An Uncertain Harvest

Increasingly volatile weather patterns around the world are already causing supermarket prices to rise. But when it comes to global warming and the food supply, the real losers will be those in developing countries. A look at how one corner of Africa is coping.

By Jocelyn Craugh Zuckerman

Because so much of the global economy is rooted in agriculture, it too is set to suffer crushing blows. Worldwide, the reported losses from climate-related disasters rose from $131 billion in the 1970s to $629 billion in the 1990s, and it’s estimated that the figure could reach $150 billion per year in the coming decade. In Africa, where agriculture accounts for half of total exports and represents 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), economic viability is inextricably linked with patterns of precipitation. The 1997–1998 El Niño floods and the 1999–2000 drought, for example, are estimated to have cost Kenya alone 40 to 49 percent of its GDP. This past January, Kenya’s Standard newspaper reported that the seasonal export of raw cashews had dropped by 95 percent due to low production caused by heavy rains.

Shocks like these have already trickled down to supermarkets in Europe, where most of Africa’s food exports land. And here in the U.S., we’ve felt the effects of similar upheavals in Central and South America. That’s on top of whatever havoc climate change is wreaking closer to home: This past January, for instance, back-to-back blizzards in the Rocky Mountains threatened the cattle industry to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. (Look for the fallout on your bill the next time you enjoy a steakhouse dinner.)

Of course, heavy, monsoon-like rains are the ultimate breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, and rising temperatures provide more habitats where they can thrive. According to Stern, a 2°C rise would expose up to 60 million additional people in Africa to malaria every year. Out in western Kenya, where the disease has long been a way of life, more sick people and fewer farmers in the fields—not to mention fewer students in the classrooms and fewer traders in the markets—are a constant threat not just to daily meals but to the local economy itself. And now people in places that were once immune to the disease are also falling ill. “When I was growing up,” says Nairobi native Kevin N’juguna, “I only used to hear about malaria. Now I know lots of people who suffer from it.”

Mosquitoes and the floods they ride in on also attack the food supply itself. Driving around the Busia District, I don’t have to look very hard to see the devastating effects of the virus known as Banana Bacterial Wilt. Believed to be transported over short distances by insects and exacerbated by rain, this previously unheard-of scourge surfaced in Uganda six years ago and has since spread like wildfire through smallholder farms here and in neighboring Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Uganda, where banana farms account for 28 percent of total cropland, the disease has already resulted in annual losses of $360 million.

As historian Jared Diamond aptly chronicles in his book Collapse, and as the Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai has long emphasized (see “Strong Roots,” page 51), degradation of the land—whether due to natural disasters, overgrazing, or other conditions—leads to increasing competition for scarce resources, and often to violent conflict. Rising worldwide temperatures seem already to be fueling this phenomenon: Growing pressure on pastureland and water supply was responsible for deepening tensions between nomads and agriculturalists in Niger during the drought of 2005, and the ongoing troubles in Darfur have been blamed in part on competition for land. Now Kenyan pastoralists, too, are coming to blows over the environment.

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There are of course alternative views to the one you have propounded above.
One of these is that of a specifically Christian/Biblical world view - you are therefore welcome to read (via Word document, or as a published booklet)
"Global Warming & Climate Change - A Christian Perspective"
Do contact me on e mail address above for details.

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