- Food security is increasingly under threat as extreme weather events, shifting agro-ecological zones and changes in rainfall patterns accelerate the risk of food insecurity.
- In response to the challenges posed by climate change, various adaptation measures have been identified and implemented.
- These aim to improve livelihoods and enhance food security while mitigating the impact of climate change.
Climate change is an undeniable reality, and its consequences have far-reaching effects on various sectors, particularly agriculture and food security. RSK Tanzania Senior Social Consultant Geofrey Mutayoba says developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as their economies heavily rely on agriculture. However, innovative adaptation measures are being introduced that are yielding benefits that go beyond climate resilience.
Food security is increasingly under threat as extreme weather events, shifting agro-ecological zones and changes in rainfall patterns accelerate the risk of food insecurity. Developing countries face significant challenges in providing sufficient food supply for their populations owing to these climate-induced disruptions.
Tanzania is one such country grappling with food insecurity and vulnerability to climate change. A significant portion of its population, approximately 80 per cent , depends on agriculture, with smallholder farmers cultivating most of the arable land.
The effects of climate change on agriculture in Tanzania include prolonged dry periods, uncertain rainfall patterns, changes in cropping seasons and increased competition between crops and weeds for essential resources.
Coastal zone districts in the country are particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, which have led to shifts in coastal ecosystems, changes in fish catch and rising sea levels.
Climate change adaptation strategies and benefits
In response to the challenges posed by climate change, various adaptation measures have been identified and implemented in the coastal zone districts. These aim to improve livelihoods and enhance food security while mitigating the impact of climate change.
In agriculture, these adaptation strategies include establishing a farming calendar to optimise planting and harvesting times, adopting improved seed varieties resistant to diseases and climatic stresses and providing education on innovative farming techniques such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to optimise water usage.
SRI is a farming method that helps rice farmers grow more crops using fewer resources. Farmers in coastal zone districts are taught how to increase their rice harvests by using fewer seeds and less water.
This knowledge enables them to continue farming, even during dry periods, by using less water for irrigation, helping them cope with lower river water levels and enabling a steady supply of food throughout the year.
With this system, new types of rice seeds have been introduced that can handle harsh weather conditions and mature quickly. This has boosted food production from seven bags to around 30 bags of rice per acre, making more food available to farmers and improving their ability to afford essentials.
One such improved rice variety is called Matial Environmental Trial (MET -2), which is resistant to drought and high levels of salt in the soil. Its needle-like leaves also protect the rice from birds that could damage the crop.
Similarly, in the fishing sector, adaptation measures involve establishing fish ponds, upgrading fishing gear and constructing sturdier fishing vessels capable of withstanding strong winds.
These strategies help the fishing communities adapt to changing ocean conditions and declining fish catches in the short term whilst restoration of marine and freshwater habitat continues to restore water quality and biodiversity / a diverse range of fauna and flora.
Fish ponds are a great and sustainable way to raise fish, especially when dealing with changing climates. Farmers can control the environment in the ponds, keeping the water levels and temperature steady, which helps protect the fish from extreme weather.
Plus, using fish ponds saves water compared to traditional fishing methods, which is really important during long dry periods when water is scarce. This means that communities can still have a steady supply of fish to eat, even when there’s not much water around.
Despite providing food and boosting local economies by creating opportunities for selling fish and providing a source of income for farmers, fish ponds are faced by several challenges including parasitic infections
Importantly, these climate change adaptation strategies have benefits that positively impact other aspects of people’s livelihoods and contribute to broader socio-economic development.
These are vital for enhancing the effectiveness and acceptance of climate change adaptation measures among local communities. Studies have shown that people are more likely to embrace climate change adaptation if they witness tangible positive outcomes in their daily lives.
Co-benefits and their role in improving food security
Reducing poverty and improving livelihoods
Using new and creative farming methods – such as planting better seeds, adding fertilisers to the soil, improving soil quality with manure, managing pests effectively and following good farming practices – has greatly boosted the amount of crops and produce that farmers can grow in coastal areas.
Farmers have reported higher yields per acre compared to traditional farming practices. As a result, there has been a considerable reduction in poverty, with farmers experiencing improved livelihoods because of increased income and better access to social services such as healthcare and housing. Enhanced purchasing power enables individuals to access a more diverse and nutritious diet, further contributing to food security.
Maintaining a constant supply of food
The adoption of innovative farming techniques and the construction of warehouses have enhanced post-harvest practices. Farmers now have the ability to store their produce effectively, providing a constant supply of food throughout the year, even during drought seasons.
This has not only improved food security but also reduced food waste and improved farmers’ income by eliminating middlemen. For instance, the adoption of innovative farming techniques in Kenya through the development of non-chemical approaches to controlling botrytis in commercial flower production not only reduces plant-protection costs but also extends the shelf life of roses, thereby minimizing product loss during transportation to European markets, highlighting the importance of avoiding post-harvest losses for economic and safety reasons.
Spending less time on farming and fishing activities
Innovative adaptation measures have reduced the time spent on farming and fishing activities, providing individuals with the opportunity to engage in other socio-economic pursuits.
For instance, improved rice varieties that deter birds have reduced the time spent on bird-chasing, enabling farmers to explore alternative income-generating activities. Similarly, farmers now have more time to engage in fishing during the off seasons, diversifying their income streams and enhancing overall livelihoods.
Integrating the benefits of climate change adaptation planning is crucial for garnering local support and for the successful implementation of such measures. By recognising the multiple benefits that these strategies bring, policymakers and communities can work collaboratively to enhance food security, to improve livelihoods and to build resilient communities that are better equipped to face the challenges of a changing climate.
Embracing climate change adaptation and its benefits will play a vital role in securing a sustainable and prosperous future for developing countries facing the impacts of climate change.
The writer, Geofrey Mutayoba, is a senior social consultant and researcher at RSK Tanzania with more than seven years’ experience in environmental and social sectors, including expertise in International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standards and World Bank Environmental and Social Standards. He has a successful track record of working with international and national clients on various projects, spanning resettlement action plans, gender and inclusion impact assessments, cumulative impact assessments, project-induced migration studies, environmental and social impact assessments to IFC standards, animal welfare, agricultural value chain analyses, artisanal and small-scale gold mining, land use planning, forest management and climate change adaptation.