Climate change has been one of the hottest topics debated on in the last five years and as the debate continues, we are yet to see the solutions to it. Sierra Leone too is no exception to climate change as in the past years we have seen how the weather has been erratic.
Presently, Sierra Leone experiences heavy rainfall during the dry season especially in the months of February and March. This unpredicted rainfall has been affecting agriculture in the country by destroying food crops and the road network. When the sun is up, it is very hot and this tells us that both seasons are of extreme conditions.
Rising food prices across the globe is a daily headache for us, particularly a country like ours that is poverty stricken. Climate change is already taking its toll, including threatening crops and increasing food insecurity for other countries, because Sierra Leone is already food insecure.
Finding long lasting and sustainable solutions to climate change is becoming a global emergency. The entire world is feeling the pinch, with the most impoverished, especially women and children who are the most affected. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in their 2008 report says fisheries, forestry and agriculture are among the most climate sensitive sectors. The changes in rainfall patterns contribute to severe water shortages or flooding and rising temperatures cause shifts in crops growing.
Climate change and rain variability are major challenges already facing agricultural productivity in the country. Sierra Leone has not been able to feed itself in the past and now climate change is affecting the little we produce. This means the poverty rate in the country is set to increase if the government does not take necessary measures.
The rural people are trying to develop traditional adaptive strategies to cope with the effects of climate change on agricultural productivity, but need support to sustain these practices. Most agricultural livelihood activities are linked to rainfall levels and frequencies which have been varying. In my village, the gardeners or farmers have different crops and vegetables they grow in rainy season and dry season, but the changes in the weather pattern is affecting them as vegetables planted in the dry season has been affected greatly by the unpredictable heavy rainfall.
These farmers are developing some adaptive strategies such as crop diversification, conservation agriculture and irrigation farming, but they lack the capacity to implement them in full scale. That is where the government can come in to help with data, mechanical equipment and even encouraging foreign investor to utilize these lands in large scale production, because they will be fully equipped with modern technology.
The recently held Climate Change conference reported that Carbon dioxide contributes 66 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and the United States is the major polluter accounting for about 30 percent. China is second, but they are better off than the USA because they are ready to work in cutting down these emissions whilst the USA refused to sign up.
Brazil another polluter is now in the process of finding alternative fuel by clearing vast portions of land to grow sugar cane, which yields ethanol, a bio-fuel that acts as an alternative to polluting fossil fuels.
Bio-fuel offers opportunities for developing countries like Sierra Leone which has abundant land and cheap labor. If we can just concentrate on palm oil production, it will definitely help to alleviate poverty. Malaysia is the leading country now on palm oil bio-fuel and they got the seedlings from Sierra Leone and Nigeria some 30 years ago. While they became prosperous from palm kernel production, we became an eye-saw to the world.
The land is available, the labor is there, but the laws of the land are not friendly to all of us, thereby affecting the growth of agriculture in the country. Higher agricultural demand can increase income for rural farmer, if bio-fuels can be utilized coupled with advancing technology, which is now focusing on using crop residues such as grass and wood ships. This can be achieved if our politicians will change the Land Tenure Act in the entire country.
Most agricultural analysts’ believe that Africa has a high potential for bio-fuels as energy provides a key role to economic development. Africa has the potential to produce a quarter of bio energy, it uses 49 percent of renewable energy, and it can also boost agriculture production and also contributing to cutting green house gas emissions.
I have never been convinced with the arguments that food price increases is as a result of bio-fuel development. I think if there is a sustainable way of bio-fuel production and we also try to understand our own crops and learn how to manage them better then the theory of one affecting the other will be down played.
Countries in tropical Africa are favored for survival in the present challenged planet with resource limitations for boosting food security and bio-fuels. The agricultural organizations should put strategies in place together with respective governments to help those most affected to adapt and respond and that will ease the burden for our mothers, and also help develop long-term strategies for the stability of the continent of Africa.
Climate change really has a profound and unavoidable effect on food shortage in Sierra Leone, as increasing temperatures and erratic rain patterns reduce access to food across the country one way or the other. The relationship between climate change and food security is complex. We are yet to achieve 40 percent of food security and climate change is now a cause for concern.
Many factors influence food security which means that often the link is not even made between failed crops and changing weather patterns. Also they believe it also influences health of people as cheaper food is less nutritious in Africa, especially for those who need nutritious food.
The effects of climate change on the vulnerability of food systems become visible in areas where arable land is lost. This happens as a result of declining ground-water levels and rising sea levels. It can lead to aridity of the soil or increasing levels of saline. It reduces the suitability of land for cultivation of crops.
Apart from damaging crops directly, extreme climatological events may damage infrastructure such as roads. This may prevent people from buying and selling food on the markets and therefore also undermines food security. This is common in our rural areas where heavy rainfall has destroyed roads and the people will have to move to the towns by foot leaving behind majority of their produce to perish.
Climate change also leads to pest outbreaks that further weaken food systems. Climate change induces outbreaks of pests such as the desert locust. In 2007 before I came to China I saw a locust outbreak in my village where they ate all the leaves of trees like Guava, Breadfruit and plants within weeks.
Climate change not only impinges on the cultivation of crops, it also affects the fishing industry. Fish stocks in the country are declining, not because of over-fishing but because of declining water levels due to evaporation as a result of rising temperatures.
Changes in precipitation are not merely about increasing or decreasing rainfall. Rainy seasons that begin late or early than normal or sudden rain spells hitting our region when it is supposed to be dry, has a greater impact on crops failing, than a wetter rainy season that starts on time.
I will end by lending a paragraph from the Climate change conference in Poland November 30th, 2008. “Without viable alternatives politically acceptable alternatives that are rigorous and drastic enough, unlike most cap-and-trade systems the outlook for mitigating to a minimum 2 degrees C temperature rise looks bleak. Of course, temperature is not the key: the temperature we are experiencing now is due to the actions of those people–our parents and grand parents 40-60 years ago. The radiative forces that we contribute to the atmosphere now will only be apparent in another 40-60 years, well beyond the terms of office of some, and of the lifespan of others. Even looking ahead to Copenhagen is too long to wait”.