The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently published some research which found that, in poor countries such as Ethiopia, poverty is a seriously barrier to adaptation.
Apparently, more than a third of rural Ethiopian households have not made any adjustments to their farming practices in the face of global warming. This is despite the fact that water is becoming ever more scarce, and enhanced irrigation systems are crucial if subsistence farmers are to survive. African farmers are overwhelmingly dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and in rural areas there is very poor infrastructure.
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia said at a climate change conference this week: “However unjust it might be we have to adapt or die. We can only succeed to adapt to climate change if we fight poverty effectively and generate the resources needed for the purpose.”
Clearly, adaptation and development must go hand in hand, as he recognises. Nevertheless, the governments of poor countries must be tactical, and give more emphasis to agriculture (and in particular, the sustainability of water supplies to feed their crops) if their populations are to adequately adapt to the forecast temperature increases.
In the study, Ethiopian farmers identified shortages of land as the single biggest constraint to adapting to climate change. This was followed by lack of information and credit as well as lack of labour, inputs, water and poor soils.
The government can help directly in many of these areas, and rich country donors need to do more to support this process, with both financing and know-how. Indeed, as the prime minister went on “The injustice of the whole issue of global warming and climate change lies in the fact that those who have contributed nothing to its genesis will suffer the most from its consequences because they have the least capacity to adapt to these changes.”