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MEDA field manager Stephen Magige in Cassava fieldMEDA field manager Stephen Magige in cassava field.

Not Just an Environmental Issue

As printed in The Marketplace - May/June 2018

By Tariq Deen

When we think about climate change we tend to focus on the environmental aspect — extreme weather, flooding, sea level rise.

What is often ignored is its human dimension. Climate change unfairly impacts the most vulnerable sections of society; the poor, elderly, rural residents, women, and those reliant on predictable weather patterns.

South Sudan gives a snap shot of what the future will look like under climate change. The United Nations estimates that as many as 20,000 people are experiencing famine. An additional 1.5 million people are on the brink of famine. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the U.N. body responsible for providing objective, scientific information on climate change) predicts that the intensity and duration of regional droughts will likely increase during the latter part of the 21st century. We should no longer look at climate change as just an environmental problem, but also a humanitarian crisis.

Linking development goals with climate action is necessary for creating resilient communities, and helping governments save money from future disasters. After years of little progress, global agreement was reached in 2015 with the drafting of the Paris Climate accord.

MEDA and its partners helped Jumwa Mramba build and grow a chili bush farm.MEDA and its partners helped Jumwa Mramba build and grow a chili bush farm.The accord outlines countries’ commitment to keep global temperature to 2.0°C below pre-industrial levels and limit further global temperature increases to no more than 1.5°C. While discussion is usually focused around reducing greenhouses gas (GHGs) emissions, it is important to acknowledge that it will take a long time before the extra GHGs we have put in the atmosphere decrease to ideal levels again. Therefore, we need to not only focus on reducing GHG emissions, but also the impacts resulting from climate change. The Paris Accord encourages countries to strengthen their resilience through climate change adaptation strategies.

What is climate change adaptation? Adaptation is the process of reducing existing and future impacts of climate change. These strategies can range from large-scale projects like dikes that protect low-lying areas from sea level rise to community and individual-led initiatives, including village water wells and household rain buckets.

Adaptation is also linked with capacity development. Initiatives can be integrated into projects that are not linked with the environment, such as investments in women’s education. If women are provided with learning opportunities they can enter the work force and become financially secure, which will reduce their vulnerability to climate change.

MEDA recognizes the significant impact climate change has on vulnerable populations and market systems. Using screening and assessment tools designed to mitigate environmental and climate risks we support entrepreneurs in adapting to climate change and improving local environmental conditions. MEDA has launched many projects with sustainable components, notably in farming. Here are a few of these projects and the impact they have had on our clients’ lives.

Agriculture is Tanzania’s main economic sector. Unfortunately, Tanzania has experienced crop pests and diseases.The Tanzania Meteorological Agency says agriculture will see a decline due to increased rainfall variability and drought frequency. Cassava is a staple food for many African countries, including Tanzania. It is viewed as a super-crop because of its ability to grow in poor soil conditions and resist drought. In the past, Tanzania lacked a system for rapid, large-scale distribution of new varieties of disease-resistant cassava. MEDA launched a pilot project (2012 – 2016) to bridge the gap between seed producers and farmers.

Abdala Hatibu is a farmer in Masasi District. While Abdala occasionally grew cassava in the past, it was not his main crop. When MEDA approached Abdala to sell cassava seeds he was originally apprehensive. He embraced the project after he saw that profits from selling cassava seeds provided him with a more stable income than his previous crops. The project has allowed Abdala to start building a house in Masasi City and purchase a two-acre, fully mature cashew nut farm.

Steve Sugrim cassava photoCassavaEdward Kusenha is a farmer in the Dodoma Region. While Edward farmed cassava it was only for personal consumption. After joining MEDA’s cassava project, Edward started selling cassava stems and tubers. The profits from the project allowed him to reduce his labour costs and begin to build a house for his family. Edward`s success has led his neighbours to ask how they can become involved with other MEDA projects.

With one of the stronger economies in Africa, Kenya is a shining example of economic development. Like Tanzania though, Kenya is experiencing the impacts of climate change. Prolonged droughts and environmental changes are creating economic losses and food insecurity. Economic inequality persists. Poverty and unemployment are particularly high among the youth and in rural areas. The government has set ambitious economic goals. But without the involvement of local businesses, these goals cannot be achieved. MEDA’s Equitable Prosperity through Private Sector Development project works with small and medium-sized enterprises to provide opportunities for subsistence farmers.  

Through the project MEDA has partnered with Equator Kenya Limited (EKL). EKL buys premium quality African Bird Eye (ABE) chili from a network of over 7,000 farmers. Jumwa Mramba is an ELK farmer from Kilifi county. She used to rely on drought and disease prone crops, and her income suffered because of a lack of market demand. Through this project Jumwa received horticulture training. In April 2017 Jumwa began with 90 chili bushes. By June 2017 her plantation increased to 150 bushes. The project provides her with a stable income because of ELK’s assured chili market, and allowed Jumwa to establish her own nursery to increase crop production.

As MEDA moves forward, addressing climate change will become an increasingly important part of our vision and actions. We will not only continue to integrate climate change and environmental components throughout our projects, but will also work towards climate change-focused interventions that adhere to MEDA’s strength of creating resilient market systems capable of adapting to climate change. ◆

Tariq A. Deen was MEDA’s Environment and Climate Change intern earlier this year. His position was funded in part by the United Nations Association of Canada’s (UNAC) Green Corps initiative.