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Climate change: Insights from Tanzania

24/09/14
Carly Griggs
The global response to climate change is in the spotlight with September's one-day summit at the UN in New York. We asked guest blogger Carly Griggs to  explain what life is like for farmers at the sharp end of climate change.
Climate change: Insights from Tanzania

As we pull into Songambele village, the sky is overcast and a soft drizzle clings to the windows. It is unusually chilly for September and I hug my jumper tight as I step out of the car. These weather conditions, however, do not distress the village residents – this is the nearest this they have seen to rain since April and the atmosphere is one of hope and excitement.

Songambele village is in Dodoma region, Tanzania. While Dodoma has always been arid, first-hand accounts from long term residents reveal a worrying pattern; since the 1980s rainfall has noticeably decreased and when it does appear, is more sporadic. People tell you, “There has always been drought, but not like now.” Sometimes the short rains, previously expected between October and December, do not come at all.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring region of Morogoro, farmers and pastoralists are battling with intermittent periods of drought and heavy rains. Highland dwellers complain of strong winds and soil erosion, while valley dwellers suffer from flash flooding and nutrient leeching. Pest and disease patterns are changing for humans, animals and crops alike. The story is again one of unpredictability – and unpredictability to a farmer is the equivalent of disaster.

I spend a fair amount of time talking to farmers in Tanzania about climate change and the impact it is having on their lives and how they are coping with the changes they experience. Some report receiving training from NGOs in climate smart agriculture. Others are recipients of government drip irrigation systems. But the large majority feel completely powerless. Praying remains high on the list of coping mechanisms.

One man in Songambele village tells me about the reality of farming for him and his family.  Every year he prepares his farm, applies fertilizers and pesticides providing he can access/afford them and each year he harvests less and less produce. This year he set aside two acres for groundnuts. He harvested 60 kilograms in total. The local market rate – the only market he has access to – is 12,000 Tanzanian Shillings per 30 kilogram bag. Since 1 GBP is currently equal to 2,800 Tsh, this man reportedly made just over 8.50 GBP off two acres of land.

I asked him how much he spent on inputs. He said he wasn’t sure but he thinks he spent more than he earned. What will he do next year? He wants to learn more about modern farming practices, and maybe diversify his income by growing different crops, but he is not sure if he has enough money to invest in buying new seeds.

For me, this story is heartbreaking for so many reasons. Because the man is stuck in a cycle of spending more on inputs than he is gaining in outputs. Because the man lacks the knowledge and skills he needs to adapt to his changing environment. Because market linkages are so poor and access to information about market prices so weak that farmers remain vulnerable to exploitation. And because the man earns so little that he is unable to consistently purchase other important produce and ensure he and his family have a balanced diet.

Climate change is increasingly recognized as a cross-cutting development issue.  Attempting to tackle rural and urban poverty, agricultural productivity, economic empowerment, market access, food security and health and nutrition without applying a ‘climate change lens’ will be missing a huge piece in the puzzle.

And while government, policy makers and development organizations will undoubtedly continue to have a huge role to play in addressing the impact of climate change on third-world communities, private sector investment is also critical.

Farmers need market linkages. Without them, and without a guaranteed income, there is little point in taking up new activities to improve productivity and quality. But the private sector can also play an increasing role in funding farmer training; on climate-smart agriculture, on record keeping and financial management, and on the importance of biodiversity, income diversification and nutrition as resilience mechanisms.

A common understanding of the cause of climate change in rural Tanzania is that people are cutting down trees, and the lack of trees has stopped rainclouds from forming and has left the land vulnerable to wind and direct sunlight. While it is likely local deforestation impacts negatively on local adaptation, Africa’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions remains insignificant.

Tanzanians are not the reason Tanzania is being affected by climate change, and those countries that are actually to blame need to accept responsibility on a large scale. Global food security in the future depends on it.

Carly Griggs has lived in Tanzania for over 5 years, working on various projects that support farmers to adapt to climate change and access market opportunities. She is passionate about farmers’ rights as key players in food supply chains. She grew up in England and studied Human Sciences at the University of Oxford.

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