Thursday, December 1, 2011

Climate Change to Worsen Food Crisis

 Cattle graze in a field of withered maize crops in Bukwo district.
By Gerald Tenywa in Durban, South Africa at the UN Climate Change Conference 2011

THE changing rainfall patterns are likely to disrupt the productivity of Uganda’s rain-fed agriculture, causing food insecurity and pushing millions of people deeper into poverty.

According to a report, titled, “Turning up the heat” released recently by Oxfam, erratic rainfall in the March to June was causing drought and a reduction in crop yields and plant varieties.

The report says the later rains towards the end of the year are more intense and destructive bringing floods, landslides and soil erosion.

“Food insecurity in Uganda is a major challenge and climate shocks are making food insecurity worse. Impacts are greatest on the lives of ordinary people, especially women, frustrating their efforts to overcome poverty,” the report reads.

Farmers concerned
During a tour organised recently as part of the conference for climate change adaptation in Africa, Rose Kiteiywo, a farmer on Mt. Elgon, said: “These days, rains are very heavy. As a result, our soil has been degraded. So, we do not grow as much food as we used to. This means that even when the price of food crops is high, we do not get the benefit because we are supplying little to the market.”

In a separate interview, Stephen Muwaya said, “The intensity of the rain is likely to increase, meaning the rain that should be distributed over weeks comes in a day or a few days instead. This affects crops because rain that helps crops to thrive spreads out over a period of time.”

According to Akiiki Magezi, a member of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rising temperature and extreme weather conditions in the coming decades is likely to cut output in some areas and wipe out crops entirely in others.

High temperature  a risk
The high temperatures will provide good conditions for disease-causing organisms to breed and invade food crops.

Magezi spoke to New Vision ahead of the inter-Governmental negotiations organised under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.

The two-week meeting, which started on Monday, is set to discuss funding from rich countries that are responsible for releasing the bulk of the carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Emissions such as carbon dioxide from the factories also referred to as greenhouse gases form a blanket around the earth, causing climate change. Magezi said the global average temperature is rising by 0.5 degrees celsius every decade.

“If Uganda is already being hit by successive floods and drought, what will happen when temperature increases by two degrees celsius?” asks Bob Natifu, the communication officer at the Climate Change Unit.

Coffee endangered
Coffee, which is one of the main income earners for Uganda’s farmers, is expected to suffer with only parts of Mt. Elgon and Rwenzori staying in production should temperatures increase by two degrees celsius.

This, according to Jimmy Baluku, an official of the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, will undermine the livelihoods of many households across the country.

IPCC predicts more floods
As the IPCC warns of frequent floods and droughts, the risk of food insecurity and erosion of livelihoods is likely to increase. This is part of the troubled future for Ugandan farmers who worry that climate change could disrupt production.

But what the country should worry more about is the destruction of the ecological systems such as wetlands and forests.

“Such systems act as a shield. When there is too much water they store the water and release it gradually,” he said.

The Oxfam report pointed out that there is slow progress in assisting countries like Uganda to adapt and prepare for disasters like drought and floods.

As a remedy, Muwaya says a fast-maturing crops should be introduced because the changing climate will not favour most of the crops being grown in the country.

Muwaya said it is important to practise water and soil conservation, pointing out that this would minimise the impact of climate change.

He also said technologies such as irrigation should be introduced, but this requires a lot of investment yet Uganda’s agriculture is built around small holder-farmers. “Irrigation is not cost-effective for small-holder farmers and should be considered as a second step after soil and water conservation,” Muwaya said.

According to Dr. Callist Tindimugaya, a commissioner in the Ministry of Water and an assessment study is being undertaken to establish Uganda’s irrigation potential.

Early warning systems 
Antony Wolimbwa, the Co-ordinator of Climate Change Action Uganda, a network of civil society organisations, said meteorological services in the country need overhauling and their capacity strengthened.

“We need sound predication to be able to plan and live with the changing climate,” Wolimbwa said.

In response, Magezi. who is also the acting Commissioner for Metrology said the department has challenges of funding, equipment and manpower to improve on the meteorological services.