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A food awakening
Celebrity photographer Rankin journeyed to Kenya recently to chronicle the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who are starving as a result of climate change. Anne Sexton reports on the work being done by Oxfam to put food back on their plates.
Anne Sexton, 10 Jun 2011
In addition, the EU regulation that 10% of transport fuels must come from bio-fuels by 2015 has accelerated the problem by turning land that formerly produced food into fuel farms.
Reliance on fossil fuels isn’t the answer. The 2008 spike in oil prices caused food prices to shoot up. Because big agribusiness favours intensive monoculture farming, millions of people reply on imported food. As soon as transport costs increase, so do food prices. In parts of the world, the economic collapse notwithstanding, food prices are exceeding 2008 levels. Poverty-stricken people already spend over 70% of their income on food. Any price increase has a devastating effect on their ability to pay for necessities like medical care and schooling.
The effects of climate change in Ireland may be worrying, but compared to what is happening across Africa, we have been lucky – at least so far. We can look forward to wetter winters, increased flash floods and warmer seas, all of which will impact on farming, fishing and infrastructure. In contrast, in Africa, once-arable land has been turned into desert.
A poignant case in point is Turkana in northern Kenya. An area about the size of Ireland, nothing has grown there for seven years. Climate change has affected the rain patterns significantly and the rainy season from March to May has all but disappeared, turning what was once a pasture into a dustbowl.
The humanitarian crisis has serious health and social implications, ruining communities and leaving thousands at risk of starvation. In Turkana, animals are currency. Without them people cannot trade, get married or afford schooling. Farmers are forced to travel long distances looking for grazing and water and the scarcity of both leads to conflict. The shop shelves are bare and whatever food is available is beyond the means of most.
The government of Kenya has a commitment to achieving agreed Millennium Development Goals, but words have yet to be backed up with action. Northern Kenya has no political representation at national level and receives less investment than the highly populated centre of the country.