Climate Change is a recognised threat to global agriculture and places in jeopardy the wellbeing of the poorest people whose fragile livelihoods are primarily dependent on agricultural production. Millions of farmers own less than one hectare of land, live on less than $1 a day and struggle to produce enough to feed their families, these are the people on the frontline when famine strikes. The fragility of their livelihoods will increase if serious climate action isn’t taken.
At the Bonn climate change talks the UNFCCC secretariat must be congratulated for dedicating time to discuss the climate change threat to global agriculture. The secretariat organised a series of workshops at which parties were asked to present on a number of critical agricultural issues, this blog reports on the first of these workshops, which explored forecasting and early warning systems highlighting progress and outstanding challenges.
Overall the workshop reflected the current state of play, with developed countries presenting fairly coherent approaches that linked meteorological services, with extension advisors, policymakers and most importantly farmers and others whose livelihoods are dependent on primary production. Unfortunately the developing countries struggled to report on more than a few isolated pilot projects.
The workshop clearly recognised the immense benefits that forecasting and early warning systems can deliver, unfortunately very few farmers in the developing world are receiving these benefits and their productivity is therefore compromised. These countries recognised a number of almost universally barriers to these systems, which included issues of compatibility of existing software and hardware designed for a developed country context and the need for technology transfer and supportive financing. They recognised their huge limitations in technical capacity, especially human capacities to install, maintain and manage these systems. They also highlighted the need for systems that deliver useful and meaningful information for local farmers. This will require an interface that can support local languages and indigenous knowledge, linking science to local systems and making forecast and early warning information usable for local people.
Interestingly at the same time on the other side of the world the ICT for Agriculture community (#ICTforAg and #ICT4Ag) were discussing the role of technology. It was reported that agricultural yields can be boosted by access to up to date information, about markets price, short term weather information and longer term seasonal forecasts, with a 11% increase reported for text messaging, however when this information was provided as recorded messages the productivity benefits jumped to 26%. This clearly demonstrates the need not only for information but for information in a form that can be acted upon.
So let’s hope the Paris Climate agreement to be signed at COP21 recognises the potential of forecasting and early warning systems and puts in place effective mechanisms for technology transfer, not just handing out bespoke systems, but also how to work with developing country partners to develop appropriate systems that meet local needs. Technology transfer will also require financing, it’s not fair to only hand out technology, it is vital to support countries to develop and adapt systems which meet their particular needs. In the spirit of technology justice, sharing knowledge and finance will empower developing countries to design systems that build on their existing skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions that reduce the fragility of the poorest and most vulnerable, those on the frontline when natural hazards strike.
The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn this week.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I have now been in Zimbabwe for a week, most of which has been a whirlwind of hectic activity, helping a local journalist cover our work for the Guardian Christmas appeal.
The trip hasn’t been easy. Zimbabwe has a pretty good transport infrastructure, but we have wasted hours at the dozens of police checkpoints which are dotted at regular intervals throughout the country.
My presence also attracted interest from Government representatives wherever I went, and we wasted more hours waiting for them to accompany us on field visits. Once they joined us even more time was spent in preliminary meetings with local officials, massively limiting the time we had to talk to the people we are actually there to help.
And when we finally did get talking, there was a palpable sense of unease, a raised eyebrow or a failure to answer the question when I asked how things are now compared to before Practical Action got involved with the community.
Throughout the week, I’ve not been able to quite shake off the feeling that getting to the real truth, and the real people we need to help, is a challenge I’ve not quite conquered.
Nevertheless, I have been proud to work for Practical Action. Like many others before me, I was taken with our micro-hydro project in Chipendeke. Just imagining the dozen or so volunteers carrying hundreds of bags of cement and assorted heavy and awkward gear up the mountainside makes me wince, but it also puts into perspective just how important access to electricity is for people who haven’t got it. The fact we have a dozen or so similar projects running throughout southern Africa should be a massive source of pride to everyone associated with Practical Action.
Our work helping hundreds of people make more from their smallholdings via our podcasts also impressed as did our ridiculously simple but clever way of water conservation in Keya Tshuma’s drought-hit farm right on the Botswana border. Following our advice he and his wife have dug 6,000 15cm by 15cm holes and filled them with manure before planting maize seeds. In this way, what little rain falls is kept for longer and his maize has a chance of growing. “I didn’t know about this before,” he said. “Without Practical Action coming to me I would have been in great trouble this year.”
It was the sort of comment that makes all the hassle worthwhile.No Comments » | Add your comment
It has been 12 months since Northern Kenya, and Mandera County in particular, saw one of the worst droughts in 60 years.
Thanks to your support, Practical Action was able to help thousands of poor people cope with the drought. But we need your help more than ever to ensure that the region doesn’t slip back into crisis when the next drought occurs.
Mandera County has an area of over 25,000 square kilometres of dry land and a population of 1,025,000 people. Most of these people are pastoralists who depend on their livestock to survive.
As we were already working in this area we expanded our services to help those most at risk.
Impact of the 2011 drought
Due to the failure of the rains from October to December 2010, water sources dried up and pastures diminished. Many livestock died as a result and their owners were unable to sustain their livelihoods and feed their families.
Inadequate and inappropriate economic, social and political preparedness strategies and ineffective early warning systems left pastoralists more vulnerable to the effects of drought. Interventions only begin when the drought impacts have reached emergency levels and the biggest casualty is usually the livestock and their poor owners.
What Practical Action did and how we did it
With the onset of the drought, Practical Action, with support from The Brooke and The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) launched an emergency programme of work to minimize the losses of pastoralist livestock and donkeys.
We set up a feeding and vaccination programme for sheep and goats.
Donkey health service drives were provided to reduce worm infestations and treat opportunistic diseases that would have weakened donkeys or led them to early deaths.
We trained donkey owners and handlers to take care of their working animals to ensure no donkey died from thirst and overworking and distributed hay and feed to over 5,000 donkeys.
9,000 litres of diesel was provided to seven boreholes to support extension work on animal welfare at watering points. Crucially, water was also provided for villages located far away from water points. Four water troughs were rehabilitated, cracks repaired and piping done to connect it to a permanent water source.
Together with SPANA, we launched a media campaign to highlight the plight of livestock and their poor owners at the time when governments, aid agencies and international communities were concentrating their efforts on refugees. You can see the coverage here. Following this coverage, the UK government pledged an additional £4 million to support livestock in the region.
Without our urgent intervention and the intervention by others, the drought ravaging the region at that time could have got a lot worse.
What is the situation now?
Mandera County received some good short rains between October and December 2011. However, the long rains expected between March and May this year were below the normal level. A total of 54.4 mm of rainfall was recorded at Mandera meteorological station, compared to the normal rains of 100 to 150 mm. The pasture condition is normal but dry.
The condition of livestock is fair to good. However, this is expected to deteriorate as pastures dry up and water sources diminish over the summer, which will increase stress on the animals before the onset of the short rains in October to November 2012.
There is also low calving among cattle and camel due to the low conception rate during the last year’s drought. As a result, there is not much milk from camels and cattle.
What do we need to do as we look ahead?
Droughts are cyclical – they will return to the region. During every drought nearly 80% of Mandera’s population slide into an emergency situation – losing livestock which lead to hunger, malnutrition and even death. That is why we need your help to support our work, so we can:
- Provide fuel subsidy for motorized water pumps running boreholes so these pumps can run 24/7 while poor pastoralists are unable to contribute to its running costs as a result of their animals losing value or dying. Support should also come in form of fast moving spare parts and expertise for water pump repairs.
- Introduce water/pasture saving, treatment and conservation technologies
- Maintain livestock food aid and animal health services to cushion the poor livestock owners from shocks that would diminish their livestock during drought.
- Initiate long term recovery activities such as de-silting and repairing strategic water sources, vaccinating and de-worming livestock to make them better able to stand adverse conditions, and supporting fodder producers with fuel subsidy and irrigation technologies.
- Advise pastoral communities to use reserve grazing land if available or to sell their livestock well before the water and pasture situation becomes critical.
- Rehabilitate degraded rangeland to eventually improve pasture availability.
- Facilitate animal health services and emergency livestock feed services along the livestock routes running between common border areas with Ethiopia and Somalia. This will help reduce economically important trans-boundary livestock diseases during the period of huge livestock influx between porous borders.
- Lobby for the suspension of taxes and service fees levied on livestock sellers during the emergency period to help in emergency off-take.
As the world marks World Refugee Day in honour of the 43 million refugees living across our planet, I felt compelled to write about the refugees I met last year in Mandera County, North East Kenya.
This is the photo I have as my Twitter background (@gemmahume1) of some of the refugees I met. What will probably strike you, as it did me, is that despite the unimaginable hardship they face…they are still smiling. I will never forget the smiles on those women’s faces.
Each has suffered more than I could imagine. And yet, they continue to persevere. I wanted to write this in recognition of their resilience and spirit.
Sadly, a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain one for many years and I wonder now if they are still where I saw them a year ago.
The emergency relief camps I went to in north eastern Kenya were full of pastoralists whose livelihoods had been destroyed as a result of recurring droughts.
The droughts decimated their livestock and many of them were forced to forsake their traditional culture.
One refugee camp I visited was in El Wak, a town in Mandera county. Here, I met Kausa, a 50-year-old grandmother. After the rains failed and drought killed her livestock, she was forced to leave her home and walk more than 50 miles to El Wak to get help. By the time she arrived at the camp four days later, two of her grandchildren had died. She said:
“My husband ran away when the animals died. There was no water, no food. First the cows died, then the goats and the camels. I knew we had to leave. Everyone was weak from hunger and thirst.”
She now depends on handouts in El Wak as she’s unable to provide food for her remaining ten children and six grandchildren.
Another grandmother, Fatima (pictured below), aged 56, told me that when she lost her herd of 200 goats she knew that life as a pastoralist as over. She said:
“I know I cannot go back and I will now carry firewood on my back to earn money to feed my family because there is not enough food here to feed everybody.”
I thought about my mum, who was a similar age, carrying firewood on her back for the rest of her days to put food on the table.
The pain and suffering that I saw here made me so deeply sad but also frustrated. There was aid coming into the Mandera region. But this was food aid being brought for people, not the livestock they depended on. Yes, these people were hungry and needed food. But as far as I could see it, this was a short-term survival solution. They cannot live on handouts forever.
Practical Action is working with communities on a variety of projects such as:
- rehabilitating water structures such as shallow wells
- improving the market for livestock
- supporting animal health services working with authorities and organisations on managing drought situations
- improving access to information services on health, water, vaccinations, seasonal forecasts and technology
- linking them to other emergency service providers.
Unless decisive action is taken to help these nomadic herders adapt even further to the extremes of climate change, they will no longer be able to sustain their way of life. They will remain in refugee camps for the forseeable future. There must be a huge programme of investment to enable pastoralists to cope with climate change and ensure they don’t end up, like Kausa and Fatima, as refugees…just a number – one of 43 million.No Comments » | Add your comment
I crave sunshine. I think it comes from being born just after Midsummer. I feel at my happiest when sitting in dappled sunlight, underneath the promise of a cloudless blue sky.
So the last three weeks of constant rain, and the forecast of the wettest and coldest May for many years, fill me with melancholy.
Yet in spite of the current weather, we are in a time of drought, and counties up and down the UK face hosepipe bans until the end of this year at least.
It’s strange to be in drought during a time of so much rain. I was in Kenya during the drought in the Horn of Africa last summer. It was the worst that the region had witnessed for 60 years. The red flesh of the earth was barren, the empty river beds like bloodless veins. Cattle carcasses littered the horizon, and the wind carried the pungent smell of death.
One woman I met told me that she prayed for rain every single day, a prayer for rain to comfort the earth, to bring food and hope and life.
So today – even though the rain makes me crave tea and hobnobs and an old film and bed – I am remembering that woman, and her prayers for rain. I am reminding myself to be grateful for it.
There’s another drought this year in the African Sahel, which comprises Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and northern Senegal. A toxic combination of low rainfall, high food prices, entrenched poverty and regional conflict means that 13 million people are at risk of malnutrition and starvation.
Those 13 million mums, dads, children and grandparents are probably praying for rain too.
We are so lucky we don’t have to.
Unlike some larger NGOS, Practical Action is not an aid agency, and we do not deliver emergency relief. Instead, we believe passionately that it is only through long-term development work using appropriate technology that poor and vulnerable communities can become more resilient, and the desperate tragedy of drought and famine can be avoided. You can support our work here.No Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve never entertained the idea of getting a tattoo…until last year, at the age of 33, when I went to Mandera in north east Kenya during the height of the drought.
What I saw there shocked me.
People walking an average of 20 miles a day in 40°C just to go and fetch water. And this journey is one fraught with danger. Water is in such short supply that violence regularly breaks out at the few remaining wells – with many innocent women and children wounded or killed.
Most of the time, the water they get isn’t even clean. It’s water like this from a polluted, dirty, hand-dug well that’s infested with all kinds of visible things…worms, tadpoles, bugs:
Unsafe water like this kills 4,000 children every day…and it will continue. With climate change, the incidence of drought is increasing. People will continue to take desperate measures to get water – any water.
Practical Action is reducing the trek that people have to make to fetch water by rehabilitating shallow wells dug into seasonal river beds and building sand filters to purify the water further.
I spoke to Nadifa at one of the rehabilitated shallow wells who said she now only has to walk two kilometres to fetch water and feels much safer.
“The well helps my family so much. The water is good because it is fresh. I can drink it and use it for my cooking”.
This month, the UN announced that the international target to halve the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water has been met, five years before the 2015 deadline.
Yet 783 million people still live without safe water.
Today, Thursday 22 March, is World Water Day – a day of the year when we spotlight the global safe water and sanitation issue and the collective efforts underway to get solutions to those struggling and in need.
The issue has made a permanent impression on me. So, here it is:
It’s my own way of honouring a cause that is close to my heart. Any nervousness or reasons to not get it done are easily overcome by the reminder that at the end of the day, I have clean water to drink.
What has made a permanent impression on you?5 Comments » | Add your comment
Intrigued by ‘A Field Manual of Camel Diseases’ (on special offer at our bookshop www.developmentbookshop.com) I decided to find out why camels are so important.
As I write, East Africa is in the grip of crippling drought. Nearly 70% of households in Mandera (one of the areas in Kenya where we work) are receiving food aid. With climate change the incidence of drought is increasing and in many ways becoming a fact of life. But relief aid is only a palliative solution and at Practical Action we understand the vital importance of long term sustainable solutions – solutions that give people hope and build ability to cope.
This is where camels come in. There are 1.8 million camels in the North Eastern Province of Kenya. They are used for milk and meat, for transport and power. Someone’s just told me the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation regard camel milk as a super food as it has three times more vitamin C than cow’s milk and even in drought conditions camels produce between 3 and 5 times as much milk as cows. But this traditional way of earning a living and feeding families in drought prone areas is being overlooked – in part because camels are not being managed and looked after properly. Preventable and curable conditions such as mastitis and internal parasite infestation account for more than 50% of diseases killing these vitally needed and precious animals. Just one reason why this book is so important.
Camels can make a significant contribution to food security and child nutrition – even in situations of extreme drought.
I never knew that, now I do – our field manual really is important.No Comments » | Add your comment
2011 Blog Action Day on 16 October – World Food Day – is, naturally, themed around food
World Food Day gives us an opportunity to not only reflect but also to rethink how we can, in our capacities, feed the world.
Feeding the world is one of today’s biggest challenges for many countries, especially in the greater Horn of Africa where more than 11 million people face starvation. In recent months, millions went hungry and countless malnourished children died. Many are still without food today. This was, and still is, without doubt, a major world crisis. In Kenya, nomadic pastoralists living in the fragile northern parts of the country are particularly at risk. Women, the old and children under five are worst affected.
The region has suffered from more intense recurring drought and flooding over the years. The affected populations who have witnessed the negative effects now associated with climate change know the consequences of these natural and man-made disasters. The levels of malnutrition and famine have reached their highest percentages.
The distressing experiences of their tales haunt those who dare spare some time to ‘feel them’. One such statement is from Kausa, a 50-year-old grandmother, we met in Elwak, northern Kenya, two months ago.
“As a woman, it hurts to see my children cry with hunger,” she said. “It’s more painful as a mother to tell them that I don’t have any food to give them.”
The sheer need of this situation only confirms my belief that Practical Action’s long term development work, which is reaching out to these vulnerable communities to increase their resilience to climate change and drought, is needed now more than ever.
We know that pastoralism will be seriously affected by climate change but on the degree and locations of these impacts we are less certain. But unless we put in place adaptation to climate change, many millions of the poorest already negatively affected by food insecurity and other challenges will continue to suffer the most.
Tackling food insecurity/hunger requires more than just increasing livestock production and farm outputs. We should all aim to produce sufficient food to supply the full nutritional requirements of the human species whilst attempting to live in harmony with the natural environment and its finite resources.
Simple calculated steps on the choice and use of appropriate technologies can, and always will, yield good results. A vital step is to empower these vulnerable communities and groups to take control and increase their own food production. And to do this, we have to combine the best of all approaches to sustainably to improve the food security situation.
For the pastoralists, whose mainstay is best suited for the fragile ecosystems they inhabit, it is time to put in place pro-pastoralist policies and interventions that will lead to the industry being not only profitable, but competitive, more resilient, better able to provide environmental benefits and give greater choice, innovation and value to producers for them not to rely on relief aid.
Sustaining the above wishes will of course require huge commitment and continued effort by all stakeholders over the long haul. There are no quick fixes. But we know that we can defeat hunger by investing in: interventions that improve food production, marketing and the market systems, and their supply chains that in the long term will empower them to produce more and earn an income that can be used to cater for basic healthcare, education to ensure food security in the future.2 Comments » | Add your comment
2011 Blog Action Day on 16 October – World Food Day – is, naturally, themed around food
Food is a basic human need. Yet for many people across the world, this basic human need is not that easy to come by.
Putting food on the table is a struggle for small scale farmers and pastoralists with little income or natural resources. It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it, that the very people who grow food or rear livestock for food are those that go hungry? Why? Lack of agricultural knowledge and investment, little access to credit, little access to markets, growing competition for land and price volatility.
What is more, where the climate is changing year on year, there are no spare resources to adjust or adapt practices in order to reduce the impacts of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.
I was recently in Mandera, north western Kenya, where I came face-to-face with the terrible reality of drought, and the devastating impact it’s having on families and children.
People hadn’t eaten for days, yet when asked what they needed, not one person said they needed food. In fact, any food aid they received went to their livestock. What they needed was rain so they could grow their crops and feed their livestock.
So it was good to see Practical Action working with agricultural communities to cope with drought by helping to develop drought resistant crops, protect livestock and conserve precious water.
High up in the Andes in Peru, the temperature can drop to as low as -35 degrees centigrade and there is practically no vegetation. Practical Action works with communities to grow food that will survive these harsh conditions.
And in flood prone places like Bangladesh where it’s impossible to grow crops, Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land.
We work with entire market systems, often focusing on helping poor farmers and producers to build their abilities to engage with people they do business with and get better deals for themselves and their communities.
Investing in farmers and pastoralists like this ensures not only can they put food on the table but they can also earn more money – working themselves out of poverty.
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Mandera residents are among the hardest hit by the current drought. However, their plight has not been highlighted as much compared to other areas like Turkana. As a result, many pastoralist families continue to suffer.
Able bodied men and women, who in the recent months were proud owners of healthy animals, have lost a majority if not all their animals due to the drought. The Ministry of Livestock estimates the losses to between 45-60%. The loss of their animals – the main source of their livelihoods and income – has reduced many to internally displaced persons living in makeshift camps where relief supplies are normally distributed by the government or humanitarian agencies.
During our recent trip to the area I could not help but notice the loss of pride and the level of devastation in the eyes of these pastoralists. Their experiences are moving. It is overwhelming. I can only imagine the explanations the men and the women give to their children when they are no longer able to provide food to them.
“What needs to be done to secure the pastoralists’ sources of livelihood?,” asked Tom Kimani, a Kenyan journalist.
As an organization we believe that although time is extremely short and the needs are great, efforts by all stakeholders to save the lives of many pastoralist and their generations should not stop at providing emergency aid. Relief is important but not enough. We must move beyond it to help these impoverished regions escape from extreme poverty and become more resilient to the changes in weather associated with climate change. The use of appropriate technology to address the challenge cannot be overemphasized.
Despite the above state of affairs, all is not lost. Our mission came across healthy herds of animals at watering points in Garba Xuoley, Borehole eleven and in Mandera township thanks to one of the current emergency interventions by Practical Action in the area. The initiative, built on observations that pastoralists share some of the limited relief food supplies with their animals to save their capital asset, has so far given a number of the pastoralists a reason to smile. The organization with support from the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) and The BROOKE is not only providing the animals with supplementary feeds and concentrates but also providing them with essential animal health services to secure a nucleus of animals capable of surviving the overwhelming effects of the drought.
“The animals being fed today are descendants of those animals that were secured during the 2005/06 drought period. We are not only grateful but optimistic that the animal feed and the health services will help see a number of our animals to the next rainy season,” said Fatima Mohamed whose herd has been reduced from 120 to 40.
And although the noble initiatives are making a difference in the lives of the animals of poor pastoralists in the area it does not reach all the areas. The rations are not enough. Generosity and speed are of the essence. With your support more can be done to cushion pastoralists’ sources of livelihood.
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