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Smallholder farmers facing the brunt of climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa

September 26th, 2014 by Posted in Climate change, English
 Water flows from trough to crop. Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam

Water flows from trough to crop. Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam

Climate-related disasters in the five years since global leaders last met to discuss climate change have cost almost half a trillion dollars (US$490 billion) – three times more than for the whole of the 1970s, international agency Oxfam said Friday.

In its observations ahead of the UN Climate Summit, called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday in New York, Oxfam said more than 650 million people have been affected and more than 112,000 lives lost as a result of weather-related disasters since 2009.

“Since then, each year has been among the top ten most expensive on record. Poor people are being hit first and hardest by climate change. Livelihoods and crops have been destroyed, increasing food prices and leaving millions hungry. However international commitments to reverse the threat of climate change have stalled,” said the agency’s report, entitled ‘The Summit that Snoozed’.

The forthcoming gathering of world leaders, dubbed ‘The Ban Ki-moon Climate Summit’, is intended to galvanise global action to tackle climate change.

“However, despite the UN Secretary General’s initiative, world leaders are expected to bring little to the table,” Oxfam said. “There will be some promising plans announced by the private sector but, overall, Oxfam believes that the private sector initiatives lack the necessary ambition and scope to deliver a game-changing blow against climate change, offering no substitute for government action.”

Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said: “World leaders are behaving as if we have time to play with but they are ultimately playing with people’s lives. Climate change is happening now, claiming lives and making more people hungry. The costs are mounting and delay will only make the situation worse.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is already negatively affected by climate change and the trend will continue to worsen in the future. Rising temperatures and increasing unpredictability of rainfall is reducing the yields of smallholder farmers. Climate change disproportionately affects women and smallholder farmers, through increased competition for scarce resources and high vulnerability to disasters. Southern Africa is exceptionally susceptible given that almost 80% of national populations reside in rural areas and draw their living from agriculture, which is highly climate-dependent. An estimated 50-100 million people in Southern Africa may experience water shortages by mid-century. It is estimated that 80% of rangelands and rain-fed croplands in the region are degraded. Only 4% of the cultivated land in Southern Africa is under irrigation. Environment and natural resources management is not prioritized in policy. Overall, SADC member countries have not developed climate change policies in a coordinated manner. There are still significant policy gaps.

These challenges call for the strengthening of certain policy aspects in the SADC RAP RF, especially as they relate to youth, women and smallholder farmers.

The risks of climate change are real and demand a robust response. Therefore Member States should strive to:
• adopt the Integrated Rural Development Strategy;
• promote agro-ecological farming practices based on traditional farming knowledge and technologies and infrastructure to increase the resilience of vulnerable farmers, including systems for irrigation;
• strengthen the formation and implementation of sustainability plans and early warning systems (EWS);
• broaden EWS to cover food availability, access to food, information on staple food markets and crop and livestock pests and diseases;
• develop a cohesive and comprehensive disaster risk management/ reduction framework that goes beyond just food security;
• provide incentives for facilitating production shifts to food products; and
• develop and harmonise effective climate change adaptation actions.

 Oxfam staff and partners show their commitment to the Food & Climate Justice campaign

Oxfam staff and partners show their commitment to the Food & Climate Justice campaign

When leaders met in Copenhagen in 2009, they agreed to cut emissions but not by enough to avoid global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

However countries have done nothing to increase ambition since, despite plummeting costs of renewable energy. Some like Canada and Japan have backed away from their pledges altogether.

Now the world is on course to warm by almost 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which will guarantee widespread climate destruction and hunger.

According to Byanyima, “Voluntary action by the private sector will not be enough on its own. We need strong political leadership and ambitious government regulations to catalyse the global action that both the science and a growing number of people around the world demand.”

Oxfam called for the Ban Ki-moon Climate Summit to insist that governments recommit to their 2 degrees Celsius goal, increase their near-term emissions reduction targets and agree new targets to phase out fossil fuel emissions entirely by the second half of the century.

“They must increase their climate finance to meet their target of US$100 billion a year by 2020, and provide grants to the Green Climate Fund over the next three years totalling US$15 billion,” the agency urged, insisting that by Spring 2015, they must submit ambitious initial pledges for the UN Climate Conference in Paris at the end of next year, in line with their fair share of the global effort needed to put the world back on track to avoiding runaway climate change.

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