Consumer Demand for Fish Combined With Climate Change Is Creating the Perfect Storm

Oceans have absorbed more than 93 percent of the heat generated by human activity since the 1970s, according to a report published this month by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

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Opium Bounces Back, Enriching Taliban and Afghan Officials

Hajji Abdul Hakin stood beside a 20-kg pile of green beans – his entire harvest after authorities in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province convinced him to stop growing opium poppies last year.

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Outflanking the War on Drugs at the UN?

It’s widely acknowledged that the “war on drugs” has failed. A militarized approach based on prohibition and incarceration has stoked staggering levels of violence and misery, cost billions of dollars, and failed to reduce either supply or demand.

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Climate Change Threatens Global Food Security -  Here's What Needs to Be Done

Global food security is not just about how much we grow. To achieve it, we need to look at the bigger picture, particularly at the way in which water and energy needs underpin production.

Climate change threatens all of that. Rainfall variability directly affects crop production, but also energy generation (think of hydropower) – essential to grow, store, process and move food.

Tropical regions are the worst affected. “Not only are the areas closer to the equator more prone to weather extremes such as flood or drought, but smallholder farmers often don’t have the resources to cope with changes in the local climate,” Frank Rijsberman, head of CGIAR, the global agricultural research consortium, told IRIN.

While extreme events used to occur once every 100 years, they can now be expected every few decades. Seasonal weather patterns are also changing, altering habitats often irreversibly. 

Coffee production is one example. In Nicaragua, warmer temperatures and erratic rainfall are forcing farmers to move their plantations to higher ground. The longer-term outlook is not good. Research suggests that climate change will reduce coffee yields, increase pest and disease pressure, and lead to an overall drop in the quality of the crop.

It’s not just coffee but many other crops essential to sustain the diet and economy of rural communities across the world. 

What can be done?

One solution, said Rijsberman, is to develop strains that can endure harsher conditions, such as so-called ‘scuba rice’, which can survive underwater for two weeks. Among other improved varieties of staple crops are drought-resistant maize and the recently developed ‘super bean’, a variety rich in iron developed to tackle malnutrition.

“We have to move away from the idea that feeding the world just means providing enough food to people,” said Rijsberman. “It must also be the right food for a healthy diet. Currently, two billion people lack basic nutrients and improved breeds help tackle that.”

We also have to take a hard look at energy production. Modern intensive agriculture uses large amounts of fossil fuels; artificial irrigation is an energy drain; chemical fertilisers gobble lots of energy to produce, and because they deplete the soil, must be constantly re-applied. Thirty percent of food grown globally is lost each year through inadequate handling and storage – a shocking waste, but also a major energy loss.

“We must change the way we use farm inputs, how we grow and process food, and how we reduce loss and waste,” said Rijsberman. “Ultimately, we have to link the sectoral issues in agriculture, energy, health, and environment – and come up with holistic, integrated and truly sustainable solutions.”

Losing power

Climate change-induced drought is going to have a major impact on hydropower capacity in the developing world.

One of the most badly affected countries right now is Zambia, which after months of poor rains is rationing power supply to both citizens and industries. Both Zambia and neighbouring Zimbabwe receive the bulk of their electricity from the Kariba Dam on the Zambesi River. But as low water levels have become the new normal, industries relying on hydroelectricity, including the agricultural sector, are paying the price. 

In Zimbabwe, power is currently cut for periods of up to 48 hours. The country needs approximately 2,000 MW of electricity per day, but is able to produce only 900.

For rural communities, energy poverty is the norm. The challenge is to increase energy security without using fossil fuels, which not only pollute, but are also prone to price volatility. A spike in diesel prices, for example, has a knock-on effect throughout the food chain – starting at farm production costs and working up to the final consumer price tag.

Africa has long been wedded to hydropower and creaking, dilapidated power grids. But the continent is increasing turning to renewable energy, with a slew of major projects underway. Better energy supply would mean that farmers - among others - could not only improve production in the face of environmental extremes, but also process and store their food more safely.

How can they boost supply?

“In the short-term, we should look for cleaner energy solutions, such as solar-powered irrigation systems to pump water when rivers go dry,” Simon Winter, a researcher at Technoserve, which develops solutions to support farmers, told IRIN.

There are also subtler ways in which energy scarcity impacts rural people. “Lack of energy for food preparation will regulate the kind of food consumed,” Patrick Rader, a Uganda-based food security expert for the international development company Chemonics, told IRIN. “By taking time and effort to source fuels and water, it will reduce the time a family has to process, cook and consume the right kind of food, at the right time.”

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Tackling Global Food Security: How Can We Feed People on a Climate-Stressed Planet?

Global food security is not just about how much we grow. To achieve it, we need to look at the bigger picture, particularly at the way in which water and energy needs underpin production.

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Is a New Kind of Civil War Brewing Inside Kenya?

Pre-election politics and planned development schemes have fuelled an upsurge in inter-communal killings and forced displacement in Kenya’s northern Isiolo area, which if left unaddressed, is likely to escalate, say analysts and civil society workers.

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Rape Cases Soar in Somali Camps

Deteriorating security, a culture of impunity and an increase in attacks on internally displaced people (IDPs) in the central Somali town of Galkayo, Mudug region, have resulted in a sharp increase in rape cases, gender activists told IRIN.

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Violence in Pakistan Takes Heavy Toll on Children

 Since February 2010, Raees Khan, 15, has not been to school. Instead, he helps take care of his father, who lost a leg and suffered back injuries in a bomb blast that killed 117 people at a Peshawar bazaar in October 2009, and is no longer able to work as a mason. 

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Landmines Take Horrific Toll

 After losing a leg to a landmine 12 years ago, Zaw Lwin, 42, no longer ventures into the hilly forests of Shwe Kyin - an area that once sustained his livelihood. 

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Is Yemen on the Brink of Humanitarian Disaster?

 Aid workers say Yemen is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster; but as needs in the country increase, the delivery of aid is becoming ever more complicated.

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Half a Million Somalis Threatened by Cholera

This article first appeared on the website of IRIN (

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