CLIMATE CHANGE is “…a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (decades to millions of years).”
Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions, that is more or fewer extreme weather events, such as the recurring droughts and cyclones experienced in Zimbabwe since the 1990s.
Climate change is caused by various natural factors but more so by certain human activities, such as deforestation, pollution and environmental degradation.
These have been identified as significant causes of recent climate change, often referred to as ‘global warming’ which has become synonymous with man’s negative impact on the environment.
Global warming refers to surface temperature increases while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increases greenhouse gas levels.
Climate changes such as extreme weather, ozone depletion, increased danger of wild fires, loss of biodiversity and stresses to food-producing systems, among others, have led to the emergence of large-scale environmental hazards to human health and the global spread of infectious diseases, such as the current deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2009, the Global Humanitarian Forum published a report on the global human impact of climate change, estimating over 300 000 deaths and about US$125 billion in economic losses annually.
It indicated that most climate change-induced mortality is due to worsening floods and droughts in developing countries.
According to the US National Research Council, in a paper titled ‘Advancing the Science of Climate Change’: “Science has made enormous inroads in understanding climate change and its causes, and is beginning to help develop a strong understanding of current and potential impacts that will affect people today and in coming decades. This understanding is crucial because it allows decision makers to place climate change in the context of other large challenges facing the nation and the world…. there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities….”
In the recent past, climate change may be detected by corresponding changes in settlement and agricultural patterns.
Climate change effects have been linked to the collapse of various civilisations; a hypothesis which has also been advanced as the possible collapse of the MaDzimbahwe Civilisation from 10th to 15th Century.
As climate change sets in, global, regional and national food systems face major challenges and require fundamental transformations.
More than ever, responding to these challenges will require a systems-oriented, multi-disciplinary approach to reshape food systems so they work for all people sustainably.
Without adaptation to climate change in our agriculture sector, it will be impossible to achieve food security for all and eradicate hunger, malnutrition and poverty – goals which have been set by the UN and its various agencies, such as WHO, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)and others.
WHO’s ambition for nutrition is to end all forms of malnutrition.
The world’s poorest countries and their people are particularly hard hit by climate change. Smallholder producers such as rural farmers, herders, fishers, forest-dependent communities as well as women and children are among the most vulnerable as their subsistence relies almost entirely on natural resources.
Lives and livelihoods are at risk.
In the face of climate change, under current circumstances, FAO estimates that food production will have to increase by at least 50 percent to feed the increasing population.
However, owing to human-induced climate change, many agricultural development gains of the past decades are said to be threatened, together with the goal of ending world hunger by 2030.
Recent UN estimates show that after steadily declining over the past decade, global hunger appears to be on the rise and is now affecting more than one-out-of-10 people worldwide. The estimated number of undernourished people increased from 777 million in 2015, to 815 million in 2016.
But development goals are theoretical and outcomes are not fore-ordained.
The achievement of a goal, such as smallholder-led agricultural growth, requires dedicated political leadership, financial and human resources, efficient markets, technological innovation, a favourable macro-economic environment for agriculture and farmer support services that are efficient and financially sustainable over time.
In Zimbabwe, where agriculture is largely subsistence, WFP estimated that, in 2020, more than 7,7 million people (half the population) faced food insecurity as poor rains and erratic weather patterns negatively impacted crop harvests and livelihood prospects.
Low-productivity agricultural practices and lack of access to markets were also cited as affecting the food security of the vast majority of rural Zimbabweans whose livelihoods depend on rain-fed agricultural production.
This resulted in high rates of undernutrition, especially in rural districts where diet, maize being the main staple, lack diversity and are poor in essential nutrients.
But this was not always so.
From 1980 to 1985, Zimbabwe’s smallholder food production was a global success story.
It peaked in 1984 and then declined steadily from 1985.
Most of the decline in smallholder maize cultivation occurred in the lower-rainfall areas, thus contributing to household food insecurity and malnutrition in these and other areas, including most urban areas.
The ever-rising demands seem to clash with goals to reduce greenhouse gasses and build a climate-resilient, zero-emission future.
Because they are wholly inter-related, finding better linkages between baseline development, climate drivers and climate change is vital for reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to build a future (without hunger) sustainably, which the vast majority of world leaders agreed to when adopting the Goals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Paris Agreement in 2015.
FAO works with partners and countries to build resilience in agriculture sectors worldwide, including Zimbabwe.
It defines food security as follows: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
FAO identifies four conditions towards ensuring food security, namely: adequacy of food supply or availability; stability of supply without fluctuations or shortages from season-to-season or from year-to-year; accessibility to food or affordability; and quality and safety of food.
Thus, increasing the rate of growth of agriculture is especially important in poorer countries where daily per capita incomes are typically well below the poverty datum line; food accounts for 40-50 percent of family expenditure while two-thirds of the population depend directly or indirectly on agriculture and the rural economy for their livelihoods.
The World Bank (WB) has repeatedly urged African nations to step up agricultural growth rates between four and five percent per annum.
But from 1990 to 1999, half of the 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa only achieved an annual agricultural growth rate of less than three percent.
Agriculture can make a strategic contribution to family and national food security and ending hunger- but ending hunger also depends crucially on a growing national economy that increases family income providing the means for families to purchase food with essential nutrients lacking in most staple diet, such as maize.
It is essential, therefore, to build smarter plans for development by making sure that climate change concerns, especially adaptation, are fully integrated into planning, policy and budgeting mechanisms, including in key sectors like agriculture.
Initiatives like the joint UNDP-FAO Integrating Agriculture in National Adaptation Plans Programme (NAP-Ag) supports and provides assistance to implement climate actions by identifying viable and impactful economic options to adapt to the changing climate, tracking adaptation efforts and progress on the ground to build resilience in the agriculture sectors.
By embracing agricultural innovations, empowering local climate actions and educating food producers on climate resilient farming and ranching, Zimbabwe can achieve climate- smart, food security.
The aim is for a world where nations are able to grow economically, develop socially, feed their children and strengthen their institutions, while maintaining global temperature increase to two degrees and under, by reaping the co-benefits of mitigation and adaptation.
But we, the people must also play our part!
Dr Tony Monda is Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and scholar. He is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, agronomy and food security and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. Email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com