Climatechange impacts:The present is scary and the future is uncertain

14Aug 2020
The Guardian
Climatechange impacts:The present is scary and the future is uncertain

​​​​​​​WHEN Octavius Kihaga, a small farmer of Mwala village in Kilombero District started preparing his rice farm in early October last year, he set mind on finishing the job in time so that when the rainy season started in November he would be ready for planting.

But that was not to be; the rainy season started in mid-October when more than half of the three hectare farm was still full of grass and shrubs. The season that had unusually heavy rains, pounded until May this year, sending panic among farmers of an imminent food shortage. There were those who had not prepared their farms and could therefore not plant, there were also farmers who had cultivated their farms but could also not plant as the paddies were flooded. But there were a few farmers who managed to plant but their crops were washed away by severe floods. 

According to the Tanzania Meteorological Agency, the heavy rains that most of the country experienced could not be attributed to any season; they could not be attributed to either the short rainy season or the long rainy season and they were most probably an impact of climate change.

“The only farmers who have managed to harvest a small crop are those whose farms are on high ground; many farms in the valley have turned into swamps due to the heavy rains and subsequent floods,” says Kihaga.

A similar calamity befell many farmers in Kilombero District in 2014 when heavy rains poured in July, a time when the rice crop is ripe and ready for harvest. Some farmers started harvesting their crop in June that year but were yet to put their crop in stores. A good part of the harvest was destroyed. As if that was not enough, in October when farmers were readying their farms for the planting season, another unexpected round of heavy rains hit the district, flooding most of the farmland. In some parts the swamps thus created never dried and farmers lost their land. Again the two incidents were attributed to climate change.

“But this year the situation has been different; it is worse and we have never seen anything like this before,” says Bonaventure Mpole, a farmer at Mngeta Village in Kilombero District.

Mpole is a Land rights Monitor trained by HakiArdhi, a land rights research and resources institution based in Dar es Salaam. His voluntary work includes, among other things, to educate villagers on their right to own land and protect it as well as to enlighten them on climate change impacts and how to adapt and build resilience.

“Most significantly, some people have permanently lost their farms because the areas have turned into rivers or permanent swamps. A new permanent river cuts across my farm and I have now lost ownership of land and subsequently the right to use. You cannot claim rights on something that does not exist,” he says.

“Even for farms that have turned into permanent swamps, the owners cannot claim ownership of the swamps because these have become part of the ecosystem and therefore public property,” he adds.

There is looming food shortage.Some farmers have turned to dry season farming so they can grow maize, cassava and potatoes but this is only possible for those who still own land. Farmers whose land has been occupied by rivers and swamps have to rent for between 100,000/- and 150,000/- per hectare, which is way too expensive for most of them.

Ironically, the price of maize seeds has shot up to 14,000 per 2kg pack from 8,000/-. This is similar to the price of 20kg of maize grain.

“One has to decide whether to buy seeds or a tin of maize to feed the family,” notes Mpole, adding thata farmer needs 8kg to 10kg of seeds to plant on one hectare, which translates to about 112,000/ -140,000/-.

“This is damn expensive for small farmers. On the other hand, a bag of rice sells at between 70,000/- and 80,000/- and bearing in mind that most of the people have had a poor crop of rice, it would be suicidal for a farmer to sell up to two bags of rice so as to buy enough maize seed for one hectare.,” he explains

Apparently rice is an important crop for inhabitants of Kilombero District as it serves both as food and cash crop. A farmer expects to sell rice so as to meet other needs; a poor rice crop has an impact on food security and economic wellbeing at family level.

However the farmers are not being battered by impacts of climate change hands down. Whereas the farming season usually starts in November and ends in February, farmers now think of starting the season in August so that the planting season begins in October, to rhyme with the beginning of the “new” rainy season in orderto avoid a repeat of last season’s disaster.

“But that is a big gamble. Climate change is unpredictable,” says Richard Nehemiah of Chita village in Kilombero District.

“Unfortunately there is no support from district government in terms of subsidized prices of maize seed or cassava and potato cuttings. Neither are there any plans to provide land to those who have lost through climate change. People are ready to undertake dry season farming but current prices of seeds are prohibitive,” he explains.

In Zanzibar farmers have also lost land and the right to use it due to a different impact of climate change; rising sea levels. “This is quite a big problem but it is being downplayed.About 140 areas have been severely affected by rising sea levels and people have lost ownership of, land, homes and livestock,” says Soud Jumah, Executive Director of Zanzibar Climate Change Association.

Kibele, Tumbatu and Uziare among areas where farmers have had to abandon their farms as flooding sea water has made agriculture not viable. Some residents of Jozani area are likely to lose more land and research indicates that Pemba Island could be hard hit in the near future as more areas are being submerged in sea water even when the tide is low. “This is true picture of climate chaos and ecological breakdown,” says Jumah.

Not many people know that they risk losing ownership of land and the right to use it due to climate change. This calls for campaigns to raise awareness and education in order to equip communities with the capacity to adapt. “There are various community projects focusing on planting, conserving and protecting mangroves. Mangrove forests help to break strong waves and flooding,” explains Jumah.

There is no doubt that climate change has impacts on land ownership and land rights. Individuals, villages and whole countries have suffered from loss of land due to climate change. “When there is persistent severe drought, degradation and desertification, land loses its residence to support plant and human life and becomes useless. At this stage ownership and rights become invalid,” says Dr. Sixbert Mwanga, Executive Director of Climate Action Tanzania (CAN-Tz).

Loss of ownership and rights is also lost through land grabbing where people are forced to manipulate owners to sell land because the former have lost land as a result of climate change. Some of them are known as investors. Even when such investors compensate the locals, the latter lose ownership and rights.

“But we have also witnessed migration of pastoralists from north and central Tanzania to parts of Iringa, Morogoro, Lindi, Mtwara, Coast and Ruvuma regions, among others. These have been forced to move because they have lost ownership of grazing land to climate change. So nature robs communities of the right to own and use land. In some cases those who are thus affected in turn take away the ownership and rights of others,” explains Dr. Mwanga.

The question is whether land owners know they could lose ownership and rights through climate change.“Most of them are aware of the impacts of climate change but they have limited knowledge. However they see the impacts, not the cause and evidence of the cause, but absence of evidence is not absence of effect,” he says.

According to Dr. Mwanga there are several ways to address the problem.For loss of ownership occasioned by naturaldisasters the best redress comes from local efforts that are directed at conserving and protecting land. This has recorded success in some places inhabited by the Masai. “But in order for these efforts to be effectivethere must be a merger of traditional wisdom and modern science, with the use of indigenous knowledge and practice being given prominence,” he says.

It is also crucial for government to protect land owners and their rights by putting in place stiff conditions for investors with the aim of protecting tenure rights and averting loss of ownership and landrights.

“ Let it be made clear to local migrants that the right to live anywhere in the country does not confer the right to destroy the environment in one area and move to another to do similar damage, rather it sets out the obligationto conserve and manage the land. Land use plans could go a long way towards limiting loss of ownership and rights, but these must be made in a participatory manner and their implementation effectively enforced.

A lawyer specializing on land issues at LANDESA, Masalu Luhula argues that the absence of climate change policy accounts, to a great extent, for failure to address loss of land ownership and rights arising from climate change impacts. “Tanzania doesn’t have a climate change policy. In 2012 the Directorate of Environment in the Vice President’s Office developed a five years National Climate Change Strategy that, however, does not respond to these challenges. As such there is no instrument to address loss of land ownership and rights arising from climate change and neither is there any that addresses climate change loss and damage in general,” he says.

The Tanzania National Climate Change Strategy aims to enhance the technical, institutional and individual capacity of the country to address the impacts of climate change but it is not specific on loss of land ownership and land rights although it covers adaptation and mitigation.

Rwanda introduced their Environment and Climate Change Policy in 2003 and revised it in June last year so that it fits into the country’s medium-term National Strategy for Transformation and long-term Vision 2050. The new policy addresses climate change issues by drawing on the latest science and research to guide how climate change should be incorporated into cross government planning.

“It is important for the Tanzania government to consider redress for loss of land ownership and rights to land owners particularly those in the rural areas. This may include policy reforms that support communities to be resilient and adaptive,” says Luhula.