COP28: It’s time to think of farmers hit hard by climate change impact

02Dec 2023
Zuwena Shame
The Guardian
COP28: It’s time to think of farmers hit hard by climate change impact

Climate change's pressing urgency and its profound impact on both human and environment is irrefutable. Food and agriculture sector, major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, stands at the heart of this global challenge.

These emissions, largely from industrial agricultural practices, are unsustainable and drive biodiversity loss at an alarming rate. 

Historically overlooked in climate talks, food systems are finally gaining the attention they merit, as evidenced at the recent COP27 summit. There is an emerging consensus: transforming food systems is indispensable to effective climate action.

The world is tackling climate change on how to address it. And the world needs solutions to climate change which address the problem without further harming the ecosystem or destroying the livelihoods of people’s lives and that solution is agro-ecology.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), climate change threatens the ability to ensure global food security, eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. In 2016, SOME 32 percent of global emissions originated from human activity came from agri-food systems including deforestation, livestock production, soil and nutrient management, and food loss and waste. Also, the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases is trapping more heat in the atmosphere which causes global warming.

Climate change has both direct and indirect impacts on agri-food systems due to the shifting and unpredictable rainfall patterns and temperatures, a higher incidence of extreme weather events and disasters such as drought, floods, outbreaks of pests and disease As well as ocean acidification. 

As the world gathers for COP28 2023 in the United Arab Emirates from November 30 2023 to December 12 this year for United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCC), climate change remains a challenge to many countries especially farmers in rural areas who depend entirely on agriculture for food and earn income to survive. Tanzania, where performance of the agriculture sector, which has historically been the backbone of economy, is projected to drop as a result of negative effects of ongoing global climate change.

The country’s main economic activity is agriculture, a fragile climate change activity that employs about 80 percent of the total population. Like many other Less Developed Countries (LCD’s), Tanzania’s economy is more vulnerable to climate change adverse impact due to its dependency on climate change sensitive activity (agriculture). 

Despite climate change being one of the threats for agriculture in Tanzania, yet a solid solution for it seems to have not been realized as most farmers in rural areas are struggling for food and money to sustain their livelihoods. This is because climate change poses significant risks of prolonged drought and unpredictable weather, threatening the livelihoods of subsistence farmers in Tanzania.

Ameer Emiru, 28 years old small-scale farmer, husband and a father of one child at Mvuha ward in Morogoro District says the weather is increasingly unpredictable and very challenging to farmers around the area.

Emiru grows various crops such as cassava and sunflower, but he decided to try paddy (rice) for his household consumption, as well as earning a living, but things turned-out to be unpredictable.

With his single acre rice farm, Emiru expected to reap a minimum of 16 sacks of rice, but managed only six sacks due to the long draught as well as long periods of rain which caused the huge loss for his entire family.

“This year has been bad for farmers, but it’s worse on my side as I did not expect what I have earned. From what I invested, I expected to earn a lot but things turned out to be negative” he said.

Emiru said that unexpected long scorching sun and rains stopped quickly, something which confused many farmers in his area. By the time they were preparing to plant seeds, they were assured and duly advised by extension officers but things didn’t go as planned.

“This is something not normal. They (extension officers) assured us that at the end of the season, we would harvest a maximum of eight sacks of rice per half an acre but that didn’t happen.” said Emiru, adding that they followed all procedures before preparing a farm.

He added that last year it was announced by authorities that rain seasons would start in September, but they had to wait until October and November in some areas.

For him, he claimed that it was something unusual because after a short period of rain, then they stopped and sun started where by those farmers who planted rice, yield were burnt due to drought caused by too much sunshine.

“Drought caused by climate change has affected us a lot. Imagine a small-scale farmer who depends only on agriculture and loses a lot. This issue should be addressed at national or continental level to help farmers like me.” 

Emiru suggests that apart from awareness on weather forecasts, the government should look for the best solutions for climate change impact and best agricultural practices which will be a solution for small scale farmers in Tanzania so that they can earn food for home use and grow their economy.

Dorothea Laiser, is a 35-years-old small scale farmer and mother of three who grows vegetables especially green papers, broccoli and cauliflower in Arusha Region. She said that for vegetable farmers, climate change impact is the worst threat because of the perishable nature of the crops they produce. 

Like Emiru, she depends on agriculture only to earn a living and pay for her children's school fees and other necessities. She explained that vegetable farming needs water from the scratch so that yields can come out fresh but climate change effects like drought and floods can cause harm to produce.

“You can lose your life saving capital just in a blink of an eye due to climate change impact. We need collective efforts to find a lasting solution for this challenge” she said.

Laiser has a little knowledge on agro-ecology and that can be one of the solutions for climate change and food security. She added that agro-ecology may provide a light in solving different agriculture challenges occasioned by climate change.

According to her, agro-ecology is viable for small-scale farmers and suggested that the government can invest more in conducting research, advocacy and come up with a solution so that many people can practise agro-ecology in Tanzania.

“More research to improve effectiveness of agro-ecology and technology to expand it can be practised in intervals and larger scale so that farmers can reach their targets and harvest surplus crops for cash,” she said.

Various agriculture organizations in Tanzania have been advocating for agro-ecology as one of the best ways to address climate change impact by fostering biodiversity through agro-ecological principles, building on best practices, and creating an enabling environment.

ActionAid Tanzania is one the organizations in Tanzania advocating for agro-ecology as the possible solution for climate change impact because it makes communities resilient to unpredictable rainfall among others.

Hassan Tema, Information Technology and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Tanzania, said that the real meaning of agro-ecology is the cheapest means of earning food at the family level and how that warrants food security as well as climate change impact mitigation.

Tema said that conventional farming deprives the poorest nations of financial resources through expensive fertilizers, seeds and pesticides which in turn give farming outputs which still compromise health and hence medical costs.

“As the world’s climate change organs assemble for COP28, and since we are in the midst of climate change challenges, agro-ecology should be addressed as the best and easiest possible way for food security,” he said.

Sustainable Agriculture in Tanzania (SAT) has been at the forefront in community sensitization on how the power of agro-ecology has transformed Tanzania's agriculture sector. 

Through innovative approach, SAT has emerged as a key player in promoting sustainable farming practices. SAT believes that agro-ecology is a holistic and sustainable approach that integrates ecological principles and social dynamics in farming systems, also its potential to enhance productivity, livelihoods and protect the environment.

Janet Maro, SAT chief executive officer said that planting trees is one strategy to tackle challenges brought about by climate change. She argued that agro-ecology and climate change are related issues because communities diversify their farming systems by applying agrological approaches in soil fertility management, water management and soil erosion control.

“These practices use resources more efficiently, allowing nutrients and biomass to circulate within the system and they are less dependent on seasonal external inputs. Recovery of forest cover and the structure and health of the soil allows more water to be available and stored,” she said.