What are the effects of climate change on agriculture

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Agriculture fortunes to change with climate
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By Edwin Nuwagaba (email the author)

Posted Wednesday, June 9 2010 at 00:00
It is expected that more floods to come will destroy more crops, displace people and cut off the roads which is a major threat to food security, writes Edwin Nuwagaba.

The effects of climate change are even worse on agriculture. This is something that needs to be considered seriously because many people in the country depend on agriculture for a livelihood.

One of the changes is increasing temperatures, and this creates favourable conditions for pests and diseases to multiply. Ms Anunciata Hakuza, an agricultural expert at the Planning Department at the Ministry of Agriculture says they have already started seeing these effects. “We started with coffee wilts which have been sustained, then cassava mosaic followed. Now we have cassava streak and banana bacteria wilt,” she says.

The seasons which are changing are also having an effect. Paul Isabirye the Programme officer at the department of Meteorology/Climate Change Unit in Bugolobi says, “People planned their activities around these seasons but now we no longer have these seasons which are clear cut.” The onset and cessation of these seasons has now become so dynamic that rainfall seasons either come too early or much later than normal.

As a result people cannot plan easily for their crops. “When rains come too early, people may not consider them as the seasonal rainfall and so they don’t go to sow the seeds. By the time they realise that they must start, they have already lost about three weeks,” Mr Isabirye says. And because crops are subjected to shorter rainfall seasons – they are unable to go through the normal growth process.

On the other hand, according to Isabirye, these days there are many farmers who rush to plant their crops following a wrong onset. By the time the real rains pour, people have already wasted their seeds.

Climate change has also largely affected the distribution of rain across the entire season. “In two weeks it may come so strongly and for the following 10 days you have no rain at all. This also disturbs the growing phase of the crop,” Isabirye says. It has been found that more often than not, we receive rain with the intensity of a month long rainfall. This is dangerous and contributes to soil erosion. In Bundibugyo district, Hakuza says that farmers are worried because of the pests that have invaded their sweet potatoes. But what is even more alarming according to Alex Bambona another agricultural expert at this ministry, are pest outbreaks like the variegated grasshoppers which cut crops.

Meanwhile in Hoima district, army worms which defoliate crops especially the sweet potatoes have attacked on a massive scale. “The problem with these armyworms is that when they grow, they develop wings and fly to other areas. In Mbarara people are almost immigrating because of banana wilt.”

Moreover, it is expected that more floods to come will destroy more crops, displace people and cut off the roads which is a major threat to food security. “These floods will increase disease, and in fact as we talk, climate change is the greatest cause of food insecurity in Uganda,” Bambona says.

Hakuza says that the ministry is already underway trying to initiate drought resistant crops which farmers can at least rely on. Some of the crops which can survive harsh weather conditions like heavy rainfall include tea, coffee, bananas, sorghum and other plantation and cereal crops. Bambona is however optimistic that Uganda will not be pushed to the extreme end of food insecurity. “When one area, is affected another area may be having high production. When conditions are worse in this area in other areas it is not the same,” he says. However, whereas Uganda has enough food at the national level, the problem of distribution is still a thorn in the flesh.

The good news, according to Hakuza, is that the government has come up with a range of intervention mechanisms in the five year development strategy and development plan which is meant to address the issue of climate change in agriculture. Some of these include introducing irrigation schemes where necessary. Even then, there is no doubt that something needs to be done and fast.