VITERBO, Italy, Nov 28 (IPS) - ‘Angry’ is not the adjective that comes to mind when you first meet Nelly Damaris Chepkoskei.
The immaculately dressed 53-year-old Kenyan is generous
with her time and with the smiles that light up her beautiful face and
never misses a chance to crack a joke before punctuating it with hearty
But the rage wells up when she speaks about how her life as a
farmer in the Kericho District of Western Kenya has changed over the
last 20 years.
She is angry because deficient rainfall has slashed the yields
of her once-plentiful crops. She is angry because she is struggling to
provide for her family. And, above all, she is angry because she
believes that her troubles are due to climate change caused by rich
nations burning carbon to fuel lifestyles that, in relation to hers,
"It used to be a high yield area. There used to be rain
throughout the year. But now the rains can fail up until November. Food
production is down by three-quarters," she told IPS at the
‘Greenaccord’ conference in the Italian city of Viterbo, near Rome.
"We have tea as a cash crop, maize for food and sometimes sell
the surplus, (as well as) beans and vegetables. We used to have so many
heads of cattle but now the grass has dried up and so we can only keep
two or three for good milk production.
"These days we have to go a very long distance for water. The little
streams have dried up completely. It’s becoming almost impossible to
maintain families. I can no longer even maintain my mother. I can no
longer maintain my in-laws. I can only afford to feed my eight
children. If I fall sick I cannot afford to go to hospital. Yes, it
makes us angry."
Nelly is among 10 people the WWF environmental organisation
has brought to Greenaccord from countries like Australia, Guatemala,
Mongolia and India to testify how climate change is devastating their
lives and call on world leaders to take action at next month’s United
Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen.
Experts say the poorest are set to feel the effects of climate change
hardest, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, in a world
where many already suffer chronic food insecurity, with the ranks of
the hungry passing the one-billion mark for the first time this year,
according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The International Food Policy Research Institute said in a September
report that the output of rice in South Asia would be 14 percent lower
in 2050 than if there was no climate change, while yields of wheat,
rice and maize would drop by 34, 15 and 10 percent respectively in
Like Nelly, Mbiwo Constantine Kusebahasa, a 70-year-old farmer
from the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, is already
feeling the affects of changing weather patterns.
He used to have two planting seasons for his crops of maize, sweet
potatoes, beans, cassava and vegetables each year, in March-April and
July-August, but erratic rains mean his planning is now reduced to
"You have to imagine when to plant crops because the rain does
not come as we are used to seeing it," he told IPS. "I just use my
imagination and plant food. The yields are very, very, very low.
"It’s having effects on my children because I’m failing to get
their school fees. Hunger is a problem in the whole country. It’s
caused by the changing climate. There’s a lot less rain. Many people
are in my situation. Most of the farmers are badly off. Sometimes we
feel angry because we know the factors that are the causes of the
drought,’’ Kusebahasa said.
Drought is just one of the problems though. Increasingly
frequent extreme weather such as storms and flooding are also affecting
harvests, while rising sea levels and the withering of the glaciers
that feed many of the world’s biggest rivers are big threats too.
"A one-metre sea-level rise will inundate large low-lying
areas of Asia," Janet Larsen, the U.S. Earth Policy Institute’s
director of research, told the conference.
"Seasonal glacier melting sustains many rivers in that region, such as
the Ganges and the Yangtze and if they were to go, irrigation would be
hit… Copenhagen is really a conference about food security,’’ Larsen
WWF said its experts have verified that Nelly, Constantine and its
other climate witnesses are affected by climate-change-induced
phenomena, not temporary weather variations. What’s more, lower food
production is not the only negative impact.
Both Nelly and Constantine, for example, say rising temperatures have
enabled mosquitoes to spread to their high-lying areas, leading to
rising rates of malaria.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),
the U.N.’s Rome-based rural poverty agency, says world leaders must
prioritise the plight of people like Nelly and Constantine at next
month’s talks, given that smallholder farmers and their families in
developing countries are highly exposed and number around two billion
people, almost a third of the global population.
As well as decisive action to slow global warming, what they need from
the states and leaders meeting in Copenhagen is help in adapting to a
problem that is not of their making, with funding for agricultural
investment to give them the know-how, tools and seeds required to keep
Indeed, the farmers at the five-day Greenaccord meeting, which runs until Sunday, insist they want a hand-up, not a hand-out.
"I would like to tell them (the leaders in Copenhagen) to teach
a person to fish, don’t give them fish. They should not be giving
blindly, they should follow to see the production on the ground. Donors
sometimes don’t follow to see the impact of their donations," Nelly
"Our African communities should be educated, informed,
empowered to withstand the impact of climate change. For example, if we
could afford to buy for each household a harvesting method for the
little rain water we get, maybe for the irrigation of small kitchen
gardens for some vegetables, this would be great. Give Africans the
farming methods to put food on their families’ tables and be strong."