World Food Day: Climate change and bio-energy; will Africa survive?

For many years, scientists have advanced evidence that climate change is a very serious challenge to the survival of man on earth.
Adverse effects of climate change: A rice field drying.
Adverse effects of climate change: A rice field drying.

For many years, scientists have advanced evidence that climate change is a very serious challenge to the survival of man on earth.

But because the major culprits are the main players in world trade and have a decisive stake in international policy-making, the campaign against climate change, especially global warming was reduced to arguments of whether or not climate change is a result of human causes.

In recent years the likes of El-Nino in Africa, the heat wave in Europe, the more violent hurricane season in the Americas and Asia; including the increased rate of melting ice at the poles.

A consensus emerged that man needs to curb green-house emissions in order not to make his habitat inhabitable has progressively began to gain steam.

The theme of this year’s World Food Day, “World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bio-energy” has raised questions not only on issues of global warming but also on the other elephant in the room, the impact of the decision to go bioenergy at the expense of food production.

The FAO Initiative of Soaring Food prices, which resulted from The High-Level Conference on World Food Security at FAO Headquarters held last June in Rome, Italy; is working primarily with small farmers to ensure the success of the next planting season, in the short term and to increase food production through improved seeds and fertilizers in the long term.

“Hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, fishers and forest-dependent people will be worst hit by climate change,” said Alexander Mueller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources Management and Environment Department.

“Adaptation strategies, especially for the most vulnerable poor countries, where most of the over 920 million hungry people live, need to be urgently developed, reviewing land use plans, food security programmes, fisheries and forestry policies to protect the poor from climate change.”

In the wake of the soaring food prices, the poor people in the developing world who ironically contribute the least of the green house emissions that are responsible for climate change are suffering the most.

Although some countries in the developing world like Brazil are among the countries that have pioneered the development of bioenergy as a viable solution to the overuse of fossil fuels and consequently the production of green house gases, the fact remains that chief polluters like the US, under the guise of developing cleaner energy forms have instead shifted massive resources away from food production hence denying food for many developing countries, most of which are in Africa.

According to a research paper, effects of climate change on global food production under SRES emissions and socio-economic scenarios, “While global production appears stable, regional differences in crop production are likely to grow stronger through time, leading to a significant polarization of effects, with substantial increases in prices and risk of hunger amongst the poorer nations, especially under scenarios of greater inequality.”

So the threats of climate change are a boon to food security especially in poor countries that cannot leverage these effects with improved technology and production methods.

A study released by the Center for Global Development in October 2007, shows that climate change could cause global food production to decline from 5 to 20 percent by the year 2080, and even higher in some countries, according to Voice of America.

“Something like 30 to 40 percent in India for example, and something like 20 percent or more in Africa and Latin America,” said study author William Cline.

According to Dr Gina Ziervogel, senior researcher at the Climate Systems Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town, many factors influence food security, which means that often “the link is not even made between failed crops and changing weather patterns.

Changing weather patterns or extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts, can have negative consequences for agricultural production.

As a result people have less access to food, which forces them to buy food products. This affects their financial situation. It also influences their health as people often buy cheaper food which is frequently less nutritious.

Especially for those who need a nutritious diet -- the chronically ill, for instance -- this poses a problem,” Ziervogel told the Mail and Guardian Online, in July this year.

The links between climate change and reduction in food security are numerous but discreet. A general increase in temperatures can lead to a more severe attack by insect pests, just as the fish stocks in the water will decline with an increase in temperatures and the rate of evaporation hence causing a decline of water levels in water bodies.

According to the Science and Development Network, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has projected prices of bio-fuels for two potential scenarios up to the year 2020.

In both scenarios, increasing crop prices go hand in hand with decreasing availability of and access to, food. Poor people spend a much bigger share of their budgets on food than they do on energy, about 50–70 per cent on food and 1–10 per cent on energy.

With high prices, they are likely to spend less on food, exacerbating poor diets and micronutrient malnutrition. Calorie consumption decreases the most in Sub-Saharan Africa, where scenario two projects that food availability could fall by more than eight per cent by 2020.

The individual impacts of bio-fuels and climate change on food security in Africa and the developing world are grave enough, but if the world does not take concrete steps to minimize the impact on the world’s poor people, we will see a multiple rather than a sum total of the two effects on food security.

Considering that Africa does not use considerable amounts of fossil fuels and that the sole motivation to move away from fossil fuels to biodiesel is not necessarily to curb its greenhouse emissions, but to find a cheaper alternative source of fuel, this year’s World food Day theme is a relevant signal to the direction policy makers should be taking.

It is important to curb greenhouse emissions and explore sources of bioenegy in Africa. However, if we do not find a way of enforcing relevant restrictions on the use of food grains for bio-fuel production and advocate for the reduction of emissions among the economic powers of the world while making gradual but steady steps in increasing our own food production..

Then we might as well be consigning the future generations in Africa to regular famine and constant malnutrition.


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