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Maasai herding’, painting by Kahare Miano (photo credit: ILRI/Elsworth).

As the CGIAR Consortium prepares for its Thursday live interactive panel on challenges and solutions to the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa, the Famine Early Warning Network (FEWS NET) reports that reliance on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate model for long term climate adaptation and mitigation in East Africa greatly exacerbated the current crisis.

In a Nature News article We thought trouble was coming,  FEWS Net's Chris Funk says because agencies working in the Horn of Africa relied upon the IPCC's prediction of increased precipitation in East Africa, they failed to heed early warnings of severe drought and wide-spread food insecurity.

The global climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were never intended to provide rainfall trend projections for every region. These models say that East Africa will become wetter, yet observations show substantial declines in spring rainfall in recent years. Despite this, several agencies are building long-term plans on the basis of the forecast of wetter conditions. This could lead to agricultural development and expansion in areas that will become drier. More climate science based on regional observations could be helpful in addressing these challenges.

While the IPCC's 2007 4th Assessment report, in its section Mean Precipitation, does suggest a potential increase in precipitation in some areas of East Africa, upon evaluating all the data available at that time, the IPCC scientists concur:

While this result is generally consistent with the underlying GCMs and the composite MMD projections, there is a tendency for greater Sahel drying than in the underlying GCMs, providing further rationale (alongside the large spread in model responses and poor coupled model performance in simulating droughts of the magnitude observed in the 20th century) for viewing with caution the projection for a modest increase in Sahel rainfall in the ensemble mean of the MMD models.

The IPCCs Fifth Assessment Report is currently underway but is not scheduled for release until 2014.

Funk, a member of University of California, Santa Barbara, Department of Geology Climate Hazard Group, said FEWS began issuing early warnings last year after evaluating the impact of the La Niña weather system on East Africa.  

FEWS NET runs a food-price tracking system that showed that the price of maize (corn) in Kitui, Kenya, had soared by 246% in 12 months. And the value of a goat in Bardera, Somalia, usually sold to buy grain, had halved. Satellite measurements of vegetation health tracked the emerging drought in disturbing detail. FEWS NET put out a second alert on 7 June that warned: “This is the most severe food security emergency in the world today, and the current humanitarian response is inadequate.”

Along with faulty climate modeling, which resulted in the unsustainable expansion of rain fed agriculture crops in dry pastoral ecosystems, Funk reports that population expansion and more frequent droughts have overwhelmed local agriculture systems.

Emergencies such as the one in East Africa will become more common unless there is a focus on improving agricultural production. Ironically, the fact that crop yields are low creates a tremendous opportunity for improvement. A 50%, or even 100%, increase in yields is feasible . . . . In the long term, a more resilient system is needed, rather than an increase in the number of emergency grain shipments. Then, when disaster strikes, surplus food can be moved around the region—from Tanzania to Somalia, say.


CGIAR Consortium's Thursday press conference Research Options for Mitigating Drought-induced Food Crises focuses on solutions and challenges, and is informed by research on such topics as reintroducing traditional dry-land crops; implementing food storage systems; climate change and farming; micro-irrigation and the successful use of plant varieties; and inspiring and engaging youth in sustainable agriculture. (See Links Below.)

The meeting, which takes place at the ILRI campus in Nairobi, will be hosted on the Consortium's Horn of Africa page, where a live video link and chat channel provide opportunity for Q&A for remote participants.  (Times: 10:30-12:00 Nairobi time; 09:30-11:00 CET; 07:30-09:00 GMT; 3:30- 5:00 EST; 0:30 - 2:00 PST ).  Participants can submit comments or questions ahead of time on the HOA landing page; during the live event, questions can be submitted in real time via Twitter or the chat channel on the page.

Food Security Tool Kit

Micro-irrigation shows new ways to beat hunger
The revival of traditional dry-land crops
Report: Investments in Pastoralism Offers Hope for Combating Droughts in East Africa
The root causes of food insecurity in East Africa
Kenya: Not just droughts, but also minor climate shifts affect farmers
Maize: Not just a question of producing more, but also of storing better
Horn of Africa: The rains will fail in 2015, 2016, or 2017, but must we also fail?
Agricultural development: Not just about seeds,but also about inspiring young people
ICRISAT breeds improved plant varieties for Kenyan farmers
How many pictures of dead cattle does it take?

Follow the Leaders In Global Food Security

CGIAR The Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, established in 2010, as part of a major reform of CGIAR
The International Food Policy Research Instituteseeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty.
@ifpri Washington, DC
Famine Early Warning Network (FEWS NET)
@FEWSNet (Nairobi)

Originally posted to East Africa Food Crisis: 48 Hours of Action on Tue Aug 30, 2011 at 05:25 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Yes We Can Pragmatists, Citizen Journalism, DK GreenRoots, EcoJustice, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks boatsie (15+ / 0-)

    For those of who are wondering why many Daily Kos sig lines display this -- 48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam -- please read this diary of mine from last week -- An Appeal to All of Daily Kos - Here's Your Chance to Do Something Constructive.

    Thanks for doing so.

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam - A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

    by JekyllnHyde on Tue Aug 30, 2011 at 05:37:29 PM PDT

  •  Please repost and share. (8+ / 0-)

    this is a highly relevant event for the entire world, all of us are dealing with food security issues and the lessons learned from experts working on the ground in LDCs and countries most threatened by climate change have real and direct implications now for how we cope. Ensuring the sustainability of food security in East Africa directly impacts our food security.

    As reported in COP16, small scale farmers will be resonsible for feeding the world's population by 2050!


    i cannnot stress enough just how important and forward thinking this event is!

    Each link in the toolkit is a powerful, moving, informative experience. Short videos, real stories. Incredible facts and S.C.I.E.N.C.E.

  •  I'm still willing to match $5.01 donors (5+ / 0-)

    per my challenge -- up to 3 more people.  (Not boatsie!)

  •  Now there's a complication I hadn't thought of... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    boatsie, nomandates, Villanova Rhodes
    Along with faulty climate modeling, which resulted in the unsustainable expansion of rain fed agriculture crops in dry pastoral ecosystems,

    Climate change predictions being too hopeful, in a sense.

  •  Recent reports predict drying in East Africa (6+ / 0-)

    as northern Indian ocean warming intensifies the monsoon. The IPCC's predictions need to be revised. My recent diary on east Africa discussed the problem with intensifying dry offshore winds during the spring rainy season, caused by a warming climate.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Tue Aug 30, 2011 at 06:09:59 PM PDT

    •  Well, and that also demonstrates the problem (3+ / 0-)

      with using climate modeling for near-term planning.

      Overall, they're absolutely right that the globe is warming.  (Although I've read some disturbing things about how the IPCC's long-term predictions are based on some fairly optimistic -- without basis -- assumptions about what our responses will be.)

      They're right much of the time on the micro level.  But the thing is, climate change is really climate chaos, and the models' outputs are only as good as a) the models, and b) the models' inputs.

  •  Bless you, boatsie (4+ / 0-)

    for your enduring devotion to the plight of our brothers and sisters.

    Vi er alle norske " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Tue Aug 30, 2011 at 06:53:30 PM PDT

    •  Seconded. (3+ / 0-)

      I feel like the news media -- and maybe DKos -- has just gotten used to the fact that this is happening, and moved on.  Meanwhile, people starve in Somalia, Haitians still live in tent cities, and Pakistanis are still at risk of floods.

      It has to be cataclysmic to get our attention.  And I increasingly feel it has to be happening to "us" to keep it.

      •  And people complain of long-term solutions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Villanova Rhodes

        not being implemented -- but when they're discussed, they're ignored.

        Forgive me, I'm feel rather cynical at the moment.

      •  Actually, I should be kinder to "us". (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        markthshark, Villanova Rhodes, aznavy

        There's too damn much information out there.  Too much news.  I don't believe we, as a species, are cut out to handle it.  We have to compartmentalize and ignored, because there's too. much. stuff. happening on the other side of the globe, and too little we really feel we can do about it.

        And in a way, the more your invested, the more it will break your heart.  The more I read in the lead-up to the Iraq War, the more I raged, the more I ranted... and friends who lived in D.C. and N.Y.C. dismissed me because I didn't know what it had been like on 9-11.

        It was infuriating to me.  I was helpless even to convince long-time and intelligent friends that Iraq had had nothing to do with 9-11.

        And the war... the death and the loss, and for nothing...

        I've had to back away from my feelings about that, because they'd be too much otherwise.

        So if people cannot look at starvation on an unfathomable scale... I get it.

        I regret it, but I get it.

        •  Good observation. We are bombarded with (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          information which we can easily avoid. Let's face it, the news today is overwhelmingly and is brought to us in a way that leaves us feeling isolated and helpless.

          This catastrophe is not quite registering the way, say, the 2004 tsunami did. Perhaps because it is in Africa, perhaps because it is regional, perhaps because it not a quick act of nature. Regarding media, if people change channels when presented with images of starving children, is there a calculus NOT to delve into such news at length?  Or the reverse, is there an effort not to show enough of relief efforts to shock audiences? This must be broken down into something a) is not overwhelming b) where Americans can be shown that small steps can result in measurable outcomes. This famine is probably better covered on TV Evangelist channels, where people are used to giving small donations to help disasters worldwide (even if they are giving to save souls).

          All problems contain the seeds of their own solutions and all solutions contain the seeds of the next set of problem. - Jonas Salk

          by the fan man on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 05:17:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Take heart from a little more publicity? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    aznavy, cai, boatsie

    I don't know enough about the UN World Food Programme to know whether it's one of the good guys in this campaign, but its representative Bettina Luescher did get 13 minutes of prime latenight real estate just the other night to talk mostly about the East Africa situation. Somewhere in the last few years -- perhaps fatherhood did it? -- world hunger got stuck in David Letterman's craw.  He has had extended interviews, and fundraising through the show, more than once. And one night he just went OFF on competitive cooking shows like Cupcake Wars as displays of American gluttony while the world is starving. So take heart -- not everyone has moved on, and this guy's got a bigger microphone than most.

  •  the problem is population expansion (0+ / 0-)

    the population in Somalia and Ethiopia has nearly quadrupled since 1970.  If people aren't willing to address this is reason for why famine is happening, then it's a disingenuous argument.    Yes, the drought is happening, but droughts have happened in the past without causing famine.  Nothing went wrong, CGIAR and ag. related NGOs are not to blame for demographic realities.

    •  this was included as 1 of 2 drivers (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Along with faulty climate modeling, which resulted in the unsustainable expansion of rain fed agriculture crops in dry pastoral ecosystems, Funk reports that population expansion and more frequent droughts have overwhelmed local agriculture systems.

      so i would not call it 'disengenuous' and once must give pause and consider for example the situation now in Texas. We don't have overpopulation there and due to a developed national infrastrucuture we do have access to water and food, which LDCs do not. So we are not seeing death or famine there.

      But the lessons learned from how this crisis is addressed and how methods of food production, irrigation, food storage and education are used here WILL directly inform how developed countries as will the ability of small scale farmers to weather this crisis impact our ability to survive ...

    •  I addressed this pre-emptively on my East Africa (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      Maybe I'll just post this on every East Africa diary from now on.

      A lot of times, on diaries like these, someone will bring up population, and how population growth is simply unsustainable in places like Somalia, particularly with climate change.

      Two answers.

      One, I'd say it's just bit tasteless to tacitly blame African pastoralists, who cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions in a year than you do in a weekend, for their own climate woes.

      But second, according to Gro Harlem Brundtland (former Prime Minister of Norway and former Director General of the World Health Organization, the two keys to stabilizing population growth are:

      1.  Address causes of childhood mortality in the population, and

      2.  Give women access to family planning services.

      And after two generations, women will, on average, choose on their own to have fewer children.

      The reason for #1 is simple: if you expect a certain number of your children to die, and they'll be your only source of support in your old age (hey!  It's Rick Perry's paradise!), the rational thing to do is have enough kids that you can be confident at least some of them will survive.

      In other words: letting babies die in a famine (as some people hint or outright suggest) does not actually do anything to "help" population issues in the long run.

      Ending the famines and childhood diseases that plague their families, AND giving women the tools and the social capital to control their fertility, that helps.

      •  good on you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the fact that the MDGs and ALL development models focus so much on Gender Equity is informed by the fact that the higher the level of education of the woman the less likely she is to have larger families. Add to this improving infant mortality and you have a recipe for a significent decrease in population in LDCs.

        •  The population complaint bothers me, (0+ / 0-)

          because on one level, I agree.  Whether or not its the pastoralists' fault that their land is becoming less reliable (or for that matter, how climate change will affect the farming/grazing capacity of land from Peru to Vietnam), there's a limit to how much population growth individual countries and the planet can absorb.  Going beyond those limits will cause suffering in the places that do it, no matter whose fault the limits are.

          But at the same time, when people say this, it seems to be an argument for doing nothing in the immediate crisis, while still not taking actions that might actually help in the long run.  It seems like throwing up one's hands.

          If you're really concerned about population growth -- and hell, you've got a point -- start learning about efforts that actually help to slow it (and without violating anyone's human rights).  There are organizations large and small working to educate girls and empower women.  There are organizations large and small working to get family planning services to the women and girls who need them, and working against things like child marriage.  

          There's even an organization called Days for Girls that has discovered that one reason girls drop out of school is menstruation, if they don't have the supplies to deal with it. So they both send donated cloth pads AND help women set up businesses making them.  (Attention DailyKos seamstresses/seamsters!)

          There are so many options for where to direct your energies -- but it's easier to just say "those people are having too many kids," with all the implicit blaming and cultural superiority that judgment entails.

      •  absolutely true (0+ / 0-)

        that women need more empowerment in the decision making process of child-bearing and that greater control of those decisions usually leads to fewer children.

        In other words: letting babies die in a famine (as some people hint or outright suggest) does not actually do anything to "help" population issues in the long run.

        That's just absolutely false, though.  The ecological concept of carrying capacity addresses this quite explicitly.  Sustaining populations above their carrying capacity guarantees catastrophic collapse when ecological stress (like drought) happens.  Stating a fact is not the same as laying blame.
        There have been a lot of great low-input agricultural advances in Africa in the last few decades, many involving agroforestry systems, including the use of Faidherbia spp. trees.  
        •  But the human response to a population loss (0+ / 0-)

          is to have more children, not just for one generation, but for a couple generations.

          And the usual response to having children reliably live beyond early childhood is to have fewer children.

          Human beings aren't deer.  We can and do change our adaptive behaviors based on what's happened in the past, not just to ourselves, but to our parents.

          And until the world proves that it can and will ensure a community's children will, 99.9% of the time, live past age five, individuals in that community will choose, rationally to have more children.

          •  are you saying that humans (0+ / 0-)

            are not subject to ecological phenomenon?
            I think you are quite right to state that people will choose to have more children when they feel like their options are restricted.  The issue becomes obvious and problematic when those decisions lead to population expansion and then subject to crashes due to drought etc.  This issue is exacerbated when in repeated drought cycles the population is sustained by external supplies of food, through relief agencies.  I'm not saying that anyone is wrong or to blame for doing this.  What i am saying is that it should not then be a surprise that traditional ag methods are incapable of supporting the expanded population when ecological stress happens. In fact, traditional ag there is already incapable of supporting the population even in good years, as the area already imports massive amounts of food.  It is therefore improper to blame local agriculturalists for being incapable of responding to stressors that the population has already put beyond their ability to provide for.

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