The idea for this post came from something I heard when the BBC were reporting on Nelson Mandela’s funeral. A reporter asked one person why they were so happy despite the fact it was raining, presumably because us British usually just get annoyed when it rains. To the African this must have seemed like such a stupid question, and let me explain why.
We all depend on rain to provide water to grow our food, but in the UK, like many other industrialised countries, we have become disconnected from this fact. Many simply think we can go into a shop and find all the food we want. We don’t stop and think about the process involved in growing it. However, Africans are still very linked to their food production system. They celebrate the rains as they know without them, there will be a drought, crops will struggle to grow, and consequently there will be a lack of food.
Just last night on TV ‘The Tea Trail with Simon Reeve‘ outlined the fact that many Maasai people are struggling to make a living from their cattle because rains are so unpredictable nowadays. An elder admitted that they used to be able to depend on the rains, but have now started to grow more drought resistant crops. Simply relying on cattle to provide an income was no longer sustainable. But why are the rains more unpredictable now, than in the past? It’s not just the Maasai that have noticed this but the whole of Africa. Less rain is falling over the continent.
The reason many believe for this change in rainfall pattern is climate change. However, rainfall can also be affected by more local factors. For example, large areas of Africa are being deforested so that crops can be grown or buildings built in order to cope with their booming population. Forest helps to sustain moisture in a sort of micro climate around it. I won’t go into the exact details of how this works, but once the forest is removed then there is reduced rainfall. Follow this link for more information, it concerns tropical forests, but the principal is the same: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/3284/loss_of_tropical_forests_reduces_rain.
African also regularly influence their local weather, by burning vast areas of grassland, usually in game reserves. In the past, this used to happen naturally where dry grass would be set alight by lightning during thunderstorms. However, nowadays burning must be much more controlled in order to not affect tourism which provides a vital income, and due to their increased population size. The reason this burning is carried out is that the high temperatures generated by the fires, trigger rains in that area. This rain provides vital moisture for plants to re-grow and so unsurprisingly the great wildebeest migration between the Serengeti and Maasai Mara follows these rains in order to find food. Therefore it can be seen that local rains can be triggered by Africans themselves. Unfortunately these rains induced by burning are not for the purpose of growing crops, so don’t really help to solve the problem of unpredictable rains.
As a continent Africa does lack water, and climate change is only increasing the problem by making Africa hotter. Many desert areas such as the Sahara are increasing as a result. Droughts are now causing or contributing towards a huge humanitarian crisis in East Africa. Therefore the Africans have every right to celebrate the rains, more so now than before. We should also celebrate the rains too, as many of our food products are imported from Africa. Also without regular rains, the vegetation which can survive in certain areas will change, affecting the animals which eat it to survive; that is if they aren’t all poached to extinction first.
This post serves as an example of how less industrialised countries are more vulnerable to changes in climate than industrialised countries. Just because we live in a society where we mostly have a good quality of life, doesn’t mean we can ignore the hardships endured by people in other countries. Remember industrialised countries are mostly responsible for climate change.
1. Analysing the underlying causes of vulnerability. http://www.careclimatechange.org/tk/cba/en/step_by_step_guidance/analysis/vulnerability.html
2. The socioeconomics of food crop production and climate change vulnerability: a global scale quantitative analysis of how grain crops are sensitive to drought. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12571-012-0173-4#page-1
3. Achieving food security in the face of climate change: final report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?f=2013/GB/GB2013201600016.xml;GB2013201636
4. Crop Adaptation to Climate Change. http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Ptz5RvWEjI4C&oi=fnd&pg=PT100&dq=climate+change+vulnerable+food+africa&ots=IZvAHTuMd3&sig=OFHbNYy0ubxmFKGD-moH3XXGsec#v=onepage&q=climate%20change%20vulnerable%20food%20africa&f=false
5. Climate change risks for African agriculture. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/11/4313.short
6. Vulnerability of the South African farming sector to climate change and variability: An indicator approach. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1477-8947.2010.01302.x/abstract;jsessionid=20D8E4925AF4DEAF1ED12A09B17F4103.f04t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false