Alena Dishoni lives nearly 8,000 miles away, but we have much in common. As farmers, we both depend on the climate and we can both see it is changing for the worse.
Alena lives in a rural district near Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, and she and her family are entirely dependent on the crops they grow – soy beans, ground nuts and maize – to feed themselves and to provide an income. The money Alena makes from farming means she’s able to send her two children, 12-year-old Amen and 10-year-old Onani, to school.
The trouble is, yields on Alena’s farm are dwindling. Four years ago, when the rains were better in Malawi, the family harvested much more but since then their yields have been going down and down, with some crops failing completely.
Alena’s biggest worry is that without an adequate harvest, she simply won’t have the money to send her children to school anymore. Alena and her husband both dropped out during primary school – she doesn’t want the same to happen to her kids.
“Rains are unpredictable and not sufficient,” Alena explained to Oxfam’s project staff in Malawi. “In the last growing season, there were months that we only received rains twice a month and I am worried that in the coming years or even the next growing season we won’t be able to harvest enough to eat.”
As a farm manager in Scotland, my experience is of course different in many ways, but I also have a first-hand view of the impact of climate change on our local produce.
Like Alena, I’ve been faced with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and water shortages. In Scotland, we’re used to getting our plants growing in April ready to plant out in a warm and wet May. That’s all changed over the past few years; last year there was a six-week drought and this year the drought has gone on for even longer.
Of course, in Scotland, we have a more consistent supply of water than Alena does, but our systems simply aren’t set up to deal with sustained periods of drought and these can have dire consequences for our crops.
If these ‘anomalies’ become a trend then water conservation in Scotland could become a major issue as farmers need to access larger supplies to water their crops. Reservoirs around Edinburgh are very low just now. If we have more years like this one, we may soon reach a crisis point.
It is clear that the future of farming, whether in Scotland or places like Malawi, is being threatened by climate change. If we’re going to limit the damage, then governments around the world need to take decisive action now.
The Scottish Government can do just that, whilst showing strong international leadership on this issue, through the forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill and via its Climate Change Bill. To me, it seems clear that these two proposed new laws go hand-in-hand.
An obvious place to start would be to answer the calls being made to stop contributing to climate change by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and Oxfam Scotland. For that to happen, the new Climate Change Bill needs to include a binding target of achieving zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
It’s not an unachievable goal; in fact ideas being proposed in Scotland’s forthcoming Good Food Nation Bill could help us achieve it. We all know that agriculture is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and that systemic change is needed to address this problem.
Through the Good Food Nation Bill, we have the chance to take ownership of our food supply system and to make it as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible by encouraging small scale, integrated farming. This in turn, would help us meet our ambitions on climate change.
As Alena and I know all too well, it’s not just the future of farming on the line. Climate change is threatening people’s lives, homes and livelihood right now. The Scottish Government must do all it can to change the future so it’s fairer for everyone.
Think Scotland should stop contributing to climate change? Email your MSPs and ask them to take action today through http://bit.ly/OxfamScotlandClimate
Rob Davidson is the farm manager for Cyrenians. The farm is a social enterprise located just outside Edinburgh.