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The injustice of climate change: Voices from Africa

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Farmers and pastoralists in Africa are remarkably consistent across countries in how they report climate is changing. These changes are still relatively small but, combined with the effects of chronic poverty, disease and environmental degradation, are already having severe human consequences. The changes are consistent with what is expected to occur due to man-made global warming and will increase. Women are especially impacted. Africa is least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, but will suffer some of the most damaging consequences. Adaptation is essential. This will require finance from international sources. However, there is much African governments can and should do to start. Boosting adaptation to current climatic variability and shocks and tackling poverty will bring benefits today and for the future.
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The injustice of climate change: voices from Africa
John Magrath a
a Oxfam GB, Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Oxford, OX4 2JY, UK
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To cite this article: John Magrath (2010): The injustice of climate change: voices from Africa, Local Environment,
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VIEWPOINT
The injustice of climate change: voices from Africa
John Magrath
Oxfam GB, Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Oxford OX4 2JY, UK
Farmers and pastoralists in Africa are remarkably consistent across countries in how
they report climate is changing. These changes are still relatively small but, combined
with the effects of chronic poverty, disease and environmental degradation, are
already having severe human consequences. The changes are consistent with what is
expected to occur due to man-made global warming and will increase. Women are
especially impacted. Africa is least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, but will
suffer some of the most damaging consequences. Adaptation is essential. This will
require finance from international sources. However, there is much African
governments can and should do to start. Boosting adaptation to current climatic
variability and shocks and tackling poverty will bring benefits today and for the future.
Keywords: climate change; Africa; justice; injustice; adaptation
Climate change: the human testimony
Mr Siga Govender in Durban, South Africa, who has been farming since 1976, grows
spinach, mint, lettuce, cabbage, thyme, brinjal and chillies and employs 16 labourers,
mostly women. His description of how the climate is changing is repeated not only
across his country but also across the southern Africa region and beyond.
He says:
As a little boy I could distinctly see the different seasons, but now I do not understand why
when it’s hot it’s killing, and when it rains it sweeps everything away. It is God’s wish. We
used to have four seasons in a year but these days you can have the four seasons in one day
and you cannot plan. If you put your pesticide down in the morning it will soon be washed
away by a storm in the afternoon, and the insects do not die. If the floods come as they did
recently I lose the entire crop. This is very costly for me.
If it rains very heavily, his labourers do not come to work and if it is extremely hot
they are constantly sick. In almost 408C, the women suffer from heat exhaustion, heavy
sweating, dizziness and terrible headaches. His wife gives them tablets such as paracetamol,
but this does not help much. His crops begin to die too. “Production is less when people are
uncomfortable and sick, you cannot push people”, he says.
Siga used to make a monthly income of more than 30,000 rands per month and was able
to pay his workers, but now he says he can make only 15,000 rands per month and it is a
struggle to pay them.
ISSN 1354-9839 print/ISSN 1469-6711 online
#2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2010.511642
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Email: jmagrath@oxfam.org.uk
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In Malawi, Mrs Caroline Malema describes seeing her friends and neighbours selling
sex to earn a little extra money to feed their children. Standing before an audience of
government officials, civil servants, international donors and aid workers in the capital,
Lilongwe, she explains the sequence of events that leads to sex-selling and more HIV
and AIDS in her home district of Karonga.
She says women farmers like herself used to grow bananas along the Rukuru River, but
increased floods have eroded the riverbanks and tumbled their banana groves into the stream.
They also used to grow rice. Rice was a good earner, and the income was largely under the
control of women. But the frequent floods have swept away the fertile alluvial soil or buried
it under sand. She attributes more and longer-lasting floods both to more intense rains,
concentrated into shorter periods, and to deforestation of hillsides and riverbanks.
With bananas and rice gone, and their incomes with them, some women may have little
choice but to sell their bodies to survive. Selling sex means that HIV and AIDS are on the
increase. Women with HIV have less energy to work in the fields, so can grow even less.
Furthermore, they need better nutrition to be able to work. Cassava has been a traditional,
dependable food source, but yields of even this hardy, stubborn root are declining in the face
of rising temperatures and longer dry spells between rains.
Furthermore, women with HIV are also more susceptible to other illnesses. Caroline
Malema explains: “Previously the month of June was cold, but nowadays people don’t
even wear warm clothing because June is warm. We never used to be bothered by mosqui-
toes in June, but these days mosquitoes bite us all year round and incidences of malaria
have risen.”
The diet of the whole Karonga district has changed in recent years. It is increasingly
uncommon to find the once traditional dish of “mbalagha” made of boiled plantains
(bananas) and beef. There are other, social and economic, factors behind dietary changes, but
people say that climatic changes are influential. As well as the plantain trees dying, people
say rising temperatures are causing pasture to dry up and have brought more cattle diseases.
Mrs Malema, as chairlady of the women’s forum in Karonga, was invited to Lilongwe
by the international aid agency Oxfam to publicise a report on links between climate
change, poverty and the environment in Malawi (The Winds of Change 2009). The
connections are complex.
Malawi, like much of Africa, has always had a highly variable climate; very poor rains
can be expected across the country every few years and even good rains can be highly vari-
able, blessing some places and missing others only a few miles away. Women’s unequal
place in society means that they have less access to land or resources to farm successfully
and can be put under more pressures to have sex in exchange for money, food, employment
or even education. Under these circumstances, selling sex is, and has always been, to a
greater or lesser extent, a last resort for many women during the pre-harvest hungry
months of December to February, even in relatively good years.
Now women say that the pressures they face are intensifying due to a combination of
changes. They especially cite: changes to the rains; degradation of the environment,
especially water sources and woodlands; HIV and AIDS and the need to care for AIDS
orphans; shortage of land; and ongoing poverty and inability to invest to make things
better. These trends act on and react with each other.
Over the last 4 years, Oxfam staff and partners have talked to farmers and pastoralists,
as well as government officials, in some dozen countries in Africa to discuss their percep-
tions of climate change and to discover what strategies they might be using to adapt. What
people say is remarkably and worryingly consistent across all countries and echoes the
words of Mr Govender and Mrs Malema.
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In Bundibugyo district of western Uganda, the author spoke to Mbejuna Lazaro, an
elderly farmer. He enumerated the crops he grows cocoa and coffee, vanilla, matoke,
soya beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, maize and groundnuts and said that he was branch-
ing out into beekeeping. However, when asked what climatic changes he had observed in
nearly 40 years, he scratched his chin, pondered and finally said: “I must refer your question
to my wives”. His elder wife Florence Madamu emerged from the kitchen and immediately
put a different perspective on farming matters.
She said:
The cassava no longer yields anything, there are flies that eat up the leaves. Mosaic virus
attacks the bananas. This area no longer produces beans; we’ve tried and failed. Sometimes
we grow soya beans but they don’t do well. The only crop that currently does well is sweet
potato; for the cassava there’s no hope. The yields have completely gone down because of
the current weather changes. All this is a result of long spells of sunshine and whenever it
rains it rains so heavily it destroys all our crops in the fields. You can plant a whole acre or
two and come out with nothing.
Asked how does she adapt her farming methods she threw up her hands.
We’ve stopped even adopting seasonal planting, because it’s so useless. Now we just try all the
time. We used to plant in March, and that’d be it, finished. Now we plant and plant again. We
waste a lot of seeds that way, and our time and energy. We regret it so often, why we planted.
Then we have to plan to acquire other seeds, and the seeds here are very costly. Sometimes you
feel like crying. Sometimes you’ve hired labour and you end up losing all that money for pre-
paring your land.
The difference in perspective between Florence and her husband as to the health of the
crops is striking, probably due to her working in the fields almost every day of the year,
tending and weeding the crops, whereas her husband’s direct involvement is largely
restricted to certain times when heavy labour is needed, particularly planting and harvest
times. Yet across Africa, male farmers are mainly responsible for strategic decisions
about which crops to grow.
Among Ugandan farmers who spoke to Oxfam opinion has been universal that the long
rains, from March to June, are no longer as reliable as they were; this effectively shortens
the growing season and therefore makes it difficult or impossible to grow crops that need
a full 3 months to mature. Many local, and highly nutritious, varieties of crops have
disappeared. In Mubende in central Uganda, June is traditionally known as “Ssebo
Asseka”, literally meaning “Father is laughing” because this is harvest time and maize
should be plentiful. Now farmers increasingly say that the rains are so erratic that maize
is frequently dried up by June. The second rains that come in October are said to be increas-
ingly heavy and destructive but do not last in November.
Climate change: the scientific data
Meteorological data, although missing or poor for much of Africa, tend to confirm farmer’s
perceptions of changes in their climate.
A rise in temperature over the last 10 20 years is the primary trend noted by farmers
and pastoralists whom Oxfam has spoken to. An average warming of some 0.58C
happened across the continent during the twentieth century.
1
One long-standing record
shows that sea surface temperatures off southern Africa increased by about 0.258C per
decade over the last four decades, i.e. by nearly 18C between 1963 and 2003 and by
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nearly 28C in total since 1903 (Southern African Data Centre for Oceanography 2010).
Winters are notably warmer and minimum temperatures notably higher with far fewer
very cold days and nights. Over 1961 2000, the averaged occurrence of extreme hot
days and nights increased by 8.2 and 8.6 days per decade, respectively, over southern
Africa as a whole, including significant changes in both Malawi and Mozambique
(New et al. 2006).
Temperature influences rainfall, but rainfall patterns are affected by many other factors,
so changes are harder to discern or attribute to warming. Furthermore, rainfall is, and has
always been, highly variable from year to year and subject to oscillations over decades
or longer. Such “normal” rainfall variability on different scales is so great that it is likely
to obscure trends caused by climate change, at least through the next 20 years. Nevertheless,
certain general trends in rainfall characteristics appear to be already discernible.
In Uganda, the March June rains are indeed faltering: they are becoming broken-
backed. Since 1950, there has been a downward trend in rainfall in April, despite high
year-on-year variability.
2
The number of rainy days in April has also declined. Then in
May there is evidence of more intense rains, with slightly more rain occurring in fewer
rainy days. Across Southern Africa, studies have found evidence that rainfall is more con-
centrated into fewer days with more rain and more intense rain, with a significant increase in
maximum annual 5-day and 1-day rainfall (New et al. 2006). There is a clear and consistent
trend of an increase in the length of the dry season, which is April to October for much of
the region (New 2006, Tadross et al. 2005, 2007, The Winds of Change 2009; also see
IPCC 2007).
Climate change is unlikely to fundamentally alter present climates or replace one with
another; it will instead extend and emphasise current climate characteristics. Africa’s
current climates could well become even more erratic, uncertain and extreme. Even in
places that climate models predict will probably receive somewhat more rain in total, across
east Africa and the Horn, more rain might not be useful if it is not spread evenly; more
intense and concentrated rain could cause more floods and yet also be associated with
increased droughts. As one farmer in South Africa said: “Drought is easier to cope with
because we are used to it. The heavy rains are not good because we need a little and often”.
More droughts, less useful rain and more torrential rainbursts will have serious negative
impacts on water resources in both rural and urban areas. Diarrorheal diseases will increase
as water sources increasingly dry up and floods happen more often. Depending on the scen-
ario envisaged, the number of people at risk of increased water stress by the 2020s in Africa
could be between 75 and 250 million.
3
Higher temperatures are also likely to encourage the
spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes to new areas, particularly higher altitudes (although
many other non-climatic factors are also encouraging the spread of malaria).
Climate change will also increasingly expose and exacerbate already severe and
growing hazards. Material poverty and poverty of livelihood options mean that many
rural dwellers have little choice but to exploit their environment, which leads to drying
up of streams, drainage of wetlands, soil erosion and degradation and deforestation.
Even if climate change did not exist, these would present formidable obstacles to human
and ecological health. In Malawi, villagers in Kiliyati outside Blantyre who were inter-
viewed by Oxfam remembered the forest being 7 min walk away in the 1980s; now, it is
more than 7 h journey away.
Poverty, disease and malnutrition and the pressures put on water sources, woods and
soils currently outweigh climate change when it comes to impacts on health, livelihoods
and perceptions. Such changes in the immediate environment also contribute to local
changes in climate. Local changes in vegetation cover in the tropics can add or subtract
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– 0.88C (IPCC 2007) either way a significant increase or decrease in temperature. In
urban areas, the difference between green spaces and built-up areas can be much more.
But, these gradients will be dwarfed if there is a general average temperature increase of
3–48C across Africa by the end of this century, which is likely to happen if fossil fuel
use continues to rise at the same rate. In such a case, climate change impacts will
become extremely obvious and dangerous, potentially catastrophic. Furthermore, climate
change, whether due primarily to global or to local forcing, is already having significant
impacts in many places, combined with environmental and economic degradation.
Climate change: the struggle to adapt
An example is Hluhluwe, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal province in the northeastern
corner of South Africa. Hluhluwe is a poor community struggling to contend with increas-
ing drought, high unemployment, rising poverty and some of the highest HIV rates in the
country.
Once rich and fertile and capable of producing bountiful crops, the soil is now bone dry.
Without water, the community’s crops and gardens won’t grow. Without these vital fruits,
vegetables and grains, people aren’t able to stay healthy. And in a community affected by
HIV and AIDS, this has devastating consequences.
Thandi, one of the women in the community, says:
The ground used to be soft and easy to dig by hand; water was freely available just under the
surface and food was plentiful; there was a lake nearby that provided fish for us to eat. But now
the land is dry and hard and there is no water under the surface; even the lake has dried up.
She says rainfall has become more erratic over the last few decades, occurring less fre-
quently and for shorter periods. Other members of the community concur. The seasons are
not the same as they used to be; winter is not as cold now and summer rains are more erratic.
People here have experienced droughts and floods for as long as they can remember, but
since the mid-1990s, they have noticed a gradual drying of the land. Even the rainwater
tanks that were installed as a solution now stand dry. As we have seen above, meteorolo-
gical data backs what Thandi and others say.
Although Hluhluwe’s people know that the climate is changing, they have not heard
about global warming, nor do they have any knowledge about the current global debates
on these issues.
“We don’t know what is causing these problems”, says one community member,
Eunice, “perhaps the world is coming to an end”.
For the men and women of Hluhluwe, one thing is clear they desperately want to learn
how to adapt to the changes in climate in the longer term. At the moment, they are simply
trying to deal with the prolonged drought conditions as best they can, by doing what they
have always done but on a reduced scale. They make their gardens smaller, grow different
types of crops and walk further to collect water short-term coping mechanisms, not
long-term solutions.
“We need water pipes”, Thandi says. “We need to learn how to look after the land and
adapt to the drier conditions; we need to grow more drought-tolerant crops and vegetables;
we need to learn more about climate change; and we need training in how we can speak up
on these issues”.
How far societies will be able to adapt to climate change depends on how drastically the
climate changes, and how fast, which depends first on how much and how fast developed,
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industrialised societies reduce their emissions. Above certain temperature thresholds,
societies will not be able to adapt in any meaningful sense and human survival is at
stake. If temperatures can be stabilised – as governments have vowed to do – then
adaptation should be possible to achieve, although difficult.
In any case, certain changes are inevitable and adaptation therefore necessary, no matter
how fast emissions reductions happen and need to be planned for. For example, tempera-
tures will continue to rise for decades, and sea level will continue to rise for hundreds of
years, albeit gradually (probably). For Africa, sea level rise (SLR) threatens the fertile
and highly populated Nile delta; a 1 m rise will cause 20% of the delta to go under
water. At the same time, ground level in the delta is falling; there is less replenishment
of silt because of dams upstream and the soil is shrinking because of increased abstraction
of water along the river’s length. SLR also threatens the coastal mega-cities of West Africa.
The immediate future
African societies cannot meet, and should not be expected to meet, all adaptation costs on
their own; that would be both an impossibility and a gross injustice: African countries are
poor and being asked to adapt to a problem they had little or no responsibility for causing,
whose impacts they are bearing the brunt of.
But, African governments can start to prioritise their resources better to meet the triple
threats of climate variability, climate change and environmental degradation. For African
governments to implement the right policies, African public opinion has to be more
aware of and concerned about the threat of climate change and press politicians to act
and hold them to their promises.
It is often said that Africa’s “adaptive capacity” is low. Certainly, many factors reduce it.
These include widespread poverty, disease (particularly HIV, malaria and diarrhoea),
hunger and malnutrition. Some 300 million people regularly face chronic hunger as they
struggle to cope with current seasonal variations in climate and livelihood opportunities.
Some countries are afflicted by conflict, and others are governed by regimes that to
varying degrees are inefficient, unresponsive or corrupt.
Yet, Africa’s societies are as diverse as her geographies. It is also the case that farmers and
livestock keepers are adept at coping with variability and at exploiting change to their advan-
tage, whether through new crops or through new patterns of trade or livelihoods. They are
already adapting to increased climatic variability. Where one crop or way of making a
living becomes unviable, farmers will try another to the best of their abilities. Most such
strategies are about ramping up tried and tested methods of coping with seasonal extremes
and shocks. These include shifting to or diversifying across different crops or products;
procuring higher yielding and heat-tolerant and drought-resistant varieties; planting trees;
manuring and composting; water and soil conservation; irrigation and food storage. The
potential to expand such methods is enormous, and indeed, strategies like these are being
planned and implemented across the continent. Helping people cope better with current
climatic variability, and building on what they already do, is clearly the way to start to
adapt to whatever future climate holds. Tree planting is particularly being taken up both
by civil society, inspired by groups such as the Green Belt Movement, and by governments.
Few people know about the role of industrialised countries in global warming, but they
make clear links between their climate changing and a lack of trees. Daura Toure, a farmer
in Garalo, Mali, voices a common perception: “We notice every year the rain is diminishing,
but where this is coming from, we don’t know. The elders say when there are lots of trees, it
rains and when there are less trees, it rains less”. Up to a point, tree planting does indeed
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hold out the dual promise of helping to ameliorate local (perhaps even regional) climate and
providing assets that will help people cope with climate shocks.
A very commonly voiced attitude was well expressed to the author by Wilson Mukirane,
CEO of NORRACOL
4
in Rwenzori, Uganda:
Industrialised countries must change and cut their carbon emissions, but the common man is
cutting down the trees at the same time. We must not neglect one or the other these
things must balance. Capacity-build the local man economically to reduce deforestation so
that the carbon is brought from the air. You can’t look at industrial pollution only.
However, strategies and techniques to harvest water and soils and plant trees have been
acknowledged as “good development” and been implemented for some 50 years often
with great success in improving the lives of rural people and ecosystems alike, even in
the Sahel yet the fact remains that vulnerability continues to grow, and the pressure on
ecosystems such as forests and wetlands continues to increase.
What has to happen differently
Millions of people are in a trap. As the environment deteriorates and makes it even harder to
make a living, they must resort to cutting down trees to sell as firewood or to make charcoal,
or cultivating wetlands and watersheds, in order to survive, adding to the downward spiral
of economic and environmental destitution. Deep and widespread poverty is a major
impediment to adaptation; only the relatively better-off have the money to build crop
storage structures, irrigate their fields except by hand or purchase improved seeds.
Current strategies in rural development and in agriculture are therefore obviously often
insufficient to cope with current climatic extremes, as evidenced by chronic poverty and recur-
rent crises. Merely trying to scale up existing strategies even if that can be done on the scale
required and with the longevity needed – will not be sufficient to adapt to the future hotter and
more extreme climates that might develop. So what will make a difference this time?
Change priorities to meet the challenge posed by today’s climate
“Adaptation” has to become a political priority for governments. However, governments
struggling with resource and capacity constraints will argue that they cannot meet
current priorities such as health or education, and certainly, they must get more resources
to adapt to climate change. But if governments made a priority of starting with adaptation
to current climatic variability, it would have a dual benefit: it would go a long way to meet
immediate priorities for food security, better health and more prosperous societies, and it
would make people less vulnerable to future shocks, whether climatic or economic.
Climate justice means taking action now.
Invest in smallholder agriculture and services to farmers
There has to be a new concentration on and investment in agriculture, especially small-
holder agriculture. That means policies by African governments that respond to the real
needs of the majority, smallholder farmers and pastoralists, especially women. There
must be renewed emphasis on research and development of staple and alternative crops.
It is vital to retain and improve traditional seed varieties, which are being lost at a
great rate, while investing also in new and improved seeds and finding ways to make
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them cheap and easily accessible to farmers. Fuller climate monitoring and better short-term
weather forecasting and dissemination are also important.
New resources will be needed and will have to come from international financing mech-
anisms as part of a new deal for adaptation. But, there should also be a switch in existing
resources in many instances. In 2003, African governments committed themselves to allo-
cate at least 10% of national budgetary resources for agriculture and rural development by
2008, but still today half of the African countries spend less than 5% of their national expen-
diture on agricultural development (CAADP Policy Brief 2009). Things are improving: an
ActionAid report says that spending on agriculture by African governments doubled
between 2000 and 2005. However, “none is prioritising support to the women farmers
whose role lies at the heart of food security” (ActionAid 2010).
Make policies that really meet people’s needs
Adaptation also has to be examined and understood much more imaginatively and in line
with what people, themselves, prioritise. For example, women who spoke to researchers for
Oxfam in Malawi said that the help they needed to adapt was, first and foremost, a cre
`che to
look after HIV and AIDS orphans. A cre
`che, they said, would free up their time and energy
to cultivate their gardens properly and then to go on to invest in things such as soil conser-
vation and water harvesting that were being urged on them by aid agencies. Furthermore,
they saw adaptation as being about diversifying rural livelihoods, not just about improving
agriculture. Help they wanted included business advice, access to credit, vocational training
and employment, rural libraries, free and accessible health care, prompt assistance in
emergencies and family planning. But, donors (and governments) tend to have rigid
views (not least for accounting purposes) about what constitutes “adaptation” (which is
unlikely to include cre
`ches) and what constitutes development and seek ways to distinguish
them rather than integrate them.
Pastoralists animal herders who Oxfam has spoken to similarly say that they want
government policies that will help them adapt to climate change rather than, as at present,
policies that hinder adaptation. For pastoralists, successful adaptation would involve
enhanced mobility, not less, and they want to be able to move or be able to exercise mean-
ingful freedom of choice as to whether to move or not and have services provided that are
appropriate to their choices. At present, even services provided, such as schools or water
points, can be geared towards fulfilling government policies to press them to settle down
in the interests of either “development” or national security (Oxfam International 2008).
Invest in social protection the Ethiopia example
As climate is becoming more uncertain, there is an argument for making sure that people have
more certainty in their lives. This implies that governments provide (or facilitate) a foundation
of year-round social protection. This could come in several forms such as cash transfers, pen-
sions, employment opportunities, climate insurance, etc. Without such “assurance policies”,
the greater burden of risks associated with adapting to climate change – changing farming
patterns, trying new crops, seeking new earning opportunities and so on – will remain
with already burdened households. Their choices will then primarily reflect an assessment
of how to minimise current risks and only secondarily, if at all, an assessment of the long-
term and therefore not be adaptation at all, but merely coping.
Few places in Africa suffer from such extreme climatic variability as Ethiopia. Average
countrywide rainfall totals have remained fairly constant for the last 60 years, but there is
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evidence of a marked seasonal change over the last 20 years in the form of a decline in the
early “belg” or short rains (February to May, which is consistent with the observations of
farmers in Uganda quoted earlier). Some scientists have linked this change to rising sea
surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean, changing wind patterns and causing more rain
to fall offshore. In turn, they have linked sea surface temperatures to rising anthropogenic
greenhouse gas emissions (Funk et al. 2005, 2008; see also Ofxam International 2010).
5
In West Hararghe, 3 years of drought had seemed to come to an end this year with
intense rain that caused loss of life, livestock and assets through flooding. Unfortunately,
the early heavy rains had not continued as of time of writing this (as of June/July 2010),
and there was great anxiety about this years’ crop. The erratic rainfall has a particularly
significant impact on women. One group of women interviewed by Oxfam staff reported
that the time they spent collecting water had increased from 1 to 7 h per day, leaving
little time for any other productive activities.
But interviews in West Hararghe also demonstrate the validity of social protection
policies. The Ethiopian Government has established a Productive Safety Net Programme
(PSNP), and beneficiaries were adamant that they would not be able to survive without
the food transfers through the PSNP. Furthermore, soil and water conservation activities
undertaken through the PSNP had had positive impacts: in one village, area enclosure
and terracing had led to the regeneration of a spring that had been dry for a number of
years. The PSNP is an important policy response because it recognises the long-term
nature of food insecurity and aims to reduce the need for what had otherwise become a
near-annual “humanitarian response”. However, although it enables families to cope, it is
proving difficult for beneficiaries to “graduate” from the PSNP in the face of such erratic
rainfall and total dependence on rain-fed agriculture for livelihoods. Women’s groups high-
lighted that petty trading activities that enabled them to diversify income sources out of
agriculture had also been essential for coping with the changes.
6
Tackle food insecurity: the Malawi example
A further good example has been set by Malawi over the last 4 years, which shows what
remarkable progress can be achieved through policies aimed at unlocking the potential
of smallholder farmers helping to overcome poverty and lack of access to inputs at
reasonable prices. The last four bumper harvests from 2006/07 onwards have broken
records, in a country that was one of the most food-insecure on the continent. Millions suf-
fered famine in 2000/2001, and as recently as 2005, five million people needed food aid. In
the last 4 years, the country has been lucky; the rains were generally good but the govern-
ment against the advice of some donors put money into subsidising improved seeds
and fertiliser and worked up a steadily more effective distribution system including
the private sector to expand farmers’ access to the seeds and fertilisers.
The system is not perfect; it is said that larger farmers have benefited disproportionately
and smallholders, particularly the poorest, have benefited least. Large numbers of people
still do not produce enough food to last them all year. Dry spells in the south of Malawi
this year mean that still more than 700,000 people are food-insecure and likely to rise to
more than a million by October 2010 (FEWS NET 2010). Furthermore, national surpluses
of maize, while good for the economy in general, have not automatically or fully translated
into prices low enough to enable very many poor people to buy sufficient maize meal.
Nevertheless, average yields per hectare have more than doubled, and the total numbers
of food-insecure people have gone down drastically. The surpluses mean that the country
has buffer stocks, which, if deployed effectively, should be able to provide sufficient and
Local Environment 899
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timely relief to food-insecure areas. Perhaps, the most encouraging development is that
government officials have said that they are determined to use the breathing space provided
by the good harvests especially in the light of climate change to invest more in agri-
culture, encouraging diversification away from maize and spreading techniques such as on-
farm manure and compost-making.
Conclusion
The right policies are essential, but the other half of the equation of adaptation justice is
finance. The great global injustice is that Africa’s contribution to global greenhouse gas
emissions is tiny a mere 3%, of which nearly half is contributed by coal-rich and rela-
tively industrialised South Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa produces less than 1 metric tonne
of carbon dioxide per person per year compared with nearly 20 tonnes per person in
North America. Yet, it is likely to be the continent hit hardest by climate change; many
people – potentially millions of people – will suffer additional hardship and misery –
and inevitably, people will die as a direct result of greenhouse gas-induced climate
change. The industrialised nations whose development has caused the current global
warming have the responsibility legal, moral and political and they have the capability
to provide the great bulk of the finances that are needed to enable developing nations to
adapt to the climatic consequences.
Acknowledgements
John Magrath is Programme Researcher for Oxfam GB, for whom he has worked for nearly 25 years
in a variety of roles. For the last 4 years, he has worked primarily on the impacts of climate change and
the implications for Oxfam’s work and mandate. Reports he has written include the inter-agency
report Africa Up in Smoke 2 (2006), the Oxfam reports Climate Alarm (climate change and disas-
ters) (2007), Turning up the Heat climate change and poverty in Uganda (2008) and The Winds of
Change: climate change, poverty and the environment in Malawi (2009) and What Happened to the
Seasons?, a paper for the Seasonality Revisited Conference, Institute of Development Studies, 8 10
July 2009 (with Dr Steve Jennings).
Notes
1. Estimates vary depending on baselines chosen (start year and temperature anomaly) between 0.58
and 0.788C.
2. Micro-level analysis of seasonal trends, farmers perception of climate change and adaptation
strategies in Eastern Uganda (Mubiru et al. 2009). A fuller discussion of climate change and
seasonal impacts is in Jennings and Magrath (2009).
3. IPCC (2007). A recent assessment by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)
suggests a somewhat revised figure of between 90 and 220 million (5 July 2010).
4. North Rwenzori Rural Community Agriculture and Conservation Link. Interviewed for the
Oxfam International Report (2008).
5. Funk says: “Late 20th-century anthropogenic Indian Ocean warming has probably already
produced societally dangerous climate change by creating drought and social disruption in
some of the world’s most fragile food economies”.
6. Interviews were undertaken as part of the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA)
initiative, a consortium made up of Oxfam GB, the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI),
Save the Children Alliance, Care International and World Vision International and funded by the
UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).
900 J. Magrath
Downloaded by [Oxfam UK] at 07:33 17 August 2011
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Since 1980, the number of undernourished people in eastern and southern Africa has more than doubled. Rural development stalled and rural poverty expanded during the 1990s. Population growth remains very high, and declining per-capita agricultural capacity retards progress toward Millennium Development goals. Analyses of in situ station data and satellite observations of precipitation have identified another problematic trend: main growing-season rainfall receipts have diminished by approximately 15% in food-insecure countries clustered along the western rim of the Indian Ocean. Occurring during the main growing seasons in poor countries dependent on rain-fed agriculture, these declines are societally dangerous. Will they persist or intensify? Tracing moisture deficits upstream to an anthropogenically warming Indian Ocean leads us to conclude that further rainfall declines are likely. We present analyses suggesting that warming in the central Indian Ocean disrupts onshore moisture transports, reducing continental rainfall. Thus, late 20th-century anthropogenic Indian Ocean warming has probably already produced societally dangerous climate change by creating drought and social disruption in some of the world's most fragile food economies. We quantify the potential impacts of the observed precipitation and agricultural capacity trends by modeling "millions of undernourished people" as a function of rainfall, population, cultivated area, seed, and fertilizer use. Persistence of current tendencies may result in a 50% increase in undernourished people by 2030. On the other hand, modest increases in per-capita agricultural productivity could more than offset the observed precipitation declines. Investing in agricultural development can help mitigate climate change while decreasing rural poverty and vulnerability.
Paper for the seasonality revisited conference. UK: Institute of Development Studies
  • D N Mubiru
  • J A Agona
  • E Komotunga
Mubiru, D.N., Agona, J.A., and Komotunga, E. 2009. Paper for the seasonality revisited conference. UK: Institute of Development Studies, 8-10 July 2009.
Malawi food security outlook update
  • Fews Net
FEWS NET, 2010. Malawi food security outlook update [online]. Available from: http://www.fews. net/docs/Publications/Malawi_FSOU_2010_06_final.pdf [Accessed 20 July 2010].
Survival of the fittest: pastoralism and climate change in East Africa
  • Oxfam International
Fertile ground [online] Available from
  • Actionaid
ActionAid, 2010. Fertile ground [online] Available from: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/ fertile_ground.pdf [Accessed 20 July 2010].
A recent assessment by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) suggests a somewhat revised figure of between 90 and 220 million
  • Ipcc
IPCC (2007). A recent assessment by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) suggests a somewhat revised figure of between 90 and 220 million (5 July 2010).