Hunger is the lack of rain

18 Nov 2009

The Chefo river, close to Chicualacuala, has dried up. Communities used to fish there.(photo: Isabel Kreisler/UNDP)
“Hunger is the lack of rain.” ("A fome é a falta de chuva"): these are the words of a local farmer from Chicualacuala, a small town situated in the South-west of Mozambique, when asked about the causes of food insecurity in the country.

With its 45,000 inhabitants, Chicualacuala is a synonym for hardship and isolation. Semi-arid conditions and poor communication and transport lines have limited the district’s development for decades.

Popular wisdom in Chicualacuala coincides with the opinion of researchers and policy-makers: climate change in Mozambique will multiply existing threats to human life and food security.

Communities in Chicualacuala are highly dependent on subsistence agriculture and livestock production - both of which are vulnerable to climate and ecosystem changes.

The farmers are already facing a number of problems: irregular rainfall patterns; more frequent droughts; desertification and strong winds causing soil erosion and evaporation.

Increased temperatures are creating the conditions for the emergence of new crop and animal pests. Water for irrigation, livestock and domestic use is becoming even more scarce.

All of these climate change impacts may in turn result in low agricultural yields and crop failure, loss of livestock, increase in the incidence of diseases and eventually, further food insecurity.

Adaptation in action: when maize cultures fail, farmers can now use this oven to smoke fruit that is made into Xima, a local dish.(photo: Isabel Kreisler/UNDP)
In order to counter this phenomenon, six UN Agencies  working under the "Delivering as One" approach (UNDP, FAO, UN Habitat, UNEP, UNIDO, WFP) and six government institutions have been working together on a joint programme for climate change funded by the UNDP-Spain MDG Achievement Fund.

Government institutions include the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry for the Coordination of Environmental Action, the National Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction, the National Institute of Meteorology, the Government of the Province of Gaza and the Government of the District of Chicualacuala.

The programme has been working with these institutions to respond to climate events, enhancing food security through increased production and improving access to food and diversified sources of income.

It has also been supporting community-based initiatives to build more sustainable and more climate-resilient livelihoods in the face of climate change.

In its first 14 months, the programme succeeded in mainstreaming climate change adaptation measures into the district’s development plans.

At the field level, expanding irrigation areas through enhanced water management and small scale irrigation schemes has diversified both production and food intake. Encouraging the selection of drought resistant crops and livestock and supporting pest control is another important measure taken. New sources of income, such as community-based forest management schemes, are being promoted and social networks, such as farmers’ associations, have strengthened.

Further efforts in the coming years will include enhancing early warning and communication systems in the district and introducing renewable energies and water harvesting techniques. Awareness-raising among communities and decision-makers about the potential for adaptation to climate change and the consequences of unmitigated risks and unsustainable coping strategies will also be key to success.