. The diet of local poor farmers’ families becomes unbalanced due to lower quality cheap food products as the only affordable source of protein and micro nutrients affecting food consumption. This in turn predisposes families to malaria and diarrhoea, both of which are favoured by high temperatures in the area. The illnesses if contracted will further reduce their bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients from the available cheap food – utilization.
Thus, the stability of an entire community’s food system is affected by climate variability with direct implications on production, processing, distribution and consumption. Indirect effects are felt as well in the form of changes in markets, food prices and supply chain infrastructure. Additionally, some people are forced to completely change their economic activities to ones whose income generation is stable and more reliable.