Lately there has been some discussion of the increasing costs of staple food items, such as wheat, being a factor in the Egyptian and Tunisian protests. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices surged to a new historic peak in January, for the seventh consecutive month. In a world of extreme weather it is something we need to to prepare for, as climate change has serious ramifications on food security. And whether you “believe” in climate change or not, the fact is that changing weather patterns are deeply affecting agriculture.
In India many crops are under threat – coffee, tea, mangoes, wheat, rice, apples, cashew nuts. Organizations are looking at ways of adapting traditional crops to changing weather patterns and lack of resources such as water. In Tamil Nadu, in southern India, Oxfam India is working with local groups and the rural poor to revive ancient systems of storing water. Local communities and the government are repairing and reusing a water storage system that channels water through feeder canals and into man-made water troughs. This is a system that has been used for hundreds of years, if not millennia, to conserve water during times of drought.
It is important to keep in mind that women are on the frontline of climate and food security. Women are more dependent of agriculture than men. Depending on the region, women farmers account for 45% to 80% of all food production in developing countries. In India, women comprise 72% of those employed in the agriculture sector. Yet less than 10% of women own land and women are often excluded from decision-making processes. Increases in food prices make food more inaccessible to poor people, especially women and girls. Moreover, it has been documented that female health declines more than male health during times of food shortages.
One way of dealing with the impact of climate change on food production is to empower women, who are traditional savers of seeds and protectors of biodiversity. Initiatives should support tapping into women’s hands-on knowledge of ecosystems and best practices and supporting them as positive stewards of the land. According to Berkeley-based Women’s Earth Alliance, when women are no longer marginalized from accessing land, training, markets, and policy recognition, and have the support critical to their sustainability and success, they will be able to improve their food and economic security and improve the health of their farm and natural resources. Empowering women, especially women farmers, is a win-win for communities the world over.
(In a follow-up to my last post on climate refugees, the Asian Development Bank has a forthcoming report on the increase in migration due to climate change. “National governments and the international community must urgently address this issue in a proactive manner.”)