Saturday, March 10, 2012

Survival beyond Kyoto

Nicaragua is feeling the brunt of climate change. It is a country greatly dependent on its farms and plantations, and rightly proud of its immense forest cover. In the past decade or so, however, rising sea levels and change in rainfall patterns have been threatening the country’s agriculture as well as forests – and people’s lives and livelihoods with them. So much so, that global warming is considered a national security issue in Nicaragua.

Around 40% of Nicaragua’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. It contributes to about 25% of the GDP. One of the prominent agrarian communities in the country is the rice- growing Miskitos Indian. The Miskitos have traditionally been farming for centuries. They have a reputation for depending on natural harbingers to gauge the weather, and plan their sowings accordingly. That is the practice that they have followed since ancient times and still do today- letting the first sighting of silver fish or blooming of avocados decide step after step. Climate change in recent years, however, has left them completely baffled. The change in the pattern of seasons and sudden bouts of rain, draught and heat- waves that even their reliable harbingers now fail to predict has reduced their annual production drastically. For most of these subsistence farmers, earning a minimum amount and surviving has now become a challenge.

According to Dr. Paul Oquist, President Daniel Ortega’s personal advisor for development policies, Nicaragua has been losing “since 2006… $200 million a year in lost agricultural production due to climate change”.

Coffee is one of the country’s prime exports. It is usually grown at a height of 1,300 metres (m) above sea level in the areas of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega and Matagalpa, where the temperature conditions are ideal. With rising temperatures, however, it appears that entire plantations of coffee will have to be shifted to higher altitudes, from time to time. If the change in location is over a large distance, it might imply migration and space issues. Moreover, there are concerns that if the rate of temperature rise increases, coffee won’t be cultivable on Nicaragua’s not- so- high mountain tops beyond a point. This is another source of worry for the country.

With global warming and climate change already having a direct impact in the country, economically and otherwise, global response- primarily the Kyoto Protocol- has been a major disappointment. Kyoto was a further disillusionment for Nicaragua, adding to the fact that the Green Climate Fund was never translated from paperwork to living reality. The Green Climate Fund was a fund created in 2009, with a $30 billion target, meant to aid underdeveloped countries in their fight against global warming. The money never came forth, and many Central American countries today are convinced that they will have to handle their own share of climate change- issues by themselves, despite having ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

In the case of Nicaragua, a major abettor of global warming in the country is illegal logging, leading to massive deforestation. The Daniel Ortega government has decided to deal with this nuisance head- on, and has found a novel way to do so. It has formed what it calls an “Ecological Battalion”, a veritable green army whose job centres on patrolling the countries forest areas in search of illegal loggers. These “soldiers” are armed not only with basic weaponry to stop logging, but also equipment like shovels, to plant trees in areas already deforested.

Everyone knows that the government’s interest is mainly in securing water for upcoming hydroelectric projects, and not the plight of its poor. Nevertheless, this step is still one of the most direct and impactful ones taken by a government in its fight for the planet. Nicaragua, in this aspect, has much to learn from.

No comments:

Post a Comment