Agriculture in times of global warming: 3 Examples

Caritas International Belgium Agriculture in times of global warming: 3 Examples

© Isabel Corthier

© Isabel Corthier

22/08/2018

Climate change is everywhere and felt by everyone. Just think about the unusually hot and dry summer we had this year. In wealthy countries, the impact is limited for the time being, but in the South, climate change has already struck hard. Caritas employees Martine Haentjens (Haiti), Guillaume Schneider (Ethiopia) and Abdoul Moumoumi (Niger) propose 3 ways to make small farmers more resilient against climatic threats.

First a bit of context: climate change has the greatest impact on the lives of people who live in developing countries[1]. This is not surprising considering that they are much more dependent on agriculture than we are. In developing countries, 60% of the population works in agriculture as opposed to only 5% in wealthy countries.

Furthermore, most of the world’s poor live in the countryside. They are mainly dependent on agriculture, but for different reasons – production is too low, raw produce prices are too high, competing with dumping is too difficult – what they grow is insufficient to feed themselves or to escape poverty.

HAITI: DIVERSIFICATION OF INCOME

“In Haiti, the climate is completely upside-down,” says Martine Haentjes, our project coordinator in Haiti. “This year, for example, the rain season started out well. The people had prepared their fields and many had sowed and planted. Unfortunately, a long drought came and destroyed everything. A period of heavy rain followed, which washed away everything that had survived.”

Caritas International collaborates with local Caritas organisations in Jacmel and Jérémie. There, the population is 99% dependent on agriculture. Long-lasting droughts, heavy rains, floods, but also the steady passage of destroying cyclones have increased the vulnerability of the population in the past twenty years. Periods of drought and following food shortage also force communities to make unsustainable decisions that further harm the environment.


We try to make sure that vulnerable households can also earn money with activities other than agriculture

– Martine Haentjens, project coordinator in Haiti.

“What do we do to make the people here more resilient? We try to make sure that vulnerable households can also earn money with activities other than agriculture. Besides that, we invest, together with the community, in ways to store agricultural production so that it can be used in times of scarcity. We also promote the management of small water basins.

Despite our efforts, the day-to-day reality of farmers remains difficult. Rural exodus is definitely a reality here because people get exhausted from losing their investments in the soil year after year. That does not attract young people. Young people go to the city, or even further to the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, or elsewhere to support their families in Haiti. Every Haitian family has someone abroad.”

ETHIOPIA: ‘CLIMATE-SMART’ AGRICULTURAL TECHNIQUES

In Ethiopia, more than 80% of the population is dependent on agricultural activities. Rainfall here is very unpredictable and the country is scourged every three to five years by a great drought.  These periods of drought cause even more extreme poverty and famine for about 12 million small farmers, cultivators, and cattle herders. That’s why the greatest challenge in Ethiopia is making the most vulnerable people and communities resilient against natural events such as drought[2].

“In Ethiopia, we’ve started promoting so-called climate-smart[3] agricultural techniques,” explains Guillaume Schneider, country coordinator for Ethiopia.  “These techniques help the population collect, store and use water. For example, we encourage the restoration of ravines to reforest them and to improve the infiltration of water in the soil. That groundwater can be used afterward. We also established an irrigation network which provides the fields with rainwater captured in special constructions.

“Of course, technology cannot solve everything. That is why we are also working on raising awareness about sustainable water management to combat overconsumption. Together with the small farmers and shepherds, we are looking for ways to better manage the country’s natural resources. As an example, instead of letting animals graze freely, farmers should mow grass and plants and bring those to their cattle. This way, new plants do not get trampled.”

NIGER: A MULTIDIMENSIONAL APPROACH

In Niger, 80% of the population lives in the countryside. Those living there are mainly cattle herders and farmers who are dependent on their cattle and crops. Political instability, chronic food uncertainty and recurring natural crises (droughts, floods, and locust plagues) put pressure on a sector that already has trouble surviving in such a climate.

Abdoul Moumouni works at the office of Caritas Niger in the southern region of Maradi, at the border with Nigeria. At the moment, the office is cooperating with Caritas International Belgium on two projects to increase the food security of the population there and to protect the environment.

“In Maradi, most people make a living off of their cattle. They live in nomadic communities that take their cattle with them across the border to graze there in times of drought. Because of the problems with Boko Haram in Nigeria, the majority of the Nigerian nomads live in Niger. This causes growing pressure on the already scarce resources. It rains too little and the available water is inadequate for the population, agriculture, and animals. There is a great shortage of pastures where animals can graze.

More and more cattle herders become sedentary because they lose animals during the droughts. They go to the city to find work, but there is a lot of unemployment in cities. All these problems – political, climatic, social, and economic – are connected to one another and need to be tackled together.”


“What we need is development projects that cover all these aspects and that work on a long-term basis. Here you cannot talk about the impact of these projects after just one year, because the needs are that high.

– Abdoul Moumouni, Caritas Niger.

“What are the kinds of things we do? We focus on creating small businesses that generate an income; we promote the use of adapted agricultural techniques; we invest in irrigation systems for growing vegetables during the dry season and for digging up drinkable groundwater; together with the communities, we promote peaceful coexistence; we make grain banks available so producers can safeguard their production and get strong seeds during hungry gaps[4]. What we need are development projects that cover all these aspects and that work on a long-term basis. Here you cannot talk about the impact of these projects after just one year, because the needs are that high.”

DAMAGE CONTROL

These three examples (Haiti, Ethiopia, and Niger) show that there are different ways to cope with the consequences of climate change. Increasing the resistance of communities in the South is essential to combat famine and poverty as a consequence of climatic conditions. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to have an impact on the causes of these conditions.

It is clear that development aid alone will not turn around climate change. Structural solutions, that are raised first and foremost on the political level, remain necessary. ‘Climate action’ became an objective in the 2030 Agenda (SDG 13). However, political frameworks and treaties will usually remain unenforceable. Until we achieve this structural change, it is Caritas’ mission to limit human and environmental damage – which is greater in the global South – as much as possible.


#whatishome is a three-year social media campaign financed by the European Union to increase development education and awareness raising (DEAR) within the scope of the MIND project. 11 countries and 12 Caritas organizations are participating in this campaign. More information can be found here. The content on this page is the responsibility of Caritas International and does not necessarily reflect the official views of the European Union.

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Footnote :

[1]

An 11.11.11. report tells us that 98% of all people that become victims of climate change live in developing countries.

[3]

According to the FAO, Climate-Smart Agriculture is a collection of climate-proof technologies and methods for integrated agricultural systems and management. The goal is to increase the productivity of agriculture in a sustainable way, to increase the resilience of agricultural communities and to emit fewer greenhouse gases. More information here.

[4]

The hungry gap, or soudure, is a period before the first harvests when the stock from previous harvests has already been exhausted. There is often a shortage at this time, which results in a sharp price increase.

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