Tonya Rawe, Senior Policy Advocate, CARE USA, calls on our nation’s leaders to integrate climate change into our “comprehensive approach” to global food security.
Manik Lal Lahere of Banahil, Chhattigarh, India and Maria Mathayo of Bangalala, Tanzania may live thousands of miles apart. But they are facing one challenge together: changing rainfall patterns.
“When there is no water, nothing will grow on that land. As a result, one has to migrate,” said Lahere.
For Mathayo, the challenge of unpredictable rainfall is similar.
“If the rains stop, there is nothing we can do. Only God can help us then. We have nowhere to go,” she said.
The reality for Manik Lal Lahere and Maria Mathayo and their families resembles a reality for countless other smallholder farmers in poor communities around the world. Their ability to feed their families – and their very survival – depend directly on the climate and the environment around them. With too much, too little, or increasingly unpredictable rain, they cannot grow food and are left with few options. There is often little choice but for these families to move. Yet as the impacts of climate change increase, even moving may not help.
“I moved from the mountain to find water here in the Ruvu Valley. But now that water has gone too,” said Leonard Rabieti of Ruvu Mferejini, Tanzania. “It has dried up.”
Around the world, poor communities live on the edge of crisis without resources and support systems to enable them to adapt or to serve as a safety net in times of crisis. As a result, in the context of climate change, poor communities experience more hunger and face greater challenges to “graduate” out of poverty.
At the recently concluded climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, CARE & United Nations University released an 8-country study, Where the Rain Falls, that examines the relationship among rainfall changes, hunger, and human mobility or migration. The study aims to increase understanding of how families manage in these uncertain circumstances and how they use the option to move as a way of adapting to a changing climate. The research reveals that the decision to move (generally within a country’s borders) is not always a bad decision. At the same time, it isn’t always a good one.
For some families, when one person moves for education or better job opportunities, the whole family can benefit. For others who move because of food shortage or because their agriculture-based livelihood doesn’t provide enough food or income, migration is a last resort that merely enables them to maintain the status quo.
For others, like Manik Lal Lahere and his family, migrating can actually have a negative effect. The entire Lahere family migrates together rather than split up, but as a result, their children are pulled out of school, harming their chances for advancement as adults.
Or migration can make the family members left behind more vulnerable: in Bangladesh where 97 percent of migrants in the research communities are men, women who are left behind when husbands migrate not only have an increased burden to care for their families, households, and agricultural activities but also face sexual harassment. When fathers migrate, some families decide to marry off their daughters early so they don’t experience sexual harassment, which can carry a stigma, while the father is away.
Where the Rain Falls reveals that poor families need better choices in the face of hunger and a changing climate. Climate change poses a real threat to global efforts to address hunger, threatening to decrease agriculture yields and water availability – and increase hunger. One study shows that climate change could leave 25 million more children malnourished by 2050.
Where the Rain Falls and the climate crisis also signal the need for a new, holistic approach to tackling global hunger. Climate change requires that policymakers and practitioners take climate change – impacts, vulnerability and projections – into account when designing food security programs. Programs must engage communities to prepare for impacts like the floods we witnessed during our research in Vietnam – floods that can wipe out an entire harvest. Food security programs must ensure farmers (women and men) have access to weather and climate projections so they can plan for farming and for their future.
Food security programs also should integrate efforts to build the capacity of poor communities to engage in local, regional, and national planning processes to ensure that their needs are recognized and prioritized. And we must address social inequalities that drive vulnerability to climate change: when women have less access to resources or decision-making power, they are less able to plan for their families, yet they are often left responsible for tasks that are sensitive to climate change, like fetching water or growing food.
Climate change demands more than business as usual. In the lives of poor smallholder farmers, the only silos are those in their dreams to store vast amounts of grain. There’s no separation between water, soil health, food, fuel, or health. When families struggle – when water is scarcer and further away, when food runs short, when poor soil leads to small yields – hunger, malnutrition, and poor health result.
So when we talk about the need for a “comprehensive approach” to food and nutrition security, “comprehensive” must mean integration of natural resource management and of climate change. An integrated world that looks at the environment and climate is the world in which smallholder farmers live and the foundation on which their survival depends.
To learn more about Where the Rain Falls, or hear more of the Lahere and Mathayo families’ story, visit www.wheretherainfalls.org where the global report and a 12-minute policy film are available.
Interested in getting involved with CARE’s issues such as climate change? Check out The CARE Action Network, or CAN, a group of CARE supporters working to educate our nation’s leaders to tackle these challenges and fight global poverty.