– Making the Connect, Climate Change and the average man
When it comes to climate change there have been consultations, public awareness campaigns and a plethora of initiatives advanced in the agriculture and education, among other sectors. But the question is how many of the average Guyanese men and women actually understand the impacts of climate change?
How many people understand that climate change adaptation and mitigation can be supported by protecting the mangrove forests or buying energy efficient office products and equipment or using less paper or buying organic food or yet even by switching to fuel efficient hybrid vehicles?
The answer, not many of the 700,000 plus people in Guyana.
For example, before the Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project (GMRP) the average coastlander knew these trees as courida bush and its uses as an income earner, not as a means of sea defence against rising sea levels caused by climate change, among its other benefits. Even now, almost a year into the project a large number of persons on the coast are still not au fait with the benefits of the mangrove forests in the climate change fight. They are not aware that mangrove forests have the potential to sequester 1.7 tonnes of carbon per hectare annually.
Point to note is this is not because of a lack of public awareness or engagement of the general public; rather it is because of a different conundrum.
On a recent visit to Orealla, Region Six (East Berbice/ Corentyne), the Guyana Chronicle met with a several residents who acknowledged that they were not as informed about climate change as they should be.
One man said he did not attend the consultation held by a GMRP team because he was taken up with work at his farm, work he considered more important at that time because of the simple reason that this is what put the food on the table at the end of the day.
Here lies the conundrum, the messages are being advanced but it is not enough to rope in the man at the grassroots level, who is taken up with putting a meal on the table, rather than attend a consultation or workshop.
The challenge that exists is making the connect between the average man and the realities of the climate change phenomenon – advancing efforts that will see the average man contributing to the climate change fight.
When it comes to the other initiatives being encouraged, they are often translated to simply cost effective actions and for the man in the poverty bracket most of these measures are not applicable, for the simple reason that this group will not have the resources to even consider things like hybrid vehicles.
Some 90 per cent of the population lives on the coast, which is approximately 0.5 to 1.0 metres below mean sea level, and included in that 90 per cent are those in the poverty bracket who will be most affected.
That said, each day Guyanese are living and coping with climate change, each day Guyanese are experiencing the realities of the climate change threat – a threat which poses difficulties for one of the main contributors to the national economy, agriculture.
Case in point the La Nina phenomenon, whose devastations has left its mark on several vulnerable areas along the coast, in particular the Mahaicony and Mahaica Creek areas.
La Nina is above average rainfall in a particular are for a particular period of time and is generally associated with dryer areas. In essence La Nina follows a period of El Nino and translates to intense rainfall. For the month of March the rainfall amounts, according to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, have surpassed the 2005 levels, a period that saw devastating floods, by 45 per cent. An added challenge is the fact that Guyana’s drainage and irrigation capacity caters for 1.5 inches of rainfall, but the country is seeing as much as 8 inches of rainfall caused by the La Nina phenomenon. The country has managed, however, with strategic interventions to avoid a catastrophic situation.
Any such occurrence would have impacted in the worst way the agriculture sector, where farmers are operating in the conventional system –planting in the open – production is expected to fall because of poor harvesting conditions, land preparation will be difficult, among others.
Living the climate change realities
The Guyana Rice Producers’ Association (RPA) General Secretary, Mr. Dharamkumar Seeraj, told the Guyana Chronicle that farmers are living the realities of climate change.
“There is not a full comprehension of climate change, the farmers do not understand fully the causes and effects, but what they do know is that there are changes….farmers appreciate the changes and are preparing themselves to deal with it,” he said.
Seeraj explained that farmers more than any other group of citizens have a direct link with climate change, considering that most of the cultivatable lands are under sea level.
“The farmers know what they have to do to protect their crops and livestock and they act along that line,” he said, “All farmers appreciate that things are changing, that they will get more rains in August now than in May/June.”
Globally agriculture is responsible for 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions (Wightman, 2008). Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture principally involve methane gas (from manure, livestock, and rice cultivation) and nitrous oxide (associated with the use of Nitrogen fertilizers). These greenhouse gasses are poised to worsen in the coming decades.
Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud, last December, introduced the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture to a cross section of stakeholders.
Climate Smart agriculture is one of the platforms from which adaptation is being promoted and it seeks to ensure that agricultural activities are undertaken with an understanding of certain facts. These include the need to increase production, while increasing the sector’s resiliency and advancing practices aimed at mitigating climate change impacts.
The Agriculture Minister contends that climate-smart agriculture includes the development of flood and drought resistant rice strains in the rice sector; improved mechanization in the sugar industry; increased use of genetic systems to advance the livestock sector; and the use of new technologies for other crops and fisheries sectors.
Making the Connect
The initiatives currently being advanced by the Ministry surrounds the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture.
This includes the technical support given to farmers by the Ministry’s officers, who encourage best practices as it relates to agriculture and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
In the agriculture sector this is the way that the connect is made, the technical officers encourage best practices and show that they do not affect productivity; rather better places farmers to deal with the realities of climate change – all in the interest of making the sector climate resilient.
The general consensus among agriculture sector stakeholders is that the on the ground support that puts farmers in contact with real people and real solutions is what helps to make the connect between climate change and the average man.
In the Education Sector that the Education Ministry is working with the Climate Change Office to improve awareness of climate change and the LCDS in schools across Guyana – it is education that targets behaviour change so that today’s children are prepared for future challenges.
Getting ‘green-educated’ is one of the main ways in which the efforts to adapt to climate change, as well as mitigate its effects, will advance change, since education is an important resource and will play an major role in the climate change fight.
At the level of the private sector, the business community is gradually becoming increasingly ‘green’ conscious.
These are some of the ways in which the connect is being made between climate change and the average man.
Additionally, Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), which realigns the whole development of the country on a low-carbon path: development of hydro-electric power, sustainable forestry, investment in “low-carbon” sectors such as fruit, vegetables and aquaculture, low-impact mining and eco-tourism.