Climate Showdown Starts in Paris

Paris has finally arrived. During the next two weeks, a massive conference centre in the outskirts of the French capital will play host to the ultimate United Nations conference and the single most important climate change event in decades. The summit was kick-started by leaders from more than 150 countries, who met today for the […]

Native Seeds Help Weather Climate Change in El Salvador

Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Domitila Reyes, 25, picks a cob of native corn in a field in the Mangrove Association, one of the two small farmer organisations that produce these seeds for the government’s Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. The seeds are not only high yield but are also more tolerant of the climate changes happening in this Central American country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO /SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador , Nov 30 2015 (IPS)

Knife in hand, Domitila Reyes deftly cuts open the leaves covering the cob of corn, which she carefully removes from the plant – a process she carries out over and over all morning long, standing in the middle of a sea of corn, a staple in the diet of El Salvador.

Reyes is taking part in the “tapisca” – derived from “pixca” in the Nahat indigenous tongue, which means harvesting the field-dried corn.

The process will end, weeks later, with the selection of the best quality seeds, in order to ensure food sovereignty and security for poor peasant farmers in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

Some 614,000 Salvadorans are farmers, and 244,000 of them grow corn or beans on small farms averaging 2.5 hectares in size, the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding reports.

In rural areas, 43 percent of households are poor, compared to 29.9 percent in urban areas, according to the latest annual survey by the Ministry of Economy.

“I see that the harvest is good, even though the rain was causing problems,” Reyes, 25, told IPS. She earns 10 dollars a day “tapiscando” or harvesting corn.

Climate change has modified the production cycles in this country, which is experiencing lengthy droughts in the May to October wet season and heavy rain in the November to April dry season. The erratic weather has ruined corn and bean crops.“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change.” — Alan González

But Reyes, covered head to toe to protect herself from the sun in jeans, a long-sleeved blouse and a hat, is relieved that the high-quality or “improved” seeds have managed to resist the effects of the changing climate.

“This corn has withstood it better…the rain hurt it but not very much. Other seeds wouldn’t have survived the blow,” she told IPS in the middle of the cornfield.

Reyes is one of the nearly two dozen workers who, under the burning sun, are harvesting corn on this seven-hectare field, one of several that belong to the Mangrove Association in Ciudad Romero, a rural settlement in the municipality of Jiquilisco in the eastern department of Usulután.

The region is known as Bajo Lempa, named after the river that crosses El Salvador from the north, before running into the Pacific Ocean. In that region there are 86 communities, with a total population of 23,000 people.

Many of the inhabitants are former guerrilla fighters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which fought the country’s right-wing governments in the 1980-1992 armed conflict that left a death toll of around 75,000, mainly civilians.

The Mangrove Association is one of the two producers of open-pollinated (the opposite of hybrid) native seeds in El Salvador. The other is the Nancuchiname Cooperative, also in the Bajo Lempa region.

They sell their annual output of 500,000 kilos of seeds to the government for distribution to 400,000 small farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF). Each farmer receives 10 kg of seeds of corn and beans, as well as fertiliser.

“One achievement by our organisation is that the government has accepted us as a supplier of native seeds to the PAF,” said Juan Luna, coordinator of the Mangrove Association’s Agriculture Programme.

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, pick improved beans she grew on her three-hectare farm on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Luna told IPS that with these seeds, Salvadoran small farmers are better prepared to confront the effects of climate change and ensure food security and sovereignty.

In this country, 12.4 percent of the population – around 700,000 people – are undernourished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Mangrove Association and another three cooperatives in the area produce 40 percent of the improved seeds purchased by the PAF, whether native or the H59 hybrid variety developed by the government’s Enrique Álvarez Córdova National Centre for Agricultural and Forest Technology (CENTA).

The rest are produced by cooperatives in other regions of the country.

“The seeds produced by CENTA are high quality genetic material adapted to growing everywhere from sea level to 700 metres altitude,” FAO resident coordinator in El Salvador, Alan González, told IPS.

He added that the effort to promote this kind of seeds as a tool to weather the effects of climate change and strengthen food security and sovereignty are part of the Hunger Free Mesoamerica programme launched by FAO in 2014 in Central America, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

“High quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they make it possible for farming families to grow their crops in periods of national and global crisis, given the problem of climate change,” said González.

Up to 2009, PAF purchased seeds from only five companies. But that year the FMLN, which became a political party after the 1992 peace deal, was voted into office and modified the rules of the game in order for small farmers to participate in the business, through cooperatives.

Another of the advantages of these improved seeds, besides their resistance to drought and heavy rains, is their high yields. FAO estimates that productivity has increased by 40 percent in the case of beans and 30 percent in the case of corn, which has boosted the food and nutritional security of the poorest families.

“We produce more, and we earn a bit more income,” said Ivania Siliézar, 55, who produces an improved variety of bean in the village of El Amate in the department of San Miguel, 135 km east of San Salvador.

Siliézar told IPS that she took the time to count how many bean pods one single plant produces: “More than 35 pods; that’s why the yield is so high,” she said proudly.

The variety of bean grown by her and 40 other members of the Fuentes y Palmeras cooperative is called chaparrastique, and was also developed by the CENTA technicians. The name comes from the volcano at whose feet this and six other cooperatives grow the bean, which they sell in local markets, as well as to the PAF.

Siliézar grows her crops on her farm that is just over three hectares in size, and in the last harvest of the year, she picked 1,250 kg of beans, a very high yield.

Similar excellent results were obtained by all 255 members of the seven cooperatives, who founded a company, Productores y Comercializadores Agrícolas de Oriente SA (Procomao), and have managed to mechanise their production with the installation of a plant that has processing equipment such as driers.

The plant was built with an investment of 203,000 dollars, financed by Spanish development aid and support from FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the San Miguel city government, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Stockbreeding. It has the capacity to process three tons of beans per hour.

Cooperatives grouping another 700 families from the departments of San Miguel and Usulután also set up three similar companies.

“We have had pests, but thanks to God and the quality of the seeds, here is our harvest,” Siliézar said happily.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Paris Climate Summit Opens With Dire Warning

By Thalif Deen

When the climate summit opened in Paris on Monday, the mood was overwhelmingly pessimistic — largely about the current state of the global environment.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the tone when he warned that the impacts of climate change are growing.

“Three out of four humanitarian disasters are now climate-related. Economic losses have increased by more than half over the past decade. And ecosystems, and food and water supplies are under increasing pressure,” he said.

The hardest hit are the poor and vulnerable – including small farmers, fishing communities and indigenous peoples, he declared.

“A major disaster can wipe out decades of development gains. And as climate impacts increase, we will see greater disruption to economies and international security.”

He singled out the most vulnerable to include Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and most African nations.

US President Barack Obama was equally pessimistic. But still held out a ray of hope.

“Our understanding of the ways human beings disrupt the climate advances by the day. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 — and 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all. No nation — large or small, wealthy or poor — is immune to what this means.”

He told the two-week long meeting, which continues through December 11, that he saw the effects of climate change firsthand in the northernmost state in the US, namely Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines; where permafrost thaws and the tundra burns; where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times.

“And it was a preview of one possible future — a glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it. Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields that no longer grow.

Political disruptions that trigger new conflict, and even more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own.”

The meeting, officially designated the Conference of Parties (COP21), is being attended by more than 150 world leaders, and host of investors, business leaders, and mayors.

They are expected to announce a range of initiatives, and possibly adopt a new international treaty to protect the global environment.

Ban said a new, universal and meaningful climate agreement must contain strong provisions for all countries to strengthen their resilience.

And it must provide sufficient and timely support for those countries that need it. Solutions are available, he said, singling out the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility and the African Risk Capacity.

Other initiatives with significant potential include the G7 InsuResilience Initiative, the CREWS early warning system initiative, the Global Resilience partnership, and Partners for Resilience, he added.

Striking a positive note, Obama told delegates the global economy grew last year while global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels stayed flat. And what this means can’t be overstated.

“We have broken the old arguments for inaction. We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another. And that should give us hope.”

He said one of the enemies at the Pairs conference is cynicism, “the notion we can’t do anything about climate change. Our progress should give us hope during these two weeks — hope that is rooted in collective action.”

Earlier this month in Dubai, after years of delay, the world agreed to work together to cut the super-pollutants known as HFCs. That’s progress, he said.

Already, prior to Paris, more than 180 countries representing nearly 95 percent of global emissions have put forward their own climate targets. That is progress, Obama added.

“For our part, America is on track to reach the emissions targets that I set six years ago in Copenhagen — we will reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And that’s why, last year, I set a new target: America will reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels within 10 years from now,” he declared.

Addressing the summit, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) José Graziano Da Silva appealed to world leaders to show courage and resilience by opting for changes that promote a safer, fairer and more inclusive world.

“There will be no peace without sustainable development and there will never be sustainable development while people continue to be left behind and while people are suffering from extreme poverty and hunger,” he said, adding that “we must demonstrate that we are not afraid” of promoting the changes needed to achieve this.

Climate change “affects all of us, but especially the poorest and hungry people,” Graziano da Silva said, underscoring how smallholders and family farmers are “in the front line”.

The most vulnerable must be helped to adapt to climate change, he added, stressing that in relation to the agricultural sectors, this requires environmentally sound initiatives that must go hand-in-hand with mitigating climate change impacts.

Droughts, floods, storms and other disasters triggered by climate change have risen in frequency and severity over the last three decades.

A recent FAO study shows that in developing countries, some 25 percent of the negative economic impact of these disasters is borne by the crop, livestock, fisheries and forestry sectors alone.

Reacting to Obama and other world leader statements at the Paris climate talks, Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Climate Policy Manager, said: “World leaders sent a clear message today that climate change is no longer a distant reality.”

He said the damage to rising seas and increasing typhoons is the present and it’s tearing apart the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.

“Obama and other leaders should be commended for shining a spotlight on the plight of the world’s poorest.”

Singh also said leaders have now thrown themselves a gauntlet to address the current and devastating impact of climate change over the next two weeks.

The same rich countries speaking up for the world’s most vulnerable now urgently need to match their words with action – and what they have put on the table so far is not anywhere near their fair share of that action.

He said countries must agree to keep warming to below 1.5 degrees, provide adequate money to help poor countries adapt, and include clear and unequivocal lines on tackling the current and future loss and damage in the agreement.”

The writer can be contacted at

Child Marriages Will Increase Without Action, Warns UNICEF

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

If current trends continue, the number of child brides in Africa could more than double by 2050, UN’s children fund (UNICEF) warned in a new report.

The report, A Profile of Child Marriage in Africa launched on 26 Nov at the first African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa, exposes current rates of child marriage in the continent and around the world.

Globally, more than 700 million women and girls were married before their 18th birthday. Within this population, 17 percent live in Africa.

“The sheer number of girls affected – and what this means in terms of lost childhoods and shattered futures – underline the urgency of banning the practice of child marriage once and for all,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake at the launch of the report.

Though child marriage rates have been declining, UNICEF noted that slow progress and rapid population growth in the African continent will put millions more girls at risk of child marriage.

Without action, the number of child brides is projected to increase from 125 million to 310 million in Africa by 2050, surpassing South Asia’s rate of women aged 20 to 24 who were married as children. This will also constitute almost half of all child brides in the world.

Nigeria is currently home to the largest number of child brides in Africa, with 23 million girls and women who were married in childhood.

UNICEF also noted that high levels of child marriage are especially prevalent among rural, poor communities. In Guinea, child marriage rates are more than two times higher in rural areas than in urban areas, and three times higher among poorest households than among the richest.

“The data is also clear that ending child marriage requires a much sharper focus on reaching the poorest and most marginalized girls – those in greatest need and at greatest risk,” said Lake.

During the summit, organized by the African Union (AU), Chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma highlighted the issues around child marriage, stating: “Child marriage generates norms that have become increasingly difficult to exterminate – norms that undermine the value of our women.”

Participants also underscored other effects of child marriage, including maternal mortality and impeded access to education.

UNICEF and AU called for accelerated progress, warning that only doubling the rate of reduction will not be enough to reduce the number of child brides in Africa.

“Through greater awareness, teamed with a collaborative approach, the crippling effects of child marriage can be eradicated,” Zuma remarked.

In May 2015, AU launched a continent-wide campaign to ‘End Child Marriage’. It included an action plan to reduce child marriage rates by increasing girls’ access to birth registration, education and reproductive health services as well as strengthening and enforcing policies protecting girls.

“[Girls’] lives, and the futures of their communities, are at stake,” Lake warned. “Each child bride is an individual tragedy. An increase in their number is intolerable,” he concluded.

The globally-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commits member States to numerous targets including the elimination of all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages.


Malawi Working to Improve Nutrition Sensitive Agricultural Production

In the last few years, Malawi has successfully managed to reduce infant and under five mortality. But reducing malnutrition, which affects an estimated 1.4 million children, continues to be a costly challenge for the country. A 2015 report by the Government of Malawi, the World Food Programme (WFP) together with other UN agencies, and the […]

Traditional Seeds Keep Hunger Away in Drought-Prone Zimbabwe

Women now actively participate in seed fairs. Credit: Locadia Mavhudzi

Women now actively participate in seed fairs. Credit: Locadia Mavhudzi

By Locadia Mavhudzi

It was all smiles as Bertha Chibhememe of Sangwe communal area in Chiredzi, south eastern Zimbabwe, showed off her traditional seed varieties at a seed fair. A 45-year-old smallholder in Zimbabwe’s lowveld region, Chibhememe told how her “nzara yapera” maize variety is thriving in a changing climate.

The name means “hunger is gone” and is traditionally peculiar to the Shangani people, explained Chibhememe, a widow who looks after eight school-going children. It allows her to protect her family from starvation in a region where it can seem impossible to survive without food aid or donations.

Many people are now shunning traditional seeds in favour of modern genetic hybrid varieties, but Chibhememe said nzara yapera grew better in dry conditions.

“That is my secret,” she added. “This traditional short season maize variety together with other traditional small grains like sorghum, millet and rapoko are the best in this area. They secure our future food and nutrition for our families. We receive low rainfall and frequent flash floods and extreme temperatures.”

Bertha’s example has invigorated community members to adapt to shifting weather patterns as the planet warms. Through traditional seed fairs and workshops, farmers have a platform to share best farming practices.

A recent study by Care International-Zimbabwe found that female farmers were more receptive to these ideas than their male counterparts. But they could not always use such information to their advantage due to a culture of male dominance of the household. Women did not get to decide what crops to grow and when.

This is proving to be a setback in the quest to embrace climate change adaptation techniques. But it is slowly changing, as the Zimbabwean government has started issuing land rights to women smallholders, previously a taboo.

Records show that Zimbabwe is already feeling the effects of climate change, notably with more variable rainfall and extreme weather. Barnabas Mawire, country director for regional organisation Environment Africa described the situation as worrisome.

“These conditions, combined with warming trends, are expected to render land increasingly marginal for agriculture, which poses a major threat to the economy and the livelihoods of the people,” said Mawire.

Zimbabwe depends heavily on rain-fed agriculture and climate sensitive resources. Farmers, who make up 62% of the population, are expected to feel the effects.

Yields from rain-fed farming in Africa could halve by 2020, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Semi-arid and arid areas will be worse affected, raising the risk of malnutrition and hunger.

Micro community initiatives can help, however. A water harvesting system in the Zvishavane, Mberengwa and Chivi districts, some of the hottest and driest in Zimbabwe, is one. It is as simple as digging pits to capture water in the rainy season and save it for drier periods.

A communal farmer in Zvishavane, Akwenziwe Maseko, said water conservation was essential to get strong crop yields. Farmers had been able to keep vegetable gardens going for more of the year and have more secure food supplies.

Zephaniah Phiri, a local conservationist who championed the water harvesting idea, stressed the importance of sustainable ways of managing and exploiting natural resources. Measures like planting vativa grass for windbreaks and sand traps were “very crucial,” he said.

Environmental Management Agency midlands manager Benson Bhasera added there was a link between sustainable farming practices and environmental preservation.

“Farmers who yield highly in their fields actively implement environmental education and awareness information,” said Bhasera.

With rainfall forecasts for the 2015/2016 farming season anticipated to be below normal, there is no time to lose.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Megan Darby and Climate Home.

Ethiopia: The Biggest African Refugee Camp No One Talks About

On a sunny November day in Addis Ababa the courtyard of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) centre is packed with people—some attend a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reception clinic, others get essential supplies, while students attend classes, and many simply play volleyball, table football or dominoes to pass the time. Benyamin told IPS […]

Addressing Climate Change Through Sustainable Development

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Nov 29 2015 (IPS)

Climate change impacts are already upon us. Sea levels are rising, glaciers and ice are melting. People in poor countries are struggling to cope and adapt. Even developed countries are facing adverse consequences, taxing their own adaptive capacities to increased flooding, drought and fires. We cannot afford to wait.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Climate change is severely compromising development prospects. Failure to act effectively could significantly reduce the size of the world economy by mid-century despite continuing population growth.

Addressing climate change will be costly, but not as costly as inaction. We have waited too long to take serious action, and the delay — e.g. the slow pace at which carbon-based energy is being replaced by renewable energy — has been costly in terms of adverse impacts.

Climate Change and Development

To address climate change, the international community needs to make simultaneous progress on inclusive sustainable development and climate change. This is the only ethically defensible and politically feasible approach. In the near term, for low carbon development and for developing countries to meet their people’s basic energy needs, renewable energy generation will need to be subsidized.

Effectively addressing climate change and development will require a big investment push, particularly for renewable energy, with a strong public sector role, supported by international financial and technology transfers. Public investments need to be “front-loaded” to shape developing countries’ long-term energy infrastructure and development.

As the most vulnerable are already suffering the impacts of climate change, there is an urgent need for developed country governments to greatly increase, fast-track and front-load financial and technology support for adaptation measures.


Developing countries do not see sufficient evidence that developed countries are willing to bear a fair share of responsibility for adaptation and even mitigation despite their far greater contemporary and historical contribution to the climate change problem.

Developing countries have long resisted taking on quantified emission targets, insisting on the Kyoto Protocol distinction between Annex 1 (developed) and other countries. Nevertheless, powerful developed countries have successfully pressurized developing countries to do so before the forthcoming Paris Conference of Parties (CoP).

Nevertheless, from a climate justice perspective, most developing countries have made significant enough voluntary commitments to mitigate climate change. However, commitments by developed countries have fallen far short, and which are simply not enough to keep the average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. Yet, developing country actions have not been matched by efforts from Annex 1 countries to provide promised financial and technological support.

Some developing countries, such as China, have not only implemented domestic policies to slow their emissions growth in the coming years, but have invested heavily in renewable energy and other low-carbon energy sources. These initiatives have accelerated the decline in renewable energy costs in recent years, but instead of being encouraged, some developed countries have erected non-tariff barriers to their exports, thus effectively slowing down the switch to renewable energy.

Public Finance Key

However, rather than rely on market forces and the profit motive to address a clear market failure, adequate public finance for a major ‘front-loaded’ public investment push to induce private investment – rather than carbon markets and private finance – can rise to the climate challenge.

Renewable energy is not affordable to most in poor countries, so there is little incentive for investment by the private sector. Hence, international transfers are needed for some public investment in key infrastructure and to provide incentives for private investment.

Feed-in tariffs offering guaranteed prices to renewable power generators have worked well in Europe and elsewhere. In developed countries, consumers effectively pay for this subsidy, but in developing countries, that is less feasible.

Thus, international financial transfers for feed-in tariff programs could quickly induce renewable energy investments in developing countries. Cost reduction will come with increased scale, while greater ability to pay will come with increased incomes. In time, the subsidies become unnecessary.

Key Priorities

Key elements of a feasible action plan would thus include:

· International technology cooperation, knowledge-sharing and adequate finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

· A global program of support for renewable energy in developing countries, including support for feed-in tariffs, to enable poor developing countries to ‘leapfrog’ the fossil-fuel energy stage of economic development.

· A global program of support to reduce emissions and sequestration capacity due to deforestation and forest degradation, notably through sustainable forestry and by rewarding forest-dependent communities for sustainable forest management.

· An adequately funded program of support for rapid action for urgent adaptation measures in vulnerable developing countries.

There is broad consensus on all these areas, and progress on such a global program of cooperation is eminently feasible. Experience has shown and will continue to show what works best and what actual costs are, proving that stronger actions are possible and affordable. Cooperative action between developed and developing countries will, in turn, rebuild trust on the road to Paris and beyond.