Climate Change Increasing Poverty and Vulnerability in Ethiopia

Tigrai Online
April 22 2010

Small-scale farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia are likely to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change in the region, which will include increased poverty, water scarcity, and food insecurity, according to a new Oxfam report released today.

The international development agency’s report, “The Rain Doesn’t Come on Time Anymore: Poverty, Vulnerability, and Climate Variability in Ethiopia”, was launched at a special Earth Day celebration organised by the Climate Change Forum-Ethiopia in collaboration with other environmental organisations.  While Ethiopia has always suffered from great climatic variability, including droughts that have contributed to hunger and even famine in the past, the report details how climate change is set to make the lives of the poorest even harder.

“People who are already poor and marginalised are struggling to cope with the added burden of increasingly unpredictable weather,” said Abera Tola, Oxfam’s Horn of Africa regional director. “It is getting harder and harder for families and communities to bounce back from ever-changing, inconsistent weather affecting their livelihoods, and many have been forced to sell livestock or remove children from school - coping mechanisms that only increase the cycle of vulnerability.”

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world and eighty-five percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. The agricultural sector is especially vulnerable to the adversities of weather and climate since it is rain fed, done using relatively basic technologies, and on tiny plots of land.

“From the Rift Valley to Tigray, farmers and pastoralists around the country have shared with us the toll that the changing weather is having on their communities, from ruined crops to dying cattle,” said Tola. “Even relatively small shifts in the growing season, can spell disaster for the poorest farmers and pastoralists who are already struggling in poverty.”

Women and girls in particular are disproportionately affected by climate variability. In times of crisis, women tend to stay home with their children, while men move away to look for alternative means of survival. Women also have fewer options to find other ways of making a living, especially since women’s literacy rate is not even half of that of men. Women are also not given a say in household decisions and are frequently without cash savings or assets to sell to buy food and other basic items.

“The rain doesn’t come on time anymore. After we plant, the rain stops just as our crops start to grow. And it begins to rain after the crops have already been ruined,” Sefya Funge, a farmer in Adamitullu Jiddo Kombolcha district in Ethiopia told Oxfam. “Because of a lack of feed and water, most of my cattle have died. The few that survived had to be sold so that we could buy food to live on. As I no longer have the means to support my family, only three of my eight kids are still with me. Losing our assets was bad, but the fact that our family is separated is devastating.”

With some assistance from non-governmental organisations and the government, small-scale farmers and pastoralists are adopting a variety of coping mechanisms, according to the report. In the farming areas, many are shifting to more drought tolerant crops and varieties, improved forest management practices, diversified energy sources, and alternative means of income from off-farm activities. Pastoralists have also divided pasture into wet and dry season grazing areas to better manage risk, while others have changed the composition of their heard from cattle to camels and goats, which can better tolerate dry, hot weather.

Read more from Reuters