“When you change the climate, you change everything.”
I have heard this assertion many times, as well as read it many times. Whether read or heard, it expresses the important role climate plays in the environmental system of our planet, to the extent that minor changes in climate have major and complex effects.
Climate is a dynamic phenomenon that changes continually, with long-term warming and cooling cycles. However, recent rapid and extensive changes are too extreme to be dismissed as ‘normal’ and have been shown to be closely correlated to changes in atmospheric carbon as a result of human activity (IPCC 2002).
Climate change affects people and nature in countless ways, and is already putting pressure on the environment. It has not just appeared overnight; it has been over 30 years since scientists first alerted the world to the dangers of climate change. The million dollar question is how much longer are we going to allow these dangers to continue given that a change in nature has serious implications on people and economic systems?
The potential economic damage caused by global warming cannot be over emphasised. Some experts say insurance industry estimates put it at hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
In Cameroon, the Government has embarked on an ambitious programme for economic emergence by 2035. At the macro-economic level, this ambition highlights the need to speed growth by stepping up forest, agro-pastoral and fishing activities and ensuring an industrial technological advancement with emphasis on the processing of local commodities. It also envisages changing the structure of the economy; from a primary sector economy (agriculture and extraction) and informal tertiary activities to a more powerful secondary sector, and a specialized tertiary sector which creates decent jobs.
For this vision to be achieved, agricultural revolution in the rural areas must be envisaged, including environmental protection, taking into consideration climate change challenges.
Cameroon’s economy is primarily agrarian. 80% of the country’s poor are not only involved in farming but live in rural communities. About 35% of Cameroon’s GDP comes from agriculture. Up to 70% of the national labour force is employed in agriculture, which means that agriculture and the exploitation of natural resources are the main drivers of Cameroon’s economy and economic development. Therefore, rural communities need awareness. They need to be well informed on how changes in temperature and precipitation pose a serious threat to their agricultural activities and nation’s economy.
Rural communities and the rural people must understand that climate change affects natural habitats like water and forest in diverse ways, stretching to agriculture and food security.
Water for instance is important for agriculture and industry. Rivers and lakes supply drinking water to people and animals, as well as oceans and seas provide food for billions of people. Climate change affects water quality, brings about a rise in sea level, coastal erosion possibly triggered by flooding, storm tracks, rise in water temperature and ocean acidification. It also affects sea waves, beaches and obviously those that use them for recreation.
Forests mean so much to humans and their activities. Forests purify the air, improve water quality, keep soils intact, provide food, wood products and medicines, and are home to most endangered wildlife. In fact, an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide rely on forests for their livelihoods, including 60 million indigenous people or rural communities who depend on forests for their subsistence.
Forests helps to protect the planet from climate change by absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), a major source of pollution that causes climate change. It is quite unfortunate that forests are being recklessly depleted or destroyed at an alarming rate by logging and burning to clear land for agriculture and livestock. These activities release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Some experts say that about 20 percent of global carbon emissions come from deforestation, greater than the combined emissions of every car, truck and plane on the planet. So instead of forests helping us to solve the climate crisis, deforestation will worsen the situation and rural communities should be dissuaded from such activities.
Climate change effect on agriculture will obviously reflect on food security. In other words, ‘a hit on one is a hit on the other’. It is common knowledge that the world relies on rain-fed agriculture, which is highly subject to changes in climate variability, shifts in season, and precipitation patterns. Any amount of warming will lead to increased water stress. In developing countries like Cameroon, about 40 percent of all exports are agricultural products (WRI 1996). One-third of incomes in the country are generated by agriculture, so also crop production and livestock husbandry account for about half of household income. Rural communities or those in the rural areas are in the majority here (FAO 1999). Experts often argued that climate cannot be dissociated from agriculture since its various elements (rainfall, sunshine, humidity and temperature) are essential for the survival of crops and of man. Agriculture is arguably the most important sector of the economy that is highly dependent on climate.
When change in climate intensifies, crop production is at increased risk of failure and loss of livestock. This will negatively reflect on local food security – food accessibility, food utilization and food systems stability. Most times, expectations and predictions on warmer and wetter weather conditions fluctuate, which is not good for agricultural practices. Where agricultural practices are challenged, it affects human health and livelihoods, as well as purchasing power, food markets and security at the level of households.
In addition to changes in temperature and precipitation, another key factor in agricultural productivity is the effect of elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 on crop yields. Some estimates suggest that higher CO2 levels could increase crop productivity substantially by 50% or more, although these effects are likely to be constrained by other factors such as water and soil nutrients, particularly in the developing countries.
I think climate challenges that plague agriculture in Cameroon should be factored into production plans if agricultural output is to be maximized. With a total land area of about 475,440 sq km and a coastline of 402 km, Cameroon’s climate varies with the terrain. Agriculture in Cameroon is moderately productive, extensively managed, and semi market-based. Farms and the associated input (storage, transportation and processing subsectors) provide low cost, high-quality food for domestic consumers and contribute substantially to export earnings for the country as a whole. Farmland in rural communities has been increasing steadily over the last five decades and the total annual value of Cameroon’s agricultural sector’s output is greater than $4 billion. Crop production dominated by cereals, tubers and bananas, is worth over $2.5 billion.
While Cameroon’s agriculture is on a long march to productivity, rural communities should understand that the system is still highly dependent on climate, because temperature, light, and water are the main drivers of crop growth.