Tonight, one in eight of the world’s population will go to bed hungry. According to Oxfam, by 2050, that number will have risen by ten to 20 per cent simply because of the effect that climate change is having on agriculture.
Richie Alford, director of research and impact at Send-a-Cow, works with 15,000 farmers in seven countries in Africa. ‘Farmers are very worried about what’s happening right now,’ he says. ‘The growing seasons have completely changed. Unpredictable rainfall makes farming more difficult. And this is the biggest issue for farmers in Africa – rain doesn’t fall when it’s expected.’
Unpredictable rainfall makes it difficult for farmers to know what to plant and when. They stop trusting their judgment. Some hedge their bets, planting at different times, but the overall result is that yields are down. ‘Getting through the year is becoming more and more difficult for the poorest people,’ Alford says.
Development NGOs such as Send-a-Cow and Oxfam all report that unpredictable weather, including an increase in severe weather, is already having a crippling effect on agriculture in developing nations. According to the IPCC, some 62 per cent of Niger’s cattle were killed by drought in 1982–84; 42 per cent of cattle died in Ethiopia between 1991 and 1993; and 28 per cent of cattle died in Northern Kenya in 1991–93.
Climate change is already ‘a reality’ for farmers in Rajasthan, according to the Times of India. In November, a local government minister
‘Farmers are very worried about what’s happening right now. The growing seasons have changed’
described farming as now being ‘a high risk activity’. ‘Rajasthan is the second highest producer of milk in the country,’ he said. ‘But the current annual loss in milk production due to heat stress in Rajasthan is 98.65, 40.55 and 29.74 litres per animal per year in crossbred cows, local cows and buffaloes respectively.’
This, the paper reported, is likely to lead to ‘a decrease in crop and animal produce… aggravating the risk of hunger, malnutrition and poverty.’
CHANGE HAS BEGUN It is, of course, impossible to attribute every storm, flood or dry period to anthropogenic climate change. So, how do we know that things are really changing for farmers in the developing world?
In 2005, the development agency Tearfund surveyed farmers with whom it worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America. When the authors of that report returned to the farmers seven years later, they discovered that, almost without exception, things were getting worse. ‘Today, communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America are experiencing more severe and dramatic climate change than they were in 2005,’ the authors wrote. ‘Change had begun then, but it has become more intense.
‘A vicious cycle of floods and droughts has now
OPENING SPREAD: farmers harvest rice in the Sunderbans in the Ganges delta, India. Increasing levels of soil salinity, caused by rising sea levels and storm surges, are threatening rice cultivation in the region; ABOVE: a farmer sits on the dried-up bed of Rajsamand lake in Rajsamand village in the Indian state of Rajasthan. In 2000, the lake completely dried up for the first time in 300 years
60 | March 2014