Agronoticias: Agriculture News from Latin America and the Caribbean



Climate change, agriculture and food security in the Caribbean

The Caribbean countries share similar economic and sustainable development challenges. The most prominent challenges include lack of resources, susceptibility to natural disasters, excessive dependence on international trade and vulnerability to climate change.

The common challenge

The Caribbean countries share similar economic and sustainable development challenges. The most prominent challenges include lack of resources, susceptibility to natural disasters, excessive dependence on international trade and vulnerability to climate change. The climate change challenge, determined by increasing temperatures, sea-level rise and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property and livelihoods in the Caribbean countries. The climate change impacts will occur regardless of the fact that Caribbean countries have contributed little to the increase of the greenhouse gases.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) [1] project annual temperature increases for the Caribbean at the end of the twenty-first century range from 1.4 °C to 3.2 °C. The results of the Caribbean Providing Regional Climates for Impact Studies (PRECIS) indicate that the annual mean temperature across the Caribbean by the 2080s is projected to be between 1 °C and 5 °C warmer [2]. The IPCC (2007) scenarios of precipitation change for the Caribbean show a decrease in annual precipitation, although a few models suggest increases. Generally, the change varies from –39 to +11 percent. The projected increases in sea level within the Caribbean vary from 0.17 m to 0.24 m by 2050.

Extreme weather and climate events

Climate in the Caribbean is characterized by extreme weather events like hurricanes, which severely destabilized the socio-economic fabric of the region in the last two decades. For example, the active hurricane season during 2004 resulted in damages of approximately US$5.7 billion. Moreover, the productive sectors which include agriculture accounted for over one third (35.2%) of associated damages and losses. Intensive hurricanes are associated with storm surges, strong winds, coral bleaching, inundation of land, and erosion. Data analysis has shown that the number of very warm days and nights has been increasing in the region.

A warming of theCaribbean Seahas already been detected. Climate change projections show that this warming will be accompanied by temporal and spatial changes in precipitation patterns, and by more intense or frequent hurricanes. An increase in the intensity of hurricanes and sea-level rise has major implications for coastal zones of many countries in the region, as more than 50% of the population resides within 2 km of the coast.

Climate change threatens agriculture and food security in the Caribbean

Agriculture accounts for 23% of employment in the region, with the highest share of 62% in Haiti, and the sector stands in the front line of vulnerability to climate impacts. Arable land, water resources and biodiversity are already under pressure, and are expected to be further stressed by changes in the precipitation patterns; coral reefs and mangroves will be threatened by increased sea surface temperatures, and sea-level rise.

The extreme weather events can be very damaging to the fisheries industry. Damages to fishing gear, fishing vessels and coral reefs act as a major setbacks to the fishing community. Without coastal vegetation, which act as protective barriers for the coastlines, the land is open for more destruction as a result of storm surges that can inundate agricultural lands and displace coastal settlements. The general increase in temperature of the surface waters in theCaribbean Seacould affect the coral reefs and fish production. Climate change may disrupt not only pest dynamics in small island state’s agriculture but also the dynamics of herbivores in terrestrial ecosystems.

Changes in climate and other important environmental factors pose a major concern to food security in theCaribbeanregion. Such changes not only threaten directly the production of food from land and sea for local consumption, but threaten also revenue generation from export crops. These impacts are anticipated to further exacerbate existing challenges such as loss of market and declining value of traditional exports, declining domestic food production and increasing imports. FAO estimates that theCaribbeancountries host 9.5 million undernourished people, about 12% of the total population in the region. The number has increased over the last three decades, although there are clear signs of improvement in recent years. The adverse impacts of climate change are a major threat to the food security in theCaribbeancountries.

Agriculture can’t wait – “Act now and Make it work”

Agriculture contributes directly to the provision of livelihoods of the majority of the poor. Specific adaptation responses now rather than later could reduce the vulnerability of farmers, fisherfolk, women and other agriculture sector-dependant communities. The cost of inaction is projected to be very high for the Caribbean countries. For example, the report of Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Development and Environment Institute (2008) [3] concluded that "the Caribbean’s annual cost of inaction is projected to total $22 billion annually by 2050 and $46 billion by 2100” for only three categories - increased hurricane damages, loss of tourism revenue and infrastructure damages.

Responses to climate change and sea-level rise need to be coordinated and integrated with existing socio-economic development and environmental policies to facilitate sustainable development in the region. There are a multitude of possible adaptation options,  including engineering solutions (defences, hurricane-resistant buildings and the provision of water storage, etc.); legislative solutions (revised building codes, land zoning around coasts, updating of water policy, etc.); technological solutions (resilient crops, terracing, contour farming, vegetative barriers, wind breaks and mangrove protection, etc.). In spite of the wide range of adaptation options, there are constraints that can limit the choices of options and their implementation such as inadequate data, technical and institutional capacity and limited financial resources.

Risk management related interventions, such as the formulation of national hazard and vulnerability reduction plans considerably help the Caribbean countries in preparing for climate change impacts. Risk transfer could occur through micro-insurance, catastrophe bonds and reduced insurance premiums as an incentive to take preventative measures. Policy formulation needs to be built upon an improved understanding of the links between climate change and four dimensions of food security. Given the magnitude of the impacts of climate change, a comprehensive “climate strategy” for the region needs to focus on adaptation as a first priority. Mitigation activities such as ecosystem restoration in coastal areas in the context of carbon sequestration can also be tapped to support adaptation activities.

[1] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2007. Regional climate projections. In S. Solomon, D., Qin, M., Manning, Z. Chen et al., eds. Climate Change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, United States: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Taylor, M., Centella, A., Charlery, J. et al. 2007. Glimpses of the future: a briefing from the PRECIS Caribbean climate change project. Belmopan, Belize: Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre.

[3] Stockholm Environment Institute (US Center) and Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University (2008). The Caribbean and Climate Change - The Cost of Inaction, May 2008. Available online at


Author: Selvaraju Ramasamy

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