Changing climate increases hardship for Africa’s mothers

Changing climate increases hardship for Africa’s mothers

Date: January 1, 1970
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Rising food prices across the globe is a daily headache for many. Particularly in the most vulnerable societies, climate change is already taking a heavy toll, including threatening crops and increasing food insecurity. Finding long lasting and sustainable solutions to climate change is becoming a global emergency. The whole world is feeling the pinch, with the most impoverished, especially women and children, most affected.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), agriculture, forestry, and fisheries are among the most climate-sensitive sectors. Changes in rainfall patterns contribute to severe water shortages or flooding, and rising temperatures cause shifts in crop growing seasons.
In many Sub-Saharan African countries, such as Malawi, smallholder, rain-fed agriculture underpins most rural livelihoods and national economies. Research conducted by Action Aid found Malawi has experience escalating weather related disasters since 1970, with a drought and subsequent flood in 2002 causing a landmark food crisis. Since then, the country has been undergoing food crises caused by erratic rains and regular floods.
In Malawi’s southern district of Phalombe, close to the Mozambican border, women walk long distances to access maize at the Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (ADMARC) depots. Olive Keyala, who has 7 children, acknowledges that unpredictable rainfall is causing hunger in her district.
She adds that it is difficult for the women to access water to embark on irrigation farming, as it is expensive. The dry season is dryer than in the past, and a dam built just a few months ago is already dry.
It is a similar story in Chiradzulu district, where food shortages mean women struggle to walk long distances to the commercial city of Blantyre, selling vegetables to earn a small income to buy maize.
Stelia Chimera has three children and walks for 6 hours with her baby on the back to sell vegetables Blantyre. She gets k150 (about 1 US$) which is far from enough to buy some maize husks for her three children to survive.
“I leave at 3 am with my child at the back, we arrive at 8 am in the morning, after selling the vegetables, I use the money to buy maize husks, maize is expensive,” she narrates.
In her paper titled “Climate change vulnerability and adaptation strategies insight and low rainfall areas of Malawi,” Miriam Sabola of the University of Malawi says climate change and rain variability are major challenges already facing agricultural productivity.
She observes that rural people have developed traditional adaptive strategies to cope with effects of climate change on agricultural productivity, but need support to sustain these practices. “Most agricultural livelihood activities are linked to rainfall levels and frequencies which have been varying. The farmers have developed some adaptive strategies such as crop diversification, conservation agriculture and irrigation farming, but lack capacity for implementation,” notes Sabola.
According Alex Saka, climate change programme manage in Malawi’s Environmental Affairs department, globally carbon dioxide contributes to 66% of greenhouse gas emissions, with the United States being a major polluter accounting for 30.3% of all emissions. In a bid to cut down carbon emissions countries such as Brazil are clearing vast portions of land to grow sugar cane, which yields ethanol, a bio-fuel that acts as an alternative to polluting fossil fuels.
Senior research fellow at the Centre for Agriculture Research and Development (CARD) based at Bunda College of Agriculture, Charles Jumbe, says bio-fuel production offers opportunities for developing countries due to the availability of abundant land, and cheap labour force.
Jumbe also adds that higher agricultural demand can increase income for rural farmers, if bio-fuels can be utilised coupled with advancing technology, which is now focusing on using crop residues such as grass and wood chips.
However, Jumbe also warns that unregulated development of bio-fuels can cause great damage to the environment and the diversion of scarce natural resources, such as land and water, all going to the production of bio-diesel.
“Across the United States, of the whole maize crop went to ethanol in 2006, but only contributed to 2% of automobile use, by eliminating gasoline, millions of acres of land may need to be doubled. We must take caution before developing bio-fuel strategies,” he said in a presentation at the second international conference on climate change mainstreaming, organised by the African Network for Agriculture Agro forestry and Natural Resources (ANAFE).
Emile Van Zyl, head of microbiology and natural resources at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa observes that Africa has a high potential for bio-fuels as energy provides a key role to economic development.
“Africa has the potential to produce a quarter of bio energy, it uses 49% of renewable energy, it can also boost agriculture production and also contributing to cutting green house gas emissions,” stresses Van Zyl.
He also downplays arguments that food price increases result from bio-fuel development. “We should have a sustainable way of bio-fuel production and hold hands to make bio-fuels work, let us understand our own crops and learn to manage them better,” he stressed.
In a paper entitled “Mainstreaming carbon and bio-fuels with agro-forestry into education,” Arthur Jokela, director of Mafuwa, a local environmental non-governmental organisation, points out that countries in tropical Africa are favored for survival in the present challenged planet with resource limitations for boosting of food security and bio-fuels.
Jokela recommends the African Union and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) to convene a high-level panel as it did before, for biotechnology to explore strategic ways of building Africa’s scientific capacity for regionally oriented regulation and management for bio-fuels, carbon and global climate change adaptation.
Although such high-level forums are vital, timely access to essential and simple information on climate change and variability, as well as coping strategies, for those most affected, is key to mitigating impact. Helping those most affected to adapt and respond will not only ease the burden for Africa’s mothers, but also help develop long-term strategies for the stability of the continent as a whole.
Dingaan Mithi is a Malawian journalist and writer. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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