The two crises displacing Africa’s bread and butter

The two crises displacing Africa’s bread and butter

At least one in five Africans goes to bed hungry and an estimated 140 million people across the continent face acute food insecurity, according to the Global Report on Food Crises 2022 Mid-Year Update*. This situation is exacerbated by climate change and the lasting effects of Covid-19. DIANNE TIPPING-WOODS, from the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform**, shines some light on the situation.

Ndaula Liwela, a farmer from Machita settlement in Namibia’s Zambezi province, points to the scattered flowers of a baobab tree lying on the dry ground close to her homestead. “The fruit this year will be small and few,” she says, even though the iconic tree is known for its ability to store water and thrive in dry conditions. It’s several weeks after she would normally have planted her crops, “but we stopped ploughing when we saw the clouds were not even starting to build”.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27, which took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to 18 last year, concluded with a historic breakthrough. It created a funding stream to help vulnerable countries deal with losses and damages from the impacts of climate change.

At the moment, however, this means very little to Liwela, whose immediate concern is how to feed her family in the face of an increasingly uncertain future.

Her home in Namibia’s northernmost province lies within the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), the five-country transborder park formed to protect biodiversity while supporting people who live in the area. It is not far from the Zambezi River, but is water scarce. Each year, Liwela supplements her livelihood by harvesting baobab and other wild fruits. This year, though, even this wild pantry looks likely to let her down.

Many parts of Africa are increasingly affected by the dry season growing hotter and rainy seasons arriving later; extreme events such as drought are increasing in frequency and severity.

“Liwela’s story is not unique. Over the last year, we have interviewed farmers, fishers, grass harvesters, and many others who rely on natural resources in this region, says World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Namibia’s Sigrid Nyambe. “They have noted the impacts of changing weather patterns on their ability to sustain themselves. This leaves them vulnerable, not just to climate change impacts, but also to other shocks, like the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Nyambe has been working with communities in this region to gather data on how climate change impacts these communities, as part of WWF’s Climate Crowd programme***. This information aids pilot projects to help rural communities adapt to the changes they are experiencing while also reducing pressure on biodiversity.

Addressing the Forum on Finance for Nature-Based Solutions organised by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee of Finance, UN climate change deputy executive secretary Ovais Sarmad says: “We face a double crisis of climate change and nature. The two are inextricably linked. The mutual, intertwined destruction grows worse by the day. If nature and climate change are linked, it only stands to reason that nature-based solutions lie at the heart of addressing both.”

Yet, according to Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, in a recent article for the UNFCCC: “Only about US$133 billion is channelled into nature-based solutions, and investments must triple by 2030 to meet the climate, nature, and land-neutrality targets.”

Nikhil Advani, WWF’s director of climate, communities, and wildlife, adds: “In the last few years we’ve seen two crises – climate change and a global pandemic – intersect. Both impact the most vulnerable communities the hardest and affect how people interact with their natural resources.” For example, in Namibia, climate change and the pandemic both increased the unsustainable use of natural resources, says Advani, who also runs the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform.

Over half of Namibians interviewed in 2021 and 2022 for the Climate Crowd project reported direct impacts on local wildlife, including high mortality rates and wildlife migration to other areas where water and food are more abundant. More than half (58%) of respondents reported that crops had failed or produced very little in recent years, while 62% noted declines in livestock health. About three-quarters of respondents said that the wild fruits harvested seasonally are also declining. And as natural resources become increasingly difficult to find, more people and their livestock come into conflict with wildlife.

“The data we’ve collected shows that we need to focus more on adaptation efforts that protect the people who are most vulnerable,” Advani points out. Within KAZA, there are examples and opportunities for resilience-building through initiatives that are also climate adaptation strategies. These practical, nature-compatible pilot projects being implemented through Climate Crowd often draw on solutions shaped by a community’s own traditional, indigenous, and local knowledge and practices.

Beekeeping is an environmentally friendly and potentially lucrative complementary industry helping communities cope with unpredictable crop yields. Youth in these communities are frequently unemployed and lack access to income-generating activities as rain-fed agriculture declines. In Namibia, one such project involves beekeeping training for youths from Muyako, Omega 3, and Luitcikxom villages in Bwabwata National Park. David Mushavanga, a local bee farmer with over 16 years of experience, will implement the project in partnership with WWF Climate Crowd and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism.

Other projects being implemented in Namibia will focus on increasing water security through rainwater harvesting and solar powered boreholes, climate-smart agriculture, installing clean cookstoves, and other alternative livelihoods such as craft making.

“Climate Crowd is a bottom-up, community-driven initiative. It’s important to support projects the community feels a sense of ownership over. These projects can help them build resilience to multiple shocks and stressors. Environmental emergencies such as climate change could cause social and economic damages far larger than those caused by Covid-19,” Advani adds. “Both the climate crisis and pandemics threaten the well-being of people and nature, which is why we urgently need to pilot projects that make people and nature more resilient. We can learn from these grassroots-led initiatives, and then we can scale them.”

* The Global Report on Food Crises is the flagship publication of the Global Network Against Food Crises, an international alliance of the United Nations, the European Union, and governmental and non-governmental agencies working together to tackle food crises. The publication is facilitated by the Food Security Information Network, a technical platform for exchanging expertise and best practices on food security and nutrition analysis.

** Established in 2021 by the WWF and a host of global, national, and regional partners, the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform aims to connect funders to communities involved in nature-based tourism across 11 countries in eastern and southern Africa – helping to identify the hardest-hit communities and enterprises, as well as their most pressing needs.

*** WWF’s Climate Crowd works with partners in more than 30 countries to collect data on how vulnerable communities are affected by changes in weather and climate, and how they cope with these changes.

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