Inter Press Service » Combating Desertification and Drought http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 30 Mar 2017 15:28:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 How a Devastating Hurricane Led to St. Vincent’s First Sustainability Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/how-a-devastating-hurricane-led-to-st-vincents-first-sustainability-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-devastating-hurricane-led-to-st-vincents-first-sustainability-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/how-a-devastating-hurricane-led-to-st-vincents-first-sustainability-school/#comments Thu, 30 Mar 2017 00:02:08 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149709 Director of Richmond Vale Academy in St. Vincent Stina Herberg explains how compost is produced using vegetation, cardboard, and animal droppings. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Director of Richmond Vale Academy in St. Vincent Stina Herberg explains how compost is produced using vegetation, cardboard, and animal droppings. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 30 2017 (IPS)

In the 1980s, an institution for troubled Danish youth and a vocational school for Vincentians was built in Richmond Vale, an agricultural district on the northwestern tip of St. Vincent.

It was hoped that spending time at Richmond Vale Academy would help the Danish youth to see the world from a different perspective. However, for a number of reasons, the concept didn’t pan out, the school closed and a farm was developed in its place.“It was both emotional and scary to hear these huge trees drop...That was a very big eye-opener for me.” --Stina Herberg, director of Richmond Vale Academy

In 2000, the first attempts were made to re-start the academy, which has been in full operation since 2007. Today, Richmond Vale Academy attracts young people from around the world who are troubled by poverty and what is going on with the Earth’s climate and want to do something about it.

The not-for-profit institution had previously focused mainly on poverty alleviation, with an emphasis on service in Africa. However, in 2010, Hurricane Tomas — the latest recorded tropical cyclone on a calendar year to strike the Windward Islands — passed to the north of St. Vincent, where the academy is located, and St. Lucia.

“That was a very big eye-opener for me,” Stina Herberg, director of Richmond Vale Academy, told IPS. “We were, of course, very worried but that was my very first meeting with climate change, I would say.”

The storm, which impacted St. Vincent on Oct. 30, left hundreds of homes without roofs, and, in addition to significant damage to homes and public infrastructure, destroyed about 90 per cent of banana cultivation, then an important crop for the local economy.

At Richmond Vale Academy, Herberg, her staff and their students listened as the tropical cyclone destroyed huge, decades-old trees. “It was both emotional and scary to hear these huge trees drop: you would hear it, like you put matches up and they just came down.”

The academy’s banana cultivation, which had taken three years to get to the point where it met the standards necessary for exportation to England, was also ruined.

“Three years of work was destroyed in seven hours,” Herberg said of the impact on the academy, adding, “but for other farmers, it was their lifetime’s work.

“So that caused us to ask a lot of questions. Yes, there were always hurricanes, but why are they more frequent? So it set us off to do a lot more research about climate change, about pollution, and we got a lot of eye-opening experiences.”

The research led to the St. Vincent Climate Compliance Conference 2012-2021, which aims to make St. Vincent and the Grenadines one of the first nations to become “climate compliant”.

The programme brings together local students as well as students from Europe, North America, South America, other parts of the Caribbean and Asia for programmes of one, three or six months duration, in which they learn about global warming, its causes and consequences.

The programme offers firsthand knowledge, as students can go directly into the nearby communities such as the village of Fitz Hughes or the town of Chateaubelair to see the impact on housing, public infrastructure, and the physical environment of severe weather events resulting from climate change.

However, the major focus of the programme is on “climate compliance”, which might be more frequently referred to as adaptation measures.

“Because if you going to talk about getting ready for climate change, if you are not doing it yourself, if you are going to tell people ‘I think it is a good idea to go organic. It is good for the soil, to plant trees’ — if you are not doing it for yourself, when you are speaking to other people it will be less effective,” Herberg said.

The academy has developed models and used its own farm to demonstrate ways in which the population can move away from carbon-based fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming.

For example, the academy set up a bio-gas facility that shows that mixing 1.5 kilogrammes of kitchen waste with 50 litres of water can produce fuel for five hours a day in a country where liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is the main fuel used for cooking.

“It is suitable as a model that can be used by families in villages,” Herberg said of the academy’s biogas facility.

“We cannot make hydropower plants, we cannot build geothermal power plants. Governments have a variety of plans for that, so we have to see what can we do. We are promoting solar, and also the biogas,” she said, adding that Richmond Vale Academy has secured funding to set up five biogas facilities in western St. Vincent.

“So, it mitigates because it is a renewable gas and you can produce it yourself. You don’t need transport from China or Venezuela or from the United States or wherever.”

The biogas production process results in slurry that can be used as fertilizer. “The important thing is that people know there are alternatives. I don’t think we can get everybody on biogas. I doubt that. But what is important is that we open up and say these are the options,” Herberg explains.

While potable water is almost always available on St. Vincent Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a water-stressed country as there are no rivers and no municipal supply of water in the Grenadines, an archipelago.

However, even on St. Vincent Island, with its rivers, streams, and springs, the dry season, which runs from December to May, can be especially punishing for farmers, only 7 per cent of whom have irrigation.

Richmond Vale Academy has developed a system for collecting rainwater for washing, showers, and toilets. The excess water from this system collects in a reservoir and is used for irrigation. Small fish are placed in the catchment to prevent mosquitos from breeding in it.

Further, the academy has, over the years, phased out chemical fertilizers from its farm. In explaining the link between organic farming and mitigating against climate change, Herberg tells IPS that as the climate changes, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is expected to have more periods without rain, and when the rains come, they are expected to be heavier over shorter periods.

Most of the nation’s farmers are still engaged in mono-cropping and use chemical fertilizer in their production. “The chemicals break down the soil structure, so it gets sandy, it gets dry, so then when you get some rain and the rain is heavier, it just washes away the soil,” Herberg said, adding that this leads to flooding and landslides.

“So, the way that we are farming, it is very dangerous for the future. If you look at the big picture of biodiversity, the planet’s biodiversity is what’s keeping the temperature [stable]. If you take away the biodiversity by making cities, chopping down the rainforest, whatever we decide to do to change the balance of nature, we cannot maintain a stable temperature,” she said.

She also spoke about deforestation to convert lands to agricultural and houses use. “We need to have trees that will give us shade, we need to have trees to shelter us from the heavy rains, so the farming has to change for us to get ready to live with climate change. We have to change the way we farm. Monocropping has no future.”

An important part of any discussion about adapting to climate change is the extent to which actions that have proven successful can be multiplied and scaled up.

“I’m quite optimistic and I think that St. Vincent, as it is a small country, it is easy to get around. There is consensus that we need to be more sustainable and go organic and focus on renewable energy. And I actually think that it is going to happen: that we are going to get geothermal energy, improve our hydro stations and then more people will get on to solar. So we will be one of the first countries in the Caribbean that will be nearly everything on renewable energy within a very reasonable time – maybe 10 years,” Herberg predicted.

She added that while Costa Rica is ahead of the region, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a good example in the 15-member Caribbean Community of what can be done to adapt to and mitigate against climate change. “We are not ahead in organic agriculture yet,” she said, but added that there are “some outstanding examples”.

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Sri Lanka’s Small Tea Farmers Turn Sustainable Land Managershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sri-lankas-small-tea-farmers-turn-sustainable-land-managers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-small-tea-farmers-turn-sustainable-land-managers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sri-lankas-small-tea-farmers-turn-sustainable-land-managers/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:00:01 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149681 Small tea farmer Kamakandalagi Leelavathi harvests leaves in the Uda Haupe tea estate in Kahawatte, Sri Lanka. She is one of hundreds of farmers who are shunning herbicides and other chemicals. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Small tea farmer Kamakandalagi Leelavathi harvests leaves in the Uda Haupe tea estate in Kahawatte, Sri Lanka. She is one of hundreds of farmers who are shunning herbicides and other chemicals. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
RATNAPURA, Sri Lanka, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

As the mercury rises higher, Kamakandalagi Leelavathi delves deeper into the lush green mass of the tea bushes. The past few afternoons there have been thunderstorms. So the 55-year-old tea picker in Uda Houpe tea garden of Sri Lanka’s Hatton region is rushing to complete her day’s task before the rain comes: harvesting 22 kgs of tea leaves.

“The rain is very unpredictible. Now there are downpours but it has been very dry the past few months,” says the daily wager who owns a one-acre marginal farm.

Yet at the Uda Houpe tea garden, the situation is much better, says Daurkarlagi Taranga, Leelavathi’s daughter and fellow tea farmer. “We have not been affected as badly as others. Here, the bushes are still full (of leaves) and the ground is moist thanks to the techniques we use,” she says.

These techniques are assorted green actions taken by small tea planters to manage their farmland in an eco-friendly way, explains Alluth Wattage Saman, manager of the Uda Houpe estate. The most important of these actions is minimising use of synthetic weed killer (herbicide), widely viewed as the main reason behind the degrading health of soil and tea plants in the region.

A tea picker in the Bearwell tea estate of Sri Lanka, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A tea picker in the Bearwell tea estate of Sri Lanka, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Climate threat to a lucrative sector

The tea sector of Sri Lanka is 153 years old and remain the largest industry today, providing employment to 2.5 million people. According to the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, the industry counts for 62 percent of all agricultural exports and brings home 1.6 billion dollars in foreign currency each year. Contributing to this huge business is a 400,000-strong small tea farmer community.

However, the lucrative tea economy of the island nation has been witnessing growing environmental challenges – the biggest of them being severe land degradation.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), there is high rate of land degradation across the tea growing region in Sri Lanka. The biggest reason is that farmers here have used synthetic weed killer on the plantations for several decades.

They also paid little attention to protecting the water sources and biodiversity around the plantations. This has gradually affected the health of the soil, decreasing its fertility level, making it more acidic and also causing soil erosion.

While the degradation has affected the entire industry, the livelihoods and food security of the small tea growers are particularly threatened, says Lalith Kumar, project manager at the Tea Small Holding Development Authority (TSHDA) in Ratnapura, a region that produces over 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s tea.

Harvesters in Sri Lanka’s Bearwell tea estate, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Harvesters in Sri Lanka’s Bearwell tea estate, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Greening the Small Farms

The TSHDA is a government agency working with small tea growers in the country. According to Kumar, there are 150 small tea farms (less than 10 acres of land) in the Ratnapura region alone which provide livelihood to about 100,000 farmers. Climate change has worsened the situation with recurring droughts, erratic rainfall, and increasing soil erosion and acidification.

As a result, tea bushes are withering and moisture from the topsoil is evaporating, leaving the soil hardened and plant roots weak and damaged.

To help the tea farmers deal with this, TSHDA is currently working with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on a project to minimise herbicide use in the small tea farms and reverse the processes of degradation by sustainably managing the land.

According to a document by Global Environment Facility (GEF), the funder of the 2.9 million project, the goal is to “improve farm management practices, so that existing production land becomes more productive and forests, rivers, streams and other biologically important land situated on or adjacent to tea production areas are protected from negative impacts.”

A major step taken by the TSHDA is to train the farmers to manage their land in a sustainable way with minimum or no herbicides.

“We have started to train small farm managers in sustainable land management techniques that are simple, yet effective,” Kumar said. A lot of weeds grow around the tea bush, but only some of them are harmful.

“We train them in identifying the weeds and removing the harmful ones either by uprooting or cutting them at the roots. The weeds are then used as a bed of mulch, applied in between the two rows of tea plants. This helps retain the moisture on the land,“ he explained.

Training the Community

Saman, the manager of the Uda Haupe, is one of the 300 small tea growers who have been trained by TSHDA so far. It was an informal, hands-on training, reveals Saman, which included a day-long visit to a progressive and sustainably managed farm – the Hapugastenne tea estate.

There Saman saw small farmers like him managing their land without any synthetic weed killer or pesticides. He also learned to use organic manure, protect the water sources like natural springs within the plantation, as well the shedy trees, so birds and other animals can also survive. Finally, he learnt that the yield of the farm had increased almost by 60 percent since they adopted those techniques.

The visit, says the tea planter, helped him realize “small steps can bring bring big changes in a farm”.

The result has been encouraging: “I earlier spent 35,000 on herbicide every year, now I am saving that amount. My overall profit has gone up to 75,000 rupees,” says Saman, who has shared the newfound knowledge with his workers.

Some Unplugged Gaps

Saman and other small tea farmers in the area like Leelavathi sell their harvest to Kahawatte Plantation, a tea estate owned by corporate tea giant Dilmah. Early this month, the plantation received a Rainforest Alliance certificcation which recognizes that the estate maintains sustainability standards all along its supply chain, including the farms from where it buys the tea. This has already boosted the price of the estate’s produce, but suppliers like Saman are not aware of either the certification or its economic benefits such as higher market value.

“Nobody has told us about this,” Saman says.

Others want the government to help them with monetary incentives to better deal with climatic challenges.

At present, TSHDA offers a 50 percent subsidy to farmers who want to do a replantation on their farm – a complex and costly process that involves complete uprooting of all the tea plants, re-preparing the soil and replanting the saplings.

This is done when the yield in the farm drops dramatically due to either age (normally 30 years) or severe degradation of the land that cripples productivity. However, there are no other subsidies or incentives provided to the farmers right now for adopting sustainable land management – a policy that small tea growers like Leelavathi would like to see change.

“Since the use of the mulch, I began to save 700 rupees every month on herbicide and my total income rose to 15,000. But because of the growing droughts, I have to use most of it on fertilizer. If the government gives a subsidy, it will be very helpful. Or else I may have to migrate to another estate to earn more,” she says.

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Caribbean Faces Forecast for Prolonged Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-faces-forecast-for-prolonged-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-faces-forecast-for-prolonged-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-faces-forecast-for-prolonged-drought/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 00:02:24 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149670 A manmade rainwater catchment on a farm in Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A manmade rainwater catchment on a farm in Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

The Caribbean Drought & Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN) is warning countries in the region that the same abnormal climate conditions they have experienced over the last few years, which resulted in some of the worst drought in two decades, could continue this year.

Several Caribbean countries, particularly in the eastern Caribbean, experienced a drier than normal February, and in some cases both February and January were relatively dry, CDPMN said."In my view for agriculture, drought is a more serious threat to us than in fact hurricanes.” --Donovan Stanberry

The Barbados-based network also said that although there is some uncertainty over rainfall during the March to May period in some parts of the Caribbean, concerns remain for the western Caribbean/Greater Antilles for both short and long term drought, and in the southern portion of the eastern Caribbean for long term drought.

“Some models also suggest the possibility for the return of El Niño, and drier than normal conditions late in 2017,” Chief of Applied Meteorology and Climatology at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), Adrian Trotman told IPS. “The CDPMN will continue to monitor this situation.”

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. When the trade winds that usually blow from east to west weaken, sea surface temperatures start rising, setting off a chain of weather impacts.

In 2015 and 2016, a powerful El Niño drove up global temperatures and played a role in droughts in many parts of the world.

The so-called “Super El Niño” is said by experts to have had a role in driving global temperatures to record highs.

CDPMN said apart from portions of Barbados and Dominica that were slightly wet, the islands of the eastern Caribbean were normal to below normal regarding rainfall for the month.

It said Trinidad and Tobago was normal to slightly dry; Grenada, Guadeloupe, Anguilla, St. Maarten, St. Thomas normal; while Barbados was normal to slightly wet with St. Vincent extremely dry and St. Lucia moderate to extremely dry.

The French island of Martinique was reported to be moderate to severely dry, while Dominica was slightly wet in the southwest to severely dry in the northeast.

Antigua was exceptionally dry and St. Kitts moderately dry. The CDPMN said that the Guianas ranged from normal to very wet, with greatest relative wetness in interior areas.

Beginning in 1997-1998, drought forced water restrictions across the Caribbean, and resulted in significant losses in the agriculture sector.

Caribbean countries have been implementing water rationing to deal with shortages of the resource, with St. Kitts being the latest country to implement the measure.

On Jan. 25, the Water Services Department announced the resumption of water rationing in the capital Basseterre, Bird Rock, Half Moon and the South East Peninsula. Daily rationing occurs during the hours of 10 pm to 5 am.

The Water Services Department said although rainfall for 2016 was more than in 2015, it was still significantly below average, and therefore the country is still in drought.

“We are approaching the Dry Season and are already experiencing reduced inflows from our surface water sources and storage in our wells. The recent showers only improved the situation slightly,” acting general manager Dennison Paul said.

“We are also experiencing technical difficulties with one of our wells in the Basseterre Valley Aquifer, which has compounded the problem. Our drilling programme is ongoing and should bring relief to consumers when commissioned.”

In 2015, St. Kitts experienced island-wide water rationing as a result of drought conditions. Coming off traditional rainfall levels of around 20.63 inches per year, the island saw an average 9.87 inches in 2015.

Officials have implemented several water-saving measures to help mitigate the upcoming dry period.

These include asking all residents, government and private institutions to make the repair of leaks a priority; asking residents without cisterns to explore purchasing large storage containers  of 500 gallons or more; businesses implementing a water management contingency plan which should involve daily monitoring of water meter; government ensuring that critical institutions such as hospitals and schools, have onsite standby water storage receptacles, based on vulnerability; there should be no washing of vehicles with water hoses; mandatory no watering of grass; no water delivery to cruise vessels; and fines or disconnection of service for violation, where applicable

In addition to other measures taken to improve the supply of water to consumers, Public Works Minister Ian Liburd indicated in July 2016 that a company, Ocean Earth Technologies, had been contracted to locate and bring on-stream new wells in the Basseterre area.

He said they had identified seven sites north of the airport where wells were to be drilled.

Barbados has also been grappling with chronic water shortages while the St Lucia government, in 2015, declared a “water-related emergency” as some communities, particularly in the north, continue to deal with dry weather conditions affecting water supplies across the Caribbean.

At the fifth Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Montreal earlier this month, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry called for greater focus to be given to the impact of drought on agriculture in the Caribbean.

“I think that for a long time we have been focusing on hurricanes in the Caribbean and really we have taken our eyes off drought mitigation. And in my view for agriculture, drought is a more serious threat to us than in fact hurricanes,” Stanberry said. “After a hurricane, you can get up the next morning and start producing again; the drought tends to be prolonged.

“The overwhelming majority of our farmers, particularly our smaller ones, really depend on rainfall; and with climate change we are seeing wide variation in rainfall patterns. We are seeing extremes; in some months we have too much rain and for the last three four years, you can almost bet your bottom dollar, that there is going to be a drought and the drought tends to be prolonged,” Stanberry added.

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Asia’s Water Politics Near the Boiling Pointhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:44:57 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149509 Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

In Asia, it likely will not be straightforward water wars.

Prolonged water scarcity might lead to security situations that are more nuanced, giving rise to a complex set of cascading but unpredictable consequences, with communities and nations reacting in ways that we have not seen in the past because climate change will alter the reliability of current water management systems and infrastructure, say experts.China plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetan Autonomous Region; the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 said a water crisis is the most impactful risk over the next 10 years. The effects of rising populations in developing regions like Asia, alongside growing prosperity, place unsustainable pressure on resources and are starting to manifest themselves in new, sometimes unexpected ways – harming people, institutions and economies, and making water security an urgent political matter.

While the focus is currently on the potential for climate change to exacerbate water crises, with impacts including conflicts and a much greater flow of forced migration that is already on our doorsteps, a 2016 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warns Asia not to underestimate impact of industrial and population growth, including spiraling urban growth, on serious water shortages across a broad swath of Asia by 2050.

Asia’s water challenges escalate

To support a global population of 9.7 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 60 percent and water demand is projected to go up by 55 percent. But the horizon is challenging for developing regions, especially Asia, whose 3.4 billion population will need 100 percent more food – using the diminishing, non-substitute resource in a warming world said the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2016, the latest regional water report card from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

More than 1.4 billion people – or 42 percent of world’s total active workforce – are heavily water dependent, especially in agriculture-dominant Asia, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2016.

With erratic monsoons on which more than half of all agriculture in Asia is dependent, resorting to groundwater for irrigation, whose extraction is largely unmonitored, is already rampant. A staggering 70 percent of the world’s groundwater extraction is in Asia, with India, China and Pakistan the biggest consumers, estimates UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

By 2050, with a 30 percent increase in extraction, 86 percent of groundwater extracted in Asia will be by these three countries, finds the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Together India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal use 23 million pumps with an annual energy bill of 3.78 billion dollars for lifting water – an indicator of the critical demand for water, and to an extent of misgovernance and lack of water-saving technologies (AWDO 2016).

AWDO sounds alarm bells warning that we are on the verge of a water crisis, with limited knowledge on when we will tip the balance.

Analysts from the Leadership Group on Water Security in Asia say the start of future transboundary water conflicts will have less to do with the absolute scarcity of water and more to do with the rate of change in water availability.

 

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India's Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India’s Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

‘Resource nationalism’ already strong in water-stressed Asian neighbours

With just 30 days of buffer fresh water stock, Pakistan’s renewable internal freshwater resources per capita in 2014 measured a perilous 297 cubic metres, Bangladesh’s 660m3 India’s 1116m3 and China’s 2062m3. When annual water access falls below 1700m3 per person, an area is considered water-stressed and when 1000m3 is breached, it faces water scarcity.

ADB describes Asia as “the global hotspot for water insecurity.

By 2050 according to AWDO, 3.4 billion people – or the projected combined population of India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2050 – making up 40 percent of the world population, could be living in water-stressed areas. In other words, the bulk of the population increase will be in countries already experiencing water shortages.

Underlying geo-political standpoints are slowly but perceptibly hardening in Himalayan Asia nations over shared river basins, even if not intensifying as yet, seen in the latest instances last year. They are, as water conflict analysts predict, spurts of bilateral tension that might or might not suddenly escalate to conflict, the scale of which cannot be predicted. The following, a latest instance, is a pointer to future scenarios of geographical interdependencies that riparian nations can either reduce by sensible hydro-politics or escalate differences by contestations.

There was alarm in Pakistan when Indian Prime Minister took a stand in September last year to review the 57-year-old Indus Water Treaty between the two South Asian neighbours. India was retaliating against a purportedly Pakistan terrorist attack on an Indian army base at Uri in Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.

By co-incidence or design (several Indian analysts think it is the latter), at the very same time China blocked a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo River which is the upper course of the Brahmaputra in India, as part of the construction of its 740-million-dollar Lalho hydro project in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Yarlung Tsangpo River originates in the Himalayan ranges, and is called the Brahmaputra as it flows down into India’s Arunachal Pradesh state bordering Tibet and further into Bangladesh.

China’s action caused India alarm on two counts. Some analysts believed Beijing was trying to encourage Dhaka to take up a defensive stand against India over sharing of Brahmaputra waters, thereby destabilizing India-Bangladesh’s cordial ally status in the region.

The second possibility analysts proffered is an alarming and fairly new military risk. River water, when dammed, can be intentionally used as a weapon of destruction during war.

Pakistan had earlier raised the same security concern, that India may exercise a strategic advantage during war by regulating the two major dams on rivers that flow through Kashmir into Pakistan. Indian experts say China is more likely than India to take this recourse and will use the river water as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations.

South Asia as a region is prone to conflict between nations, between non-state actors and the state. Its history of territorial issues, religious and ethnic differences makes it more volatile than most other regions. Historically China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have had territorial wars between them. The  wary and increasingly competitive outlook of their relationships makes technology-grounded and objective discussions over the erupting water disputes difficult.

China already plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetian Autonomous Region with the Tibetan Plateau, around which the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic. The glacier-fed rivers that emanate from this ‘water tower’ are shared across borders by 40 percent of world population, guaranteeing food, water and energy security to millions of people and nurturing biodiverse ecosystems downstream.

The largest three trans-boundary basins in the region – in terms of area, population, water resources, irrigation and hydropower potential – are the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra.

Both India and China have embarked on massive hydropower energy generation, China for industrialization and India to provide for its population, which will be the world’s largest by 2022.

With growing food and energy needs, broad estimates suggest that more than half of the world’s large rivers are dammed. Dams have enormous benefits, but without comprehensive water-sharing treaties, lower riparian states are disadvantaged and this could turn critical in future.

While there are river-water sharing treaties between India and Pakistan, and with Bangladesh, there is none with China except a hydrological data sharing collaboration.

Security threats emerge when it becomes difficult to solve competition over scarce natural resources by cooperation. Failure may result in violent conflicts. A ‘zero-sum’ situation is reached, when violence is seen as the only option to secure use of the resource, says a 2016 report by the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.

When drivers in Asia, like population growth, the need for economic growth, poverty reduction, energy needs, the impact of high rate of urbanization and changing lifestyles, confront resource scarcity, it could bring a zero-sum situation sooner than anticipated.

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Three Times as Many Mobile Phones as Toilets in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/three-times-as-many-mobile-phones-as-toilets-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=three-times-as-many-mobile-phones-as-toilets-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/three-times-as-many-mobile-phones-as-toilets-in-africa/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:02:57 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149503 Clean water is still a pipe dream for more than 300 million Africans. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Clean water is still a pipe dream for more than 300 million Africans. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

Though key to good health and economic wellbeing, water and sanitation remain less of a development priority in Africa, where high costs and poor policy implementation constrain getting clean water and flush toilets to millions.

A signatory to several agreements committing to water security, Africa simply cannot afford the infrastructure to bring water to everyone, argues water expert Mike Muller.Lack of access to clean water can contribute to famine, wars and uncontrolled and irregular migration.

Sub-Saharan Africa uses less than five percent of its water resources, but making water available to all can be prohibitively expensive, Muller, of the Wits University School of Governance in South Africa and a former director general of the South African Department of Water, told IPS.

“Domestic water supply is a political priority in Africa and sanitation has grown in importance,” he said, “but the services cost money.”

According to the World Water Council, a global body with over 300 members founded in 1996 to advocate for world water security, the world needs to spend an estimated 650 billion dollars annually from now to 2030 to build necessary infrastructure to ensure universal water security.

Water woes still running

Africa is still far from enjoying the returns from investments in the water sector; for example, it has more citizens with mobile phones than access to clean water and toilets. A 2016 report published by Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network, which explored access to basic services and infrastructure in 35 African countries, found that only 30 percent of Africans had access to toilets and only 63 percent to piped water – yet 93 percent had mobile phone service.

Governments need to invest in water projects that will avail clean water to all in a world where over 800 million people currently do not have access to safe drinking water, and where water-related diseases account for 3.5 million deaths each year, said the World Water Council in a statement ahead of the World Water Day. The WWC warned that water insecurity costs the global economy an estimated 500 billion dollars annually.

“World leaders realize that sanitation is fundamental to public health, but we need to act now in order to achieve the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goal Number 6 – to deliver safe water and sanitation to everyone everywhere by 2030,” World Water Council President Benedito Braga said in a statement. “We need commitment at the highest levels, so every town and city in the world can ensure that safe, clean water resources are available.”

Noting the key impact of water access, Braga warned that lack of access to clean water can contribute to famine, wars and uncontrolled and irregular migration.

“Water is an essential ingredient for social and economic development across nearly all sectors. It secures enough food for all, provides sufficient and stable energy supplies, and ensures market and industrial stability amongst others benefits,” he said, adding that the world has missed the sanitation target, leaving 2.4 billion people without access to improved sanitation facilities, necessitating the investment in water and sanitation which the World Water Council said brought an estimated 4.3 dollars in return for every dollar invested through reduced health care costs.

Children fetch water from a canal at the Magwe irrigation scheme in south Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Children fetch water from a canal at the Magwe irrigation scheme in south Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Wealth from wastewater

World Water Day 2017 focuses on waste water, which the United Nations inter-agency entity UN-Water says is an untapped source of wealth if properly treated.

The United Nations defines wastewater as “a combination of domestic effluent consisting of blackwater (excreta, urine and faecal sludge) and greywater (kitchen and bathing wastewater) in addition to water from commercial establishments and institutions, industrial and agricultural effluent.”

According the fourth World Water Development Report, currently only 20 percent of globally produced wastewater receives proper treatment, and this was mainly dependent on a country’s income. This means treatment capacity is 70 percent of the generated wastewater in high-income countries, compared to only 8 percent in low-income countries, according to a UN-Water Analytics Brief, Waste Water Management.

“A paradigm shift is now required in water politics the world over not only to prevent further damage to sensitive ecosystems and the aquatic environment, but also to emphasize that wastewater is a resource (in terms of water and also nutrient for agricultural use) whose effective management is essential for future water security,” said UN-Water.

Muller said Africa cannot talk of waste water without first delivering adequate clean water.

“The focus on waste water reflects the rich world’s desire to reduce pollution, protect the environment and sell technology,” Muller said. “There are some major cities and towns where ‘used’ water is treated and reused, in others untreated water is sought after by peri-urban farmers because it provides valuable fertilizer as well.

“But in places without adequate water supplies or sewers to remove the wastewater, waste water treatment is not yet a priority, [and] without water supply there can be no waste water.”

According to the World Water Council, about 90 percent of the world’s wastewater flows untreated into the environment. More than 923 million people have no access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion others do not have adequate sanitation.

“Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population already faces water scarcity, which may increase to two-thirds of the population by 2025. In addition, approximately 700 million people are living in urban areas without safe toilets,” the Council said.

Waste water can be a drought-resistant source of water especially for agriculture or industry, nutrients for agriculture, soil conditioner and source of energy.

Some impurities in wastewater are useful as organic fertilizers. With proper treatment, wastewater can be useful in supporting pasture for grazing by livestock.

Clever Mafuta, Africa Coordinator at GRID-Arendal, a Norway-based centre that collaborates with the UN Environment, says an integrated and holistic approach is needed in water management across the world.

“Making strides in safe drinking water alone is a temporary success if other elements such as sanitation and wastewater management are not attended to, especially in urban areas,” Mafuta told IPS. “Wastewater often ends up in drinking sources, and as such if wastewater is not managed well, gains made in the provision of safe drinking water can be eroded.”

The UN estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water – the same as an entire year’s labour by the population of France.

The Africa Water Vision 2025 launched by a number of UN agencies and African regional bodies in 2000 noted extreme climate and rainfall variability, inappropriate governance and institutional arrangements in managing national and transactional water basins and unsustainable financing of investments in water supply and sanitation as some of the threats to water security in Africa.

African ministers responsible for sanitation and hygiene adopted the Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene in May 2015 in Senegal, committing to access to sanitation and eliminating open defecation by 2030. However, this goal remains extremely distant.

African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) has developed an African monitoring and reporting system for the water and sanitation sector. Executive Secretary Canisius Kanangire calls it an important step in ensuring effective and efficient management of the continent’s water resources and the provision of adequate and equitable access to safe water and sanitation for all.

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Caribbean Stakes Future on Climate-Smart Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-stakes-future-on-climate-smart-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-stakes-future-on-climate-smart-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-stakes-future-on-climate-smart-agriculture/#comments Thu, 16 Mar 2017 00:43:53 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149439 The massive rice industry in Guyana, which provides employment for at least 100,000 people, is just one area of the Caribbean’s agriculture sector under threat from climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The massive rice industry in Guyana, which provides employment for at least 100,000 people, is just one area of the Caribbean’s agriculture sector under threat from climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

As Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries continue to build on the momentum of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech in 2016, special emphasis is being placed on agriculture as outlined in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

The historic climate agreement was approved on Dec. 12, 2015 at COP21. INDCs is the term used under the UNFCCC for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that all countries which are party to the convention were asked to publish in the lead up to the conference.Nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have experienced prolonged droughts, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

In their INDCs, the countries of CARICOM, a 15-member regional grouping, have prioritized adaptation in the agricultural sector, given the need to support food security.

They are now shifting their focus from climate planning to action and implementation. To this end, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) hosted a Caribbean Climate Smart Agriculture (CCSA) Forum here recently to raise awareness of best practices, by promoting and supporting climate change actions, while providing a space for dialogue among relevant actors and allowing them to discuss the challenges and successes of  Climate Smart Agriculture.

Climate Smart Agriculture has been identified as offering major wins for food security, adaptation and mitigation in the Caribbean.

“Agriculture is a priority sector,” Pankaj Bhatia, Deputy Director of the World Resource Institute’s Climate Programme, told participants.

As countries move forward with their plans, he recommended they participate in NDC Partnership, a global initiative to help countries achieve their national climate commitments and ensure financial and technical assistance is delivered as efficiently as possible.

“Much work still needs to be done by countries to create more detailed road maps, catalyse investment, and implement the plans to deliver on their climate commitments,” said Bhatia, who helps to manage one of the largest climate change projects of the World Resources Institute (WRI).

“It’s worth exploring the options and how the NDC Partnership can offer support,” Bhatia added.

As of February 2017, there were approximately 40 countries involved in the NDC Partnership, as well as intergovernmental and regional organizations such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European Bank, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

A farmer manually irrigates a cornfield in Barbados. In recent years, nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have been experiencing prolonged drought, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A farmer manually irrigates a cornfield in Barbados. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The major pillars of the Partnership to drive ambitious climate action include sharing knowledge and information and facilitating both technical and financial support, thus encouraging increased efficiency, accountability and effectiveness of support programmes.

The Partnership develops knowledge products that fill critical information gaps and disseminates them through a knowledge sharing portal.

Another speaker, Climate Change Specialist in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Climate Change Office, John Furlow, emphasized the importance of participation from multiple sectors in the process of creating Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAPs), using Jamaica as a case study for how this was done effectively.

“In 2012, the then prime minister of Jamaica asked USAID to help Jamaica develop a national climate policy. Rather than starting with climate impacts, we wanted to start with what Jamaica defined as important to them,” Furlow explained.

“The national outcomes in the vision document listed agriculture, manufacturing, mining and quarrying, construction, creative industries, sport, information and communication technology, services and tourism.

“So, we wanted to bring in the actors responsible for those economic sectors for discussion on how they would address climate and hazard risk reduction in a national policy,” he added.

Furlow continued that the goal is to get climate change out of the environment ministry and into the ministries responsible for the sectors that are going to be affected.

This, he said, has the potential of putting developing countries in the driver’s seat in locating “multiple sources of funding – domestic, bilateral aid funding and multi-lateral aid funding” – so countries can take a role in what’s going on within their borders.

The Climate Change Policy Framework for Jamaica outlines the strategies that the country will employ in order to effectively respond to the impacts and challenges of climate change, through measures which are appropriate for varying scales and magnitudes of climate change impacts.

It states that relevant sectors will be required to develop or update, as appropriate, plans addressing climate change adaptation and/or mitigation.

Within the Policy Framework there are also Special Initiatives based on new and existing programmes and activities which will be prioritized for early implementation.

Each year the Caribbean imports 5 billion dollars worth of food and climate change represents a clear and growing threat to its food security with differing rainfall patterns, water scarcity, heat stress and increased climatic variability making it difficult for farmers to meet demand for crops and livestock.

In recent years, nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have been experiencing prolonged drought, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

Organizers of the CCSA Forum say there are many common agriculture-related topics in the NDCs of the English-speaking Caribbean countries, including conservation and forestry, water harvesting and storage, and improved agricultural policies.

All but one of the Caribbean countries included the issue of agriculture in their respective INDC. The sector is addressed in the INDCs with the priority being on adaptation. However, more than half of the countries also included conditional mitigation targets that directly or indirectly relate to agriculture.

The commitments made by all the countries denote the priority of the sector in the region’s development goals and the need to channel technical and financial support for the sector.

IICA said agriculture also has great potential to achieve the integration of mitigation and adaptation approaches into policies, strategies and programmes.

It also noted that the commitments made by each country, both through the Paris Agreement and in their respective INDCs, provide a solid foundation for tackling the global challenge of climate change with concrete actions keyed to national contexts and priorities.

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Climate Change Making Kenya’s Droughts More Severehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/climate-change-making-kenyas-droughts-more-severe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-making-kenyas-droughts-more-severe http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/climate-change-making-kenyas-droughts-more-severe/#comments Sun, 12 Mar 2017 19:04:31 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149371 Macharia Kamau is Kenya's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

Macharia Kamau is Kenya's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 2017 (IPS)

The Super El Nino of 2015 to 2016 wrought droughts and floods around the world, yet it is its sister La Nina that is now fuelling drought and hunger in East Africa.

IPS spoke with Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and an expert on climate change and El Nino and La Nina.

“Climatic events have taken on a rather different pattern now because of climate change,” said Kamau.

These events, such as the current drought in East Africa, are becoming “more severe,” “less predictable” and are happening “more often,” he said. “Those three things put everyone who is on the path of these climatic events at higher risk.”

Kenya’s current severe drought, exacerbated by the recent La Nina, has left over two million people in Kenya without enough to eat.

“If you’re relying on rain-fed agriculture, then having the right weather, predictable weather, is crucially important,” -- Macharia Kamau

“We estimate about two million people have been affected,” said Kamau. Those most at risk of malnutrition include the elderly, young children and mothers who are breastfeeding, he said.

With two-thirds of its landmass already desert or semi-desert, Kamau says that Kenya is already vulnerable to low rain-fall.

However less reliable weather patterns associated with climate change, as well as increasingly frequent La Ninas and El Ninos, mean that farmers now have less time to recover in between extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods.

“If you’re relying on rain-fed agriculture, then having the right weather, predictable weather, is crucially important,” said Kamau, who is also the Special Envoy of the President of the UN General Assembly on Climate Change and was formerly the Special Envoy to the UN Secretary-General on El Niño, alongside former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.

Yet it is not just people who cannot find enough water. During droughts Kenya’s pastoralists struggle to find enough water for their cows. While the government is helping relocate some livestock, the lack of rain places incredible strain on farmers.

Wild animals also struggle to find enough food during droughts.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates that some 40 percent of the animals in the Tsavo West National Park during Kenya’s last severe drought.

Droughts has a “direct impact” on Kenya’s tourism industry which relies on visitors to its wildlife reserves, says Kamau.

Climate change is also affecting the East African coral reef, another important part of Kenya’s tourism industry.

“Acidification of the seas is beginning to effect the coral reefs, and you know the East African reef is one of the great reefs of the world. That, in and of itself, presents yet another challenge for fisheries, for biodiversity of the seas, for oxygenation of the ocean, (and) for tourism.”

“That’s another worrying situation,” said Kamau.

The recent La Nina which subsided in February follows the super El Nino of 2015 to 2016, one of the most severe El Ninos on record. Climate change is making El Ninos and La Ninas more frequent and more intense.

Although La Nina has subsided, Kamau doesn’t think that there will be much relief until at least April.

“If you are already without food or water for a couple of months and living off of disaster assistance, a week is a lifetime,” he said.

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Another Somalian Faminehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/another-somalian-famine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=another-somalian-famine http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/another-somalian-famine/#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2017 13:36:18 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149317 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Somalia famine of 2010-2012, camps outside Mogadishu. Credit: IPS

Somalia famine of 2010-2012, camps outside Mogadishu. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 8 2017 (IPS)

Last month, the United Nations declared another famine threat in Somalia due to yet another drought in the Horn of Africa. Important lessons must be drawn from the Somalia famine of 2010-2012, which probably killed about 258,000 people, half of whom were under-five. This was the greatest tragedy in terms of famine deaths in the 21st century, and in recent decades since the Ethiopian famine of the late 1980s.

A 2013 report, for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), used a variety of sources to estimate the likely death toll. The report – jointly commissioned and funded by FAO and the USAID-funded FEWS Net, and covering the period from October 2010 to April 2012 – was undertaken by independent experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Early warning, but no early action
Both FEWSNET and FSNAU had been warning of the impending tragedy with increasing urgency for some time, producing numerous early warning alerts besides directly briefing agencies and donor governments. Some critics claim that the early warnings may actually have been late, and even under-estimated the scale of the emerging crisis.

Many insist that the lateness of the intervention was responsible for many deaths. About 120,000 people had already died in the months before the UN declared a famine and intervened from mid-2011 after issuing 16 early warnings to indifferent responses. Many observers feel outraged about the international community’s seeming indifference when it comes to African famine deaths.

If the ‘international community’ had responded quickly, early interventions could have been undertaken to minimize the resulting destitution and starvation. But an entire year of early warnings failed to elicit the needed responses. Donor governments did not increase aid, while most major humanitarian agencies did not step up their efforts. The system only began to act after famine was declared, i.e., long after the window of opportunity to avoid disaster had passed.

Politics in the way
The failure to respond was primarily due to politics. The worst affected areas in Somalia were believed to be controlled by as-Shabaab, which was engaged in a war with the Western-supported Somali transitional federal government (TFG). Western donor governments were reticent in case their aid fell into the hands of their adversary.

US laws imply that humanitarian workers in Somalia would have been liable to prosecution and 15 years imprisonment if the aid they were distributing fell into the hands of as-Shabaab. Such legal and other constraints contributed to the significant decline in aid to Somalia, which fell by half between 2008 and 2011, after the US government decision to significantly reduce humanitarian funding in as-Shabaab-controlled areas from 2008.

The WFP Executive Director at the time – Josette Sheeran, a Bush nominee – had a well known history of conflict with Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State. Ertharin Cousin, US Permanent Representative to the UN system in Rome for much of the period involved, went on to succeed Sheeran after Clinton blocked a second term for her. Meanwhile, the head of UNICEF, Tony Lake, had been US National Security Adviser at the time of the infamous 1993 ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Somalia, imprinted in the American collective memory by the Hollywood movie.

By ignoring early warnings, cutting aid and constraining humanitarian interventions in Somalia, Western governments exacerbated the deteriorating situation, making famine more, not less likely. Instead of trying harder, humanitarian organizations presumed it would be politically unfeasible to raise resources. As-Shabaab’s expulsion of the UN’s World Food Programme in 2010 only made things worse, with another 16 UN agencies and international NGOs suffering similar fates in 2011 for allegedly “illicit activities and misconduct”.

Thus, Western donors prioritized their geopolitical priorities over the urgent need to avoid famine. Rob Bailey, a senior research fellow specializing in food security at Chatham House in London, has even asserted that “In Somalia, western donors made famine more, not less likely”.

As-Shabaab also paid little heed to the Somali population under its control. It not only restricted humanitarian access and rejected emergency aid, but also limited the ability of people to move besides taxing food production and distribution.

Both sides did not prioritize the growing need for massive, early, pro-active initiatives to stem the spreading destitution and to prevent famine. Donor governments only changed their stances after famine was declared, as public attention meant that the governments could not be seen to be the problem.

Lessons learnt?
Although donor governments and humanitarian organizations were quick to announce that they had learnt the lessons of the Somali famine, things are now worse in some respects. In recent years, both the US and the EU have imposed strict sanctions on remittances to Somalia, which have cut the meagre resources available to destitute households. As income from such remittances served to mitigate the devastating impact of the last famine, it would be worse this time without them.

Meanwhile, aid and other humanitarian interventions remain highly politicized. While early warning systems are under critical scrutiny, there is nothing to ensure that early warnings lead to early action despite the existence of early warning systems and resources needed to prevent famine.

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Global Harvests Robust, Yet 37 Countries Need Food Aidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/global-harvests-robust-yet-37-countries-need-food-aid/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-harvests-robust-yet-37-countries-need-food-aid http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/global-harvests-robust-yet-37-countries-need-food-aid/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 17:07:41 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149300 Young boys head home after fishing for a day in the swamps of Nyal, South Sudan. Credit: FAO

Young boys head home after fishing for a day in the swamps of Nyal, South Sudan. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Global food supply conditions are robust, but access to food has been dramatically reduced in areas suffering from civil conflicts, while drought conditions are worsening food security across swathes of East Africa, according to the United Nations.

In a new edition of its Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) informs that some 37 countries require external assistance for food, 28 of them in Africa as a result of lingering effects of last year’s El Niño-triggered droughts on harvests in 2016.

Yet, while agricultural production is expected to rebound in southern Africa, protracted fighting and unrest is increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry in other parts of the world, the report adds.

Famine has been formally declared in South Sudan and the food security situation is of grave concern in northern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

“This is an unprecedented situation. Never before have we been faced with four threats of famine in multiple countries simultaneously,” said FAO Assistant Director-General Kostas Stamoulis, head of the Economic and Social Development department.

“It demands swift action which should consist of immediate food assistance but also livelihood support to ensure that such situations are not repeated.”

Millions Facing Famine

The UN specialised body cites several examples.

In South Sudan, 100,000 people were facing famine in Leer and Mayendit Counties, part of former Unity State, while there was an “elevated risk” that similar conditions existed in two nearby counties. Over all, about 4.9 million people across the country were classified as facing crisis, emergency or famine.

That number is projected to increase to 5.5 million, or almost half the country’s population, at the peak of the lean season in July.

In northern Nigeria, 8.1 million people are facing acute food insecurity conditions and require urgent life-saving response and livelihood protection. That comes despite the above-average cereal harvest in 2016 and reflects the disruption caused by conflict as well as the sharp depreciation of the Naira.

Meanwhile in Yemen, FAO reports that 17 million people or two-thirds of the population are estimated to be food insecure, while almost half of them are in need of emergency assistance, with the report noting that “the risk of famine declaration in the country is very high.”

And in Somalia, the combination of conflict, civil insecurity and drought have resulted in more than double the number of people – now estimated at 2.9 million – being severely food insecure from six months ago.

“Drought has curtailed fodder for pastoralists and the third consecutive season of poor rainfall is estimated to have reduced crop production in southern and central regions to 70 per cent below average levels, leaving food stocks depleted.”

Conflicts and civil unrest in Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Myanmar and Syria are also exacerbating food insecurity conditions for millions of people as well affecting nearby countries hosting refugees. In addition, the drought in East Africa in late 2016 has heightened food insecurity in several countries in the sub-region, according to the new report.

Worldwide Trends

Cereal production made quite strong gains in the world overall in 2016, with a record recovery in Central America, and larger cereal crops in Asia, Europe and North America.

Looking ahead, FAO’s first global wheat production forecast for 2017 points to a 1.8 per cent decline from last year’s record level, due mostly to a projected 20 per cent output drop in the United States, where the area sown to winter wheat is the lowest level in over 100 years.

Prospects are favourable for the 2017 maize crop in Brazil and Argentina and the outlook is generally positive for coarse grains throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Prospects for rice are mixed, but it is still too early to make firm predictions for many of the world’s major crops, according to FAO.

Maize harvests in Southern Africa, slashed by El Niño, are forecast to recover this year, with South Africa’s output expected to increase by more than 50 per cent from 2016, with positive trends likely in most nearby countries. However, an outbreak of armyworms, along with localized flooding in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, could limit larger production gains in 2017.

The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

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Caribbean Awaits Trump Moves on Climate Funding, Paris Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-awaits-trump-moves-on-climate-funding-paris-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-awaits-trump-moves-on-climate-funding-paris-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/caribbean-awaits-trump-moves-on-climate-funding-paris-deal/#comments Sun, 05 Mar 2017 13:56:30 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149250 Torrential rains from trough systems in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2016 resulted in landslides like this one, which swept one structure away and threatened nearby houses. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Torrential rains from trough systems in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in November 2016 resulted in landslides like this one, which swept one structure away and threatened nearby houses. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Mar 5 2017 (IPS)

Caribbean leaders worry that with climate change sceptic Donald Trump in the White House, it will be more difficult for small island developing states facing the brunt of climate change to secure the financing necessary to adapt to and mitigate against it.

Mere days after Trump’s inauguration, the White House ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to delete a page about climate change from its website. It has also also signalled its intention to slash the budget of the NOAA, the U.S.’s leading climate science agency, by 17 percent.“I have listened to President Trump after the election and he had said that he is keeping an open mind on the question of man-made climate change.” --PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves

If Trump follows through on his campaign promise to roll back his predecessor, Barack Obama’s, green legacy, it seems inevitable that Caribbean and other small island developing states will feel the effects. Trump had also explicitly vowed to stop all US payments to UN climate change programmes.

In this archipelagic nation, the Ralph Gonsalves administration spent some 3.7 million dollars in November 2016 – about 1 per cent of that year’s budget – cleaning up after a series of trough systems.

The sum did not take into account the monies needed to respond to the damage to public infrastructure and private homes, as well as losses in agriculture resulting from the severe weather, which the government has blamed on climate change.

“The United States is one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases and, for us, the science is clear and we accept the conclusion of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change,” Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves told IPS.

He said his nation’s commitment is reflected not only in the fact that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was one of the early signatories to the Paris Agreement at the end of COP 21, but was also one of the early ratifiers of the agreement.

The Paris Agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. During the election campaign, Trump vowed that he would pull the U.S. out of the deal if elected, although there appears to be some dissent within the administration on the issue.

It was reported this week that Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which oversaw the Paris deal, is visiting the US and had requested a meeting with Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and other officials over the commitment of the new administration to global climate goals.

So far, Espinosa says she has been snubbed, and a state department official told the Guardian there were no scheduled meetings to announce.

The official added: “As with many policies, this administration is conducting a broad review of international climate issues.”

Small island developing states have adopted the mantra “1.5 to stay alive”, saying that ideally global climate change should be contained to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels if their islands are to survive.

Gonsalves is hopeful that Trump would modify the policies outlined during the election campaign.

“I have listened to President Trump after the election and he had said that he is keeping an open mind on the question of man-made climate change,” he told IPS.

Gonsalves noted, however, the developments regarding the removal of climate change references from the White House website, adding, “But I would actually wait to see what would actually happen beyond what takes place on the website.”

The prime minister noted to IPS that the United States is an extremely powerful country, but suggested that even if Washington follows through on Trump’s campaign pledges, all is not lost.

“The United States of American has a population of 330 million people. Currently, in the world, there are seven and a half billion people … There is a lot of the world out there other than 330 million [people] and the world is not just one country — though a hugely important country.”

But Kingstown is not just waiting to see where Trump goes with his policy on climate change.

Come May 1, consumers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will begin paying a 1 per cent “Disaster Levy” on consumption within the country. The monies generated will be used to capitalise the Contingences Fund, which will be set up to help offset the cost of responding to natural disasters.

In presenting his case to lawmakers, Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said that there have been frequent severe natural disasters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, particularly since 2010, resulting in extensive loss and damage to houses, physical infrastructure and economic enterprises.

“The central government has incurred significant costs in providing relief and assistance to affected households and businesses and for rehabilitation and replacement of damaged infrastructure. Indeed, we have calculated that no less than 10 per cent of the public debt has been incurred for disaster-related projects and initiatives, narrowly-defined,” he told Parliament during his Budget Address in February.

As part of the Paris Agreement, developed countries said they intend to continue their existing collective goal to mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 and extend this until 2025. A new and higher goal will be set for after this period.

Gonsalves said it was not anticipated that the Paris Agreement would have been signed and ratified by November 2016. “But it was done. The anticipation was that it was going to take several years longer, so they put the commitments from 2020.

“Now, what are we going to do between 2017 and 2020?” he told IPS, adding that one practical response is to push for the pledges to come forward.

As Caribbean nations do what they can, locally, to respond to the impact of climate change, they are hoping that global funding initiatives for adaptation and mitigation do not take on the usual sluggish disbursement practices of other global initiatives.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community at their 28th Inter-Sessional Meeting in Guyana in mid-February that it was critical the Green Climate Fund be more readily accessible for countries trying to recover from the aftermaths of climate-driven natural disasters.

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From El Nino Drought to Floods, Zimbabwe’s Double Troublehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/from-el-nino-drought-to-floods-zimbabwes-double-trouble/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-el-nino-drought-to-floods-zimbabwes-double-trouble http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/from-el-nino-drought-to-floods-zimbabwes-double-trouble/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2017 01:05:09 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149220 Even luxury homes in the Zimbabwean capital Harare were not spared by the raging floods of early 2017, perpetuating hunger in the Southern African nation after El Nino ravaged crops nationwide. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Even luxury homes in the Zimbabwean capital Harare were not spared by the raging floods of early 2017, perpetuating hunger in the Southern African nation after El Nino ravaged crops nationwide. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

Dairai Churu, 53, sits with his chin cupped in his palms next to mounds of rubble from his destroyed makeshift home in the Caledonia informal settlement approximately 30 kilometers east of Harare, thanks to the floods that have inundated Zimbabwe since the end of last year.

Churu’s tragedy seems unending. From 2015 to mid-2016, the El Nino-induced drought also hit him hard, rendering his entire family hungry.“We are homeless, we are hungry. I don’t know what else to say.” -- farmer Dairai Churu

“I farm here. I have always planted maize here. All my crops in 2015 were wiped out by the El Nino heat and this year came the floods, which also suffocated all my maize and it means another drought for me and my family,” Churu told IPS.

Churu, his wife and four children now share a plastic tent which they erected after their makeshift three-room home was destroyed by the floods in February this year.

“We are homeless, we are hungry. I don’t know what else to say,” Churu said.

Zimbabwe has not been spared the severe droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events ever recorded in the country’s history, which have left nearly 100 million people in Southern Africa, Asia and Latin America facing food and water shortages and vulnerable to diseases, including the Zika virus, according to UN bodies and international aid agencies.

With drought amidst the floods across many parts of this Southern African nation, the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT) has been on record in the media here saying most Zimbabwean urban residents are relying on urban agriculture for sustenance owing to poverty.

PRFT is a civil society organisation that brings together non-governmental organisations, government, the private sector and academics here in Zimbabwe to discuss poverty issues and advocate for pro-poor policies.

Even government has been jittery as floods rocked the entire nation.

“Not all people are going to harvest enough this year. The floods have come with their own effects, drowning crops that many had planted and anticipated bumper harvests. Some greater part of the population here will certainly need food aid as they already face hunger,” a senior government official in Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Ministry told IPS on condition of anonymity for professional reasons.

For the mounting floods here, experts have also piled the blame on the after-effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon.

“El Niño conditions, which are a result of a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years. This year’s floods, which are a direct effect of the El Nino weather, are the worst in 35 years and are now even worsening and bearing impacts on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries like Zimbabwe,” Eldred Nhemachema, a meteorological expert based in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, told IPS.

Consequently, this Southern African nation this year declared a national emergency, as harvests here face devastation from the floods resulting in soaring food prices countrywide, according to the UN World Food Programme.

The UN-WFP has also been on record reporting that Zimbabwe’s staple maize crop of 742,000 tonnes is down 53 percent from 2014-15, according to data from the Southern African Development Community.

The floods have prompted Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate to recommend that a state of disaster be declared in the country’s southern provinces, where one person was killed by the floods while hundreds were marooned by raging rivers that swept away homes and animals.

For instance, this year’s floods in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo Province left 300 pupils marooned at Lundi High School, leaving mostly girls stranded after the Runde River burst its banks and flooded dormitories. About 100 homesteads were also hit by the floods in the country’s Chivi, Bulilima and Mberengwa districts, according to the country’s Civil Protection Unit.

Based on this year’s February update from the country’s Department of Civil Protection, at least 117 people died since the beginning of the rainy season in October last year.

And for many Zimbabweans like Churu, who were earlier hit by the El Nino-induced drought, it is now double trouble.

“We already have no crops surviving thanks to the floods, yet we have had our crops destroyed by El Nino the previous year, and so suffering continues for us, with drought in the midst of floods. It hurts,” Churu said.

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Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 10:07:19 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149065 Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations’ report.

Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, “expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, issued on Feb. 22, 2017.

“Almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded.”

As a result, “planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue,” cautions FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in his introduction to the report.

By 2050 humanity’s ranks will likely have grown to nearly 10 billion people. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 per cent over present levels, intensifying pressures on already-strained natural resources, The Future of Food and Agriculture projects.

At the same time, the report continues, greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food — a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside these trends, the planet’s changing climate will throw up additional hurdles. “Climate change will affect every aspect of food production,” the report says. These include greater variability of precipitation and increases in the frequency of droughts and floods.

Zero Hunger?

The core question raised by the new FAO report is whether, looking ahead, the world’s agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a burgeoning global population.

The short answer? Yes, FAO says, the planet’s food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way, but unlocking that potential – and ensuring that all of humanity benefits – will require “major transformations.”

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

According to the report, without a push to invest in and retool food systems, far too many people will still be hungry in 2030 — the year by which the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda has targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the report warns.

“Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030,” it says. In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050.

Where Will Our Food Come From?

Given the limited scope for expanding agriculture’s use of more land and water resources, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, says FAO.

However there are worrying signs that yield growth is leveling off for major crops. Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice, and wheat at the global level generally run just over 1 percent per annum, the report notes.

To tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, “business-as-usual” is not an option, The Future of Food and Agriculture argues.

“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” it says.

“High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production,” adds the report.

More With Less

The core challenge is to produce more with less, while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable.

“For this, a twin-track approach is needed which combines investment in social protection, to immediately tackle undernourishment, and pro-poor investments in productive activities — especially agriculture and in rural economies — to sustainably increase income-earning opportunities of the poor. “

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

According to the UN body, the world will need to shift to more sustainable food systems which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic cut of agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity, and a reduction of waste.

This will necessitate more investment in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development, the report says, to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases, and find better ways to cope with issues like water scarcity and climate change, it underlines.

Along with boosting production and resilience, equally critical will be creating food supply chains that better connect farmers in low- and middle-income countries to urban markets — along with measures which ensure access for consumers to nutritious and safe food at affordable prices, such as such as pricing policies and social protection programs, it says.

On this, Kostas Stamoulis, FAO Assistant Director General for Economics and Social Development, said a media briefing, when asked about the most important challenge of tomorrow regarding food and agriculture, said that it is climate change. “This demands change in practice of agriculture and developing agriculture that is more adaptable to climate change.”

Kostas Stamoulis and the other two authors of the report, Rob Vos, Director of the Agriculture Economics Development Division, and Lorenzo Bellu, Team Leader, Global Perspective Studies, organised on Feb. 21, a briefing session for the media to explain the key issues the new document incudes.

Top Trends and Challenges

The FAO report identifies 15 trends and 10 challenges affecting the world’s food systems:

15 Trends:
• _A rapidly increasing world population marked by growth “hot spots,” urbanization, and aging
• _Diverse trends in economic growth, family incomes, agricultural investment, and economic inequality.
• _Greatly increased competition for natural resources
• _Climate change
• _Plateauing agricultural productivity
• _Increased conflicts, crises and natural disasters
• _Persistent poverty, inequality and food insecurity
• _Dietary transition affecting nutrition and health
• _Structural changes in economic systems and employment implications
• _Increased migration
• _Changing food systems and resulting impacts on farmers livelihoods
• _Persisting food losses and waste
• _New international governance mechanisms for responding to food and nutrition security issues
• _Changes in international financing for development.

10 Challenges:

• _Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand
• _Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base
• _Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards
• _Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality
• _Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition
• _Making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient
• _Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration
• _Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts
• _Preventing trans-boundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats
• _Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance

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Shrinking and Darkening, the Plight of Kashmir’s Dying Lakeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 02:00:16 +0000 Umar Shah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149017 Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mudasir Ahmad says that two decades ago, his father made a prophecy that the lake would vanish after the fish in its waters started dying. Three years ago, he found dead fish floating on the surface, making him worried about its fate.

Like his father, Ahmad, 27, is a boatman on Kashmir’s famed Nigeen Lake, located north of Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar. He says the lake has provided a livelihood to his family for generations, but now things are taking an “ugly turn”.“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation." --Researcher Aabid Ahmad

The gradual algae bloom in the lake, otherwise known for its pristine beauty, led to oxygen depletion. Fish began to die. Environmentalists termed the development the first visible signs of environmental stress in the lake.

But no one was more worried than Mudasir himself. “We have been rowing boats on the lake for centuries. My grandfather and my father have been fed by this lake. I also have grown up here and my livelihood is directly dependent on the lake,” Ahmad told IPS.

He believes the emergence of rust-coloured waters is the sign of the lake dying a silent death, and he holds everyone responsible. “We have built houses in an unprecedented way around its banks. The drainage from the households directly drifts into the lake, making it more polluted than ever,” Ahmad said.

Blessed with over 1,000 small and large water bodies, the landlocked Kashmir Valley, located northern India, is known as the land of lakes and mountains. However, due to large scale urbanization and unprecedented deforestation, most of the water bodies in the region have disappeared.

A recent study by Kashmir’s renowned environmentalists Gowher Naseem and  Humayun Rashid found that 50 percent of lakes and wetlands in the region’s capital have been lost to other land use/land cover categories. During the last century, deforestation led to excessive siltation and subsequent human activity brought about sustained land use changes in these assets of high ecological value.

The study concludes that the loss of water bodies in Kashmir can be attributed to heavy population pressures.

Research fellow at Kashmir University, Aijaz Hassan, says the Kashmir Valley was always prone to floods but several water bodies in the region used to save the local population from getting marooned.

“All the valley’s lakes and the vast associated swamps played an important role in maintaining the uniformity of flows in the rivers. In the past, during the peak summers, whenever the rivers would flow high, these lakes and swamps used to act as places for storage of excessive water and thereby prevented large areas of the valley from floods,” Hassan said.

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir's Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir’s Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

India’s largest freshwater lake, Wullar Lake, is located in North Kashmir’s Bandipora area. It too is witnessing severe degradation due to large-scale human intervention. Wullar Lake, which claimed an area of 217.8 sq. km in 1911, has been reduced to about 80 sq. km today, with only 24 sq. km of open water remaining.

Environmentalist Majid Farooq says large areas of the lake have been converted for rice cultivation and tree plantations. According to him, pollution from fertilizers and animal waste, hunting pressure on waterfowl and migratory birds, and weed infestation are other factors contributing to the loss of Wullar Lake’s natural beauty. The fish population in the lake has witnessed a sharp decline due to depletion of oxygen and ingress of pollutants.

Another famed lake known as Dal Lake has shrunk by 24.49 per cent in the past 155 years and its waters are becoming increasingly polluted.

The lake, according to research by the University of Kashmir’s Earth Science Department, is witnessing “multiple pressures” from unplanned urbanisation, high population growth and nutrient load from intensive agriculture and tourism.

Analysis of the demographic data indicated that the human population within the lake areas had shown “more than double the national growth rate.”

Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo, head of Department of Earth Sciences at University of Kashmir, told IPS that the water quality of the lake is deteriorating and no more than 20 percent of the lake’s water is potable.

“As the population increased, all the household sewage, storm runoff goes into the Dal Lake without any treatment — or even if there is treatment done, it is very insufficient. This has increased the pollutant load of the Dal Lake,” he said.

According to Ramshoo, when the study compared the past water quality of the lake with the present, it found ingress of the pollutants has increased and the lake water quality has deteriorated significantly.

According to the region’s tourism department, over one million tourists visit Dal Lake annually and around 300,000 people are directly and indirectly dependent on the lake for their livelihood. The multimillion-dollar handicrafts industry of Kashmir, which gives employment to over 200,000 people, is also heavily dependent upon the arrival of tourists in the region.

A study on the Impact of Tourism Industry on Economic Development of Jammu and Kashmir says that almost 50-60 percent of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism related activities. The industry contributes 15 percent to the state’s GDP.

However, Mudasir Ahmad, whose livelihood is directly dependent on the lake, says every time he takes tourists to explore the lake in his Shikara (a boat), he is asked about the murkier water quality.

“My grandfather and even my father used to drink from this lake. The present situation is worrisome and if this goes unabated, tourists would cease to come. Who would spend money to see cesspools?” Ahmad said.

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday, a fisherman living on Wullar Lake, says the fish production has fallen drastically in the last three years, affecting both him and hundreds of other fishermen.

“Fish used to be present in abundance in the lake but now the scarcity of the species is taking toll. Every day we see dead fish floating on the lake’s waters. We really are concerned about our livelihood and the fate of the lake as well,” Khanday lamented.

The fisherman holds unplanned construction around the lake responsible for its pollution. Aabid Ahmad, a research scholar in Environmental Studies, says Kashmir has become vulnerable to natural disasters as region’s most of the water bodies have either disappeared or are shrinking.

“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation,” Ahmad told IPS.

But, for Shakeel Ramshoo, it is still possible to restore the lakes and water bodies of Kashmir.

“Don’t move the people living on these water bodies out.  You just allow them to stay in the lake. We have to control the haphazard constructions that are taking toll around these water bodies,” he said.

“Hutments in the water bodies should be densified with STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants) installed in every household. Land mass can be removed and the area of the water bodies would increase. Also, the sewage treatment mechanism should be better so that the ingress of pollutants is ceased,” Ramshoo said.

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Worst Drought in Decades Drives Food Price Spike in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worst-drought-in-decades-drives-food-price-spike-in-east-africa/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:55:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148953 Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

The most severe drought in decades, which has struck parts of Ethiopia and is exacerbated by a particularly strong El Niño effect, has led to successive failed harvests and widespread livestock deaths in some areas, and humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations warns.

East Africa’s ongoing drought has sharply curbed harvests and driven up the prices of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels, posing a heavy burden to households and special risks for pastoralists in the region, the United Nations food and agricultural agency on Feb. 14 warned.

“Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity,” said Mario Zappacosta, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, according to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA).

Poor livestock body conditions due to pasture and water shortages and forcible culls mean animals command lower prices, leaving pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs, FAO adds, while providing some examples:

Somalia’s maize and sorghum harvests are estimated to be 75 per cent down from their usual level. In Tanzania, maize prices in Arusha, Tanzania, have almost doubled since early 2016.

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO


In South Sudan, food prices are now two to four times above their levels of a year earlier, while in Kenya, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent.

Beans now cost 40 per cent more in Kenya than a year earlier, while in Uganda, the prices of beans and cassava flour are both about 25 per cent higher than a year ago in the capital city, Kampala.

Pastoral Areas Face Harsher Conditions

Drought-affected pastoral areas in the region face even harsher conditions, the UN specialised agency reports. In Somalia, goat prices have fallen up to 60 per cent compared to a year ago, while in pastoralist areas of Kenya the prices of goats declined by up to 30 per cent over the last 12 months.

Shortages of pasture and water caused livestock deaths and reduced body mass, prompting herders to sell animals while they can, as is also occurring in drought-wracked southern Ethiopia, FAO reports. This also pushes up the price of milk, which is, for instance, up 40 per cent on the year in Somalia’s Gedo region.

According to the Rome-based agency, Ethiopia is responding to a drought emergency, triggered by one of the strongest El Niño events on record.

Humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists — causing successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths, it reports.

Food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming with some 10.2 million people in need of food assistance.

FAO also reports that one-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis — 435 000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and 1.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women are experiencing moderate acute malnutrition.

Livelihood Crisis

More than 80 per cent of people in Ethiopia rely on agriculture and livestock as their primary source of food and income, however, the frequency of droughts over the years has left many communities particularly vulnerable.

Significant production losses, by up to 50-90 percent in some areas, have severely diminished households’ food security and purchasing power, forcing many to sell their remaining agricultural assets and abandon their livelihoods.

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO


Estimates in early 2016 by Ethiopia’s Bureau of Agriculture indicate that some 7.5 million farmers and herders need immediate agricultural support to produce staple crops like maize, sorghum, teff, wheat, and root crops, and livestock feed to keep their animals healthy and resume production.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died and the animals that remain are becoming weaker and thinner due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water availability, leading to sharp declines in milk and meat production.

The FAO Ethiopia El Niño Response Plan aims to assist 1.8 million vulnerable pastoralists, agro pastoralists and smallholder farmers in 2016.

To achieve this, the UN food and agriculture will prioritize agricultural production support in order to reduce the food gap, livestock interventions to protect the livelihood assets of pastoralists and agro pastoralists, and activities to enhance the resilience of affected communities through coordinated response.

As part of the emergency response, FAO has been providing planting materials to help seed- and food-insecure households in the worst affected regions plant in the belg and meher seasons.

In an effort to preserve livestock, it has been distributing multi-nutrient blocks in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas to strengthen livestock and bolster the resilience of the cooperatives that produce them.

Survival animal feed is also being provided to help farmers produce fodder and improve access to water for livestock. Herds across the country have also benefited from vaccination and treatment campaigns to address their increasing vulnerability as a result of drought.

In Ethiopia’s Somali Region, FAO is enhancing the financial stability of drought-affected households through the purchase of weak sheep and goats for immediate, local slaughter – and providing the meat – rich in protein – to nutritionally vulnerable drought-affected families.

The intervention will help reduce stress on available feed, enable households to focus their resources on their remaining productive animals, and invest in productive assets.

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Ravaging Drought Deepens in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/ravaging-drought-deepens-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:41:37 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148928 At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Experts warn that Kenya is in the grip of the worst drought in recent history as government estimates show the number of people who are acutely food insecure has risen to 2.7 million, up from two million in January.

This has necessitated the government to declare the crisis a national disaster as large parts of the country continue to succumb to the ravaging drought.The drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

At least 11,000 livestock across the country are facing imminent death due to lack of water and pasture, this is according to the National Drought Management Authority.

The drought management authority issued further warnings to the effect that pastoral communities could lose up to 90 percent of their livestock by April.

But children are still the most affected, with official government reports showing that an estimated one million children in 23 of the country’s 47 counties are in dire need of food aid.

“The prevalence of acute malnutrition in Baringo, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya where the drought is most severe is estimated at 25 percent,” Mary Naliaka, a pediatrics nurse with the Ministry of Health, told IPS.

“This is alarming because at least 45 percent of deaths among children under five years of age is caused by nutrition related issues.”

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

The drought is region-wide. On Feb. 10, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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How a Spring Revival Scheme in India’s Sikkim Is Defeating Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 13:48:07 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148759 Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

By Athar Parvaiz
GANGTOK, India, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Bina Sharma, a member of the Melli Dhara Gram Panchayat Unit in the southern part of India’s northeastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, is a relieved woman.

For the past three years, Sharma said, she has received hardly any complaints from villagers about water disputes.Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Until a few years back, our springs were staying almost dry for five months from December to April. During those months I often used to get complaints from the villagers against their fellow villagers as they would fight for water,” Sharma told IPS.

People in most parts of the mountainous Sikkim, and those in other mountainous areas across the region, use spring water for their personal consumption, kitchen gardens, farms, cattle and poultry. According to Sikkim First, an economic and political journal, about 80 per cent of Sikkim’s rural households depend on springs for drinking water and irrigation.

From experts in Gangtok to laymen in the far-off villages, everyone agrees that erratic rains and frequent droughts have resulted in the drying up of springs in many parts of the state, especially in south. Some say that the problem became worse after the 2011 earthquake in Sikkim.

Many studies, including the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, have reported changes in precipitation and temperature in the Himalayan region in recent years, but the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) says there is a major need for more research on Himalayan precipitation processes, as most studies have excluded the Himalayan region due to the region’s extreme, complex topography and lack of adequate rain-gauge data.

Adapting to changes, the Sikkim way

Thankfully, Sharma said, the water security scheme of Sikkim’s rural development department for recharging the springs “seems to be working in our village” since it was started in 2012. “We get water all year round now,” she said.

According to the people and the government officials in Sikkim, hundreds of springs and the lakes in Sikkim have been drying up, especially from November to May in recent years. This has compelled the government to think of a scheme to revive the drying springs and lakes by artificially recharging the springs.

The brain behind devising this innovative scheme is Sandeep Thambe, an Indian Forest Service officer with a mechanical engineering background who has also carried out extensive research on water and environmental issues in Sikkim and is currently a professor at the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIMF), Bhopal.

Hari Maya Pradhan, a woman who lives alone in her home in Melli Dhara, said that she had decided to give up rearing poultry and cattle as a livelihood option because she had to endure so many hardships to access water. “But now I feel a lot better after the villagers worked hard and dug up the ponds [which help in recharging the springs],” Pradhan, who has two cows and a small poultry unit, told IPS.

Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Many times we protested and were preparing to take all our students to Gangtok to stage a protest demonstration. But our woes got automatically addressed when our springs started producing water in the dry season as well,” said Norbhu Tshering, the school in-charge.

Connected to nature    

In almost all parts of Sikkim, people directly connect plastic pipes to the small springs spread above their habitations to avail the natural water supply. But in the south and western parts of Sikkim, getting water from the springs all through the season has become impossible for more than a decade.

In 2009, this prompted Tambe, who then served in the Sikkim government’s Rural Development Department, to start the Dhara Vikas (or Spring Development) programme for reviving and maintaining the drying springs and lakes particularly in southern and western parts of the state.

The scheme was later launched under the centrally sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), with technical support from other government agencies and organisations like WWF (India) and People’s Science Institute Dehradun.

According to Tambe, the core thrust of Dhara Vikas is to catch the surface runoff water and use it to recharge groundwater sources after identifying the specific recharge areas of springs accurately through scientific methods by digging staggered contour trenches and percolation pits.

“With increasing population, degrading health of watersheds and impacts of climate change, the lean period discharge of these springs is rapidly declining,” Tambe said, adding that artificial recharging has thankfully shown encouraging results.

He said that less than 15 per cent of the rainwater, as has been estimated in various studies, is able to percolate down to recharge the springs, while the remaining flows down as runoff often causing floods.

“Hence, a need was felt to enhance the contribution of that rainwater in ground water recharge, thereby contributing to rural water security,” Tambe told IPS.

Women, Tambe said, are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Reduced access to water, he said, also impacts health, hygiene, and sanitation.

Sarika Pradhan of Sikkim’s Rural Development Department said that 51 springs and four lakes in 20 drought-prone Gram Panchayats of Sikkim have been revived so far as the rural development department has mapped 704 springs in the village spring atlas, which provides information about all the mapped springs.

Her colleague, Subash Dhakal, said that trenches and percolation pits have been dug over an area of 637 hectares under MGNREGA for reviving these springs and lakes with an average cost of 250,000 rupees (USD 3,787) per spring.

*Research for this story was supported by a grant through The Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI) in collaboration with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) Media Fellowships in Environmental Conservation, 2016.

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Kenyans Turn to Wild Fruits and Insects as Drought Loomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/kenyans-turn-to-wild-fruits-and-insects-as-drought-looms/#comments Tue, 31 Jan 2017 12:10:53 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148735 Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Once fertile agricultural land in Kenya is being degraded by encroachment and the effects of climate change. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 31 2017 (IPS)

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant." --Hilda Mukui

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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Farmer Field Schools Help Women Lead on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/farmer-field-schools-help-women-lead-on-climate-change/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 11:35:15 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148696 Mercy Ssekide from Uganda’s Mabende District working together with her husband on their farm. Credit: FAO

Mercy Ssekide from Uganda’s Mabende District working together with her husband on their farm. Credit: FAO

By Sally Nyakanyanga
KAMPALA, Uganda, Jan 27 2017 (IPS)

Discussions around climate change have largely ignored how men and women are affected by climate change differently, instead choosing to highlight the extreme and unpredictable weather patterns or decreases in agricultural productivity.

Women constitute 56 percent of Ugandan farmers and provide more than 70 percent of agricultural production, nutrition and food security at the household level, according to the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET). However, despite the fact that women do most of the farm work, they only own 16 percent of the arable land in the country.Cognizant of women’s labour burden and time poverty, FAO ensures that all project activities are gender inclusive and participatory.

Stella Tereka, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focal person on gender and climate change, says that discriminatory cultural practices that tend to favor men have limited women’s ownership and control over key productive resources in the country — a factor also exacerbating women’s vulnerability to climate change.

“The intensive labour burdens on women, especially the unpaid care work in the household, has resulted in women having less time to practice the learning, knowledge and skills gained from groups in their farming activities,” Tereka told IPS.

Winnie Masiko, the gender and climate change negotiator for Uganda at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), noted the lack of clear guidelines to incorporate gender in climate change projects.

“We need to develop a Gender and Climate Change Strategic Plan,” says Masiko.

The Ugandan Land Policy of 2013 grants women and men equal rights to own and co-own land, but this is not always the reality on the ground. Masiko says initiatives should focus on addressing embedded structural imbalances in order to bridge the gender gap, understand women and men’s varying needs, and pave the way for effective adaptation to climate change.

Edidah Ampaire, coordinator for Uganda’s Policy Action for Climate Change Adaptation project, says that women’s rights and contributions are extremely constrained, especially in rural areas, and that little is being done by government particularly through policy to address the imbalance.

“Gender inequalities are rife in farming communities, putting women at a disadvantage,” says Ampaire.

Tereka stressed that promoting gender equality is at the core of FAO programmes and the U.N. agency has made deliberate efforts to ensure the inclusion of women in all their programs.

“It’s imperative that women get empowered and take part in decision-making at all levels – this way we can see them contributing effectively to the development of their family and nations,” Tereka said.

Through the Farmer’s Field School (FFS) methodology, “commonly known as schools without walls”, FAO has enabled both men and women with a common goal to receive training, share ideas, learn from each other through observation and experimentation in their own context. On average the FFS have about 60 percent women farmers participating.

Proscovia Nakibuye, a cattle farmer in Nakasongola district, said the FFS has taught her effective strategies to cope with climate change. “We have been taught good livestock keeping and to plant pastures,” says Nakibuye.

“Farmer Field School offers space for hands-on group learning, enhancing skills for critical analysis and improved decision making by local people,” Tereka explained. “FFS activities are field-based, and include experimentation to solve problems, reflecting a specific local context.

“Participants learn how to improve their agronomic skills through experimenting, observing, analysing and replicating on their own fields, contributing to improved production and livelihoods, The FFS process enhances individual, household and community empowerment and social cohesion.”

Nakibuye and her husband are seeing major changes both in their household and farming activities. “Before, my children were not going to school but now through increased sales of milk, I can afford a decent education for my children,” she said.

FAO has also utilized the Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) – a community based tool that enables women and men to plan the future they want and take action against barriers, including societal norms that inhibit gender equality and justice.

Mercy Ssekide, a farmer in Mubende District, joined the Balyejjusa FFS. “If you don’t cooperate with your family, the farming won’t be successful – that’s why I had to encourage my husband to join the FFS in order for us to work as a team,” she says.

“We are trained and encouraged to work hard to handle climate change and in order to meet our household needs. During off season we grow tomatoes and earn some money as locals and traders come and buy from us,” says Mercy’s husband.

Together, as a family, they have diversified and ventured into poultry, goat and pig rearing, and kitchen gardening. The Ssekide family are now deciding as a team on the use of their income — and are able to afford giving their two children a university education.

FAO, with funding from European Union, is implementing the Global Climate Change Project in the central cattle corridor in the districts of Luwero, Nakasangola, Nakaseke, Mubende , Sembabule and Kiboga.

Cognizant of women’s labour burden and time poverty, FAO ensures that all project activities are gender inclusive and participatory – particularly adjusting meeting/learning time to ensure women are involved and benefit from the skills and knowledge on climate smart agriculture.

Tereka believes that with an increasingly unpredictable climate, skills development in climate smart agriculture is critical. She urged the Ugandan government to revamp its agricultural extension system to be more gender-responsive, in order for farmers – especially women to – effectively put to good use the inputs being distributed by government under Operation Wealth Creation.

The FFS methodology is now being implemented in 90 countries with 4 million farmers across the globe having improved their skills and adjusted positively to the effects of climate change.

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Drought Could Cost Sri Lanka Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/drought-could-cost-sri-lanka-billions/#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 11:00:22 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148655 In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, over 300,000 people are in need of transported safe water. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jan 25 2017 (IPS)

The warnings are stark, the instructions, for a change, clear.

Sri Lanka is heading into one of its worst droughts in recent history, and according some estimates the worst in 30 years. The reservoirs are running on empty, at 30 percent or less capacity. Only 12 percent of the island’s power generation is currently from hydropower and 85 percent comes from thermal, with a staggering 41 percent from coal.

The rains have stayed away like never before. According to a recent survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the government, last year’s rains were 23 percent less than the 30-year average.One of the long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

Now the instructions: Use water sparingly, do not wash vehicles with pipe-borne water, do not put air conditioning below 26 C, and light bonfires in the morning if you want to protect your crops from the morning mist, a forerunner, according to local yore, of a impending drought.

“It is a very serious situation, something that we have not faced in a long time, but we are taking precautions,” said Lalith Chandarapala, the head of the Meteorological Department. It was his department that first warned of the drought when the rains failed yet again last year around September.

In fact, in 2016, there were only three days of exceptionally high rains, during mid-May, when 300 mm fell on some parts of the island. On either side of them, it was drier than usual.

The effects have been catastrophic. Of a possible 800,000 acres, only a little above 300,000 was planted with the staple rice crops during the last harvesting season due to lack of water.

“This is the lowest cultivation level experienced in Sri Lanka during the last thirty years,” the WFP-government joint survey said. It estimated that by end of December, already close to a million people were affected by the drought in 23 of the 25 districts. By the third week of January, the government’s Disaster Management Center said that over 900,000 were receiving water brought in from outside.

“Even if the country receives average rains in the months of January and February 2017, it is highly unlikely that the current drought situation will improve until March 2017,” the joint assessment warned.

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been denuded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

The government has already slashed taxes on rice imports to fend off price hikes as well as shortages and decided to buy power on short-term agreements from private suppliers till the next rains. The additional power purchases are expected to cost the government Rs 50b.

It has also restricted water supply to areas where there is an acute shortage of safe water and ordered a survey of private wells. Millions of Sri Lankan households use dug wells for domestic consumption without any purview by any authority. Any move to curtail such use or to use these wells for public supplies will be a deeply unpopular move.

Apart from the short-term impacts of such frequent extreme weather events, experts also worry about the long term implications.

“Changing climate is an issue we have to deal with, our policies now have to reflect awareness as well as adaptation measures,” Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshna Yapa said.

One of these long-term consequences that is rarely highlighted is the impact droughts have on land degradation.

The United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that 45 percent of the country’s rural population was living in degrading agricultural areas at the turn of the millennium, and that within a decade that population grew by a further 20 percent.

Researchers at the UNCCD headquarters warned that “when there is drought, most of the plant cover dies, which leaves the land exposed to wind erosion, and to water erosion when the rains return. In addition, long dry spells can make it difficult for the ground to soak up the rainfall, which is the source of ground water.”

A little known fact is that land degradation has serious impact on Sri Lanka’s economy. “Land degradation may be costing Sri Lanka up to about 300 million United States dollars every year. That is approximately one percent of the country’s gross domestic product,” UNCCD said in a statement to IPS.

In rural Sri Lanka, the impact of generations of land use without proper care is clear. In the southern Hambantota District, farmers who depend on water supply for cultivation have been moving deeper into forests and reserves as water availability becomes less and less reliable in more populated areas.

In the Andaraweva area in Hambantota, about 20 km from the closest town a large banana plantation has come up within what is essentially a forest reserve. The plantation which could be as large 20 acres, gains water from a tank meant to be for wildlife nearby.

The cultivators who have obtained written permission from local government officials to use the tank water, much to chagrin of wildlife officials, use five industrial level pumps powered by small tractor motors to pump the water and send it about a1km into the plantation.

The small lake is being dried out by the over use of water, forcing wildlife officials to despair over water for animals.

“We have been abusing our water resources for so long, at least now we should be more careful with it, or we would have to be really, really sorry,” head of the Hambantota Wildlife office Ajith Gunathunga said.

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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