Climate Change and Food Security

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Display of onions highlighting the recent onion shortage in the country due to flooding in India

5 May 2012 marked the Global Climate Impacts Day. As part of a project by the U.S based non profit environmental organization 350.org, several countries around the world celebrated this day under the shared theme of “Connect the Dots”. The aim of the day was to highlight the connections between climate change and extreme weather and create awareness of this very serious issue. Why? Because climate change is very real and its not a future problem dooming in on us, its happening right now and effecting our daily lives. Just pick up the paper and see the amount of climate related natural disasters happening all over the world. Flooding in Thailand, landslides in China, the big freeze in Europe, the wild fires in Australia. Makes you think.

The Maldives being a small island nation is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change and its impacts. Due to the small size of the islands, no Maldivian lives higher than 1.5 meters above the sea level or 1 km from the shoreline. Due to limited natural resources, the country is highly dependent on imports for almost everything, including basic human necessities such as food. We import almost all of our food items from all over the world. So a natural disaster elsewhere in the world may have a direct link – or a connection – to the Maldivians more than we realize.

To mark this day, a group of young environmental enthusiasts volunteered to organize an educational exhibition depicting the connections between climate change, extreme weather and food security for Maldivians. The aim of the event was to create awareness among the people on the connections between climate change and our food security. The team created an artistic exhibition portraying the recent onion crisis experienced by the Maldivians due to the flooding in India in 2011. Almost all Maldivians would clearly remember how the prices of onions sky rocketed in the market from MVR 10 to almost MVR 45 after the heavy rains in India destroyed most of its onion farms thus resulting in the Indian Government from imposing an export ban on onions.

As part of the core team member, I was actively involved in planning and organizing this exhibition. During the various meetings and research, I came to know how serious an issue food security is to our nation. Did you know that the Maldives has only three months worth of food reserve in the national storage facilities?? So God forbid if anything is to happen to us, we all have three months worth of food supplies before we all turn into herbivores. The bad news is that it won’t last much longer either, since our local produce is insufficient to feed our (metaphorically speaking) tiny population.

I do not intend to be such a pessimist but this really is an alarming situation which requires serious attention from every single one of you. Think about it. If we are to entirely depend on other countries for our food, we have a serious problem. Earlier this year we experienced a shortage in drinking water all over the Maldives. I am not sure about the exact number of islands that declared they were out of drinking water but I remember reading somewhere that the number was close to 90 islands. Just imagine. 90 islands without any drinking water. Most islands depend on rainwater for drinking and usually during the hot season many islands deplete their harvested water. With the ground water too polluted to drink and the absence of proper infrastructure and transport facilities, these islanders were left without a basic necessity to life. The growth in demand for mineral water from the islands created a shortage of the same in the capital Male’.

Some things are beyond our control, like the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere by China and the U.S., but we can always find solutions. Home gardening is one such solution. Growing some greens and some vegetables in your terrace tops and balconies is a viable option. Harvesting more rain water for warmer seasons is also an option.  I know it does not solve all our problems but its a start, dont you agree?

How many islands in the Maldives produce local vegetables and fruits? From the success stories from Thoddu, Fuvahmulah, Laamu Gan and even smaller islands like Thaa Guraidhoo and Veymandoo, we know that its possible. It is high time that the population gave more thought into what they are eating. We are seeing a shift towards organic food among the younger generation but the sad part is that organic food is hard to find and ridiculously expensive. Even sadder is that the general population do not even know what organic produce is. Local farmers wants more yield. With limited knowledge and resources, they simply buy the cheapest chemical available in stores and use it in their farming, usually unaware on how the product is meant to be used. We are eating that produce, so imagine the amount of chemicals in our systems. No wonder cancer rate has gone up.

Producing compost is another option. We can use uncooked fruits, vegetables and food items to prepare a simple compost which can be used as fertilizers. We also need to pressure our politicians to rid themselves of all this drama and concentrate on more serious issues. Increase our national food storage reserve. Provide subsidies to local farmers and establish the required infrastructure to market their products. I could go on and on.

In my opinion, although Maldives is so vulnerable to Climate change and environmental issues, many Maldivians do not care much, or think much, about its consequences. Many of us think that climate change is only about sea level rise and is a problem that will happen in the future…probably many years after we die, so its not our problem. I cannot blame them since we have been hearing stories about how our islands will sink someday and we all have to move to Australia. I praise the work done by our former Presidents H.E Maumoon and H.E Nasheed to bring this situation to the world’s attention during their service. However, I feel that its time we develop a different approach. As important as it is to get China to lower their carbon emission, it is also important to create awareness among the Maldivian population about the importance and vulnerability of our environment. We need to teach people about the connections between our environment and our livelihoods, economies, food safety, health etc. We need to realize that environment is a cross cutting issue in all development areas. We need to teach our citizens the silent but crucial role our environment plays in protecting us. We need our businesses to go green. Our environment is not ours to own, we are simply borrowing it from our children.

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