By: Stefan Kistler
Climate Change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and perhaps the single most debated and visible topic in our society as well as on a global basis. Spire has in its still young past constantly been working with the issue – culminating now in it being chosen as the campaign topic for 2009. In choir with the Development Fund, Spire has been persistently pointing out the lack of a “South”-perspective in the climate debate. A quite selfish and ignorant focus on more local and often minor problems connected to a changing climate usually enjoys priority in the North. The general public debate in our wealthier societies frequently fails to see (and care about?) the existential problems a changing climate brings along – especially for the poorer and less resourceful people – in the Global South.
Now, Climate Change can also be perceived as the most overrated, exaggerated and exhausted topic in the media and in the public arena. Dozens and hundreds of articles are written everyday about it – notwithstanding this being one of them. Sometimes it can be a daunting task as well as quite confusing to keep the overview. Myself, I’m a suspicious person by nature. I am never easily convinced, meaning I prefer seeing and investigating things with my own eyes, liking to always leave some space for doubt. Currently being in East Africa, I have the opportunity to do exactly that; to see some of the impacts and implications with my own eyes.
In September, I was part of a group which conducted a brief fieldwork over three days with semi-structured interviews on conservation and farming practices in a rural district just outside of Kampala, Uganda. A minor focus lay further on the environmental challenges these respondents were experiencing. Neither being explicitly asked about it nor being the main focus of the research, over two-thirds of the 15 households interviewed independently named changing weather patterns as one of the major challenges that they face. Here are some of their voices:
“There is long persistent sunshine now”. “You prepare the land and wait for the rainfall, but it simply doesn’t come”. “The rain damages crops”. Thus, when the rains finally come the rainfall periods are shorter than before but more severe. “There is a change in seasons, it has become unpredictable”. “Unpredictable seasons lead to difficulties for planting”.
The latter quote underscores the central point: Seasons have become so unpredictable that farmers often miss the crucial timing of when to sow their seeds. Having farming as their main and often only livelihoods, it is needless to say what consequences a failure of the crops can have for these households and their food-intake. A more subtle consequence, mentioned by one respondent, is that the changing in seasons and crops failure actually leads to difficulties with paying school fees. The timing of payment used to correspond with the period of harvest and thus a larger income. Further, six of the respondents thought that the changing weather patterns were in some relationship to the extensive cutting of trees in and around their village. Our small research project thus suggests that Climate Change and variability is well perceived by local communities.
These findings correspond with a recent and yet unpublished study on Tanzania and Malawi by a group of researchers from Malawi, Tanzania and the UK, which was presented at a research conference in Dodoma in October. It summarizes that farmers can explain climate change in terms of changes in both rainfall and temperature. Agriculture, the key livelihood activity, is constrained by “delayed onset of rains and prolonged drought periods”.
This study being one example, there is increasingly more funding put into climate change research – on the mitigation as well as the adaptation side. I got this confirmed by a Norwegian embassy staff in Dar es Salaam in a meeting on wildlife and natural resources. Due to extensive corruption scandals in the wildlife and forestry sector over the last years in Tanzania, Norway has stopped all funding to these sectors, but they are now moving into a number of projects related to Climate Change. Being the ‘hot topic’ that Climate Change is this increase in attention and funding might surprise little. Though this could perhaps render us somewhat optimistic for the future, it is important not to neglect other pressing issues – which are often interconnected.
Thus, the circle closes. My journey has led me to comprehend that a changing climate is a well perceived reality by and for communities in the Global South who lead a daily struggle to cope with it and adapt to it. Notwithstanding that the conclusion here might be an old one and little concrete – rather resembling a moralistic index finger – initiatives must take place on both the adaptation as well as the mitigation side. Endeavors must be made both at home as well as abroad, starting with the former, with each individual. I have had the opportunity to see it with my own eyes and hear it with my own ears. I know that we can and must do something about it – with our own hands and our own minds.