Climate change adaptation and mitigation: What is MCC’s role?

By Amy Martens, research associate in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department. This piece was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections: MCC theory and practice quarterly.

cropped-new-intersections-header (2)Climate change has already wrought significant adverse impacts on people and the environment, including increasing the risk of climate-related disasters. Communities, governments and non-governmental organizations employ adaptation and mitigation strategies to respond to climate change risks, seeking to limit future negative impacts and to enable communities to cope with adverse effects. What is the responsibility of relief, development and peacebuilding agencies like MCC that work in climate change-affected communities to respond to climate change through adaptation and mitigation?

The intersecting concepts of disaster risk, hazards and vulnerability are key in understanding the broader approaches of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Hazards in this case refer to natural adverse events such as droughts, extreme temperatures, landslides or hurricanes. Vulnerability is a term used to describe the characteristics or circumstances of a community that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard, including exposure to the hazard and ability to cope or adapt to its effects. Vulnerability is influenced by a variety of factors, including gender, age, inequalities in the distribution of resources, access to technology and information, employment patterns and governance structures. Disaster risk is based on the occurrence of hazards and vulnerability to those hazards. Not only is climate change increasing the frequency and severity of many natural hazards, but climate change impacts are increasing vulnerability by diminishing the capacity of communities to cope with these adverse events because of greater unpredictability of climatic events, increased displacement, land degradation and other impacts.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are two complementary strategies to reduce and manage the risk associated with climate change. Mitigation involves reducing human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit future climate change. Mitigation strategies include switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, improving energy and transportation efficiency and increasing carbon “sinks” through reforestation. Adaptation is the process of adjusting to actual or expected climate change and its effects. Within communities, adaptation means avoiding or diminishing harm from climate impacts or exploiting beneficial opportunities associated with climate change. Adaptation includes a variety of activities to reduce vulnerability, including income and livelihood diversification, soil and water conservation, natural resource management and the provision of social safety nets. In addition, disaster risk reduction is a key strategy for reducing risk through efforts to analyze and manage the factors causing disaster situations, including reducing the exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property and improving preparedness for disaster events.

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MCC is primarily involved in climate change adaptation activities by supporting communities currently affected by climate change. Adaptation activities aim to reduce disaster risk by addressing different aspects of vulnerability within communities and building resilience to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of climate-related hazards. MCC’s adaptation work includes training for farmers in conservation agriculture, construction of shelter resistant to hazards and providing improved access to safe water.

MCC is also involved in mitigation work, including advocating for government policies that address climate change, encouraging supporters to live simply, expanding efforts to implement sustainability initiatives within MCC operations in Canada and the U.S. and partnering with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College in the founding of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions to advance thinking and action within faith communities on mitigation. Internationally, some of MCC’s programming includes mitigation efforts such as reforestation and education on climate change and environmental sustainability.

Climate change is undermining the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the development sector as they work towards poverty reduction, food security, improved access to clean water and other development goals. Development NGOs are recognizing the importance of adaptation strategies in programming as they experience the impact of climate change on vulnerability and disaster risk. While adaptation is key in reducing risk associated with climate change impacts, it does not address the root cause of climate change. Both mitigation and adaptation are essential to a comprehensive climate risk reduction strategy.

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Considering the importance of limiting future climate change impacts to support sustainable development, what role should NGOs play in mitigation efforts? As a ministry of churches in Canada and the United States, MCC represents congregations in countries that contribute significantly to climate change and is itself a contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. To what extent is MCC responsible for mitigation, both with regards to its internal operations and its constituents located in Canada and the U.S.?

While MCC’s responsibility for climate change adaptation is inherent within its priorities of disaster relief and sustainable community development, MCC continues to explore its role in mitigation and opportunities for greater engagement on climate change matters. Even as MCC undertakes a number of initiatives to green its operations, MCC must discern how to balance an emphasis on internal mitigation efforts with a desire to implement program effectively and allocate resources efficiently. MCC asks itself how it can best partner with other like-minded organizations to engage and mobilize congregations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. As recent conversations convened by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions suggest, MCC has the opportunity to join other organizations to advocate on policies that address climate change, to mobilize its supporters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to use its international adaptation work as a platform to propel climate action by connecting North American supporters with climate change-affected communities.

MCC’s work is increasingly connected to the impact of climate change on hazards and vulnerability within communities around the world. To be faithful in its mission of relief, development and peacebuilding in the name of Christ, MCC must carefully consider how best to respond to climate change risks, while also assessing its role in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Climate change and hands of resistance

By Rebekah Nimtz, an MCC Service Worker in the cross-roads, bread-basket city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. This post is part of a series by MCC Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) on climate change and food security

Several years ago in Bolivia during the rainy season I noticed that a drip bucket in my house was nearly overflowing when I returned from an annual absence of a few weeks. The next year I was surprised to come back to find it only half full. The rainy season had begun a month late. This past year it began well over two months late. On the south side of Cochabamba, in migrant zones where many kids I work with live without running water, even the cacti appeared to be drying up. Bolivia continues to experience the effects of its worst drought in almost four decades and the highest recorded temperatures in the past ten years.

The drought on the ground

The drought on the ground. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia.

El Niño and climate change are credited with playing the major roles in  weather fluctuations, in a country whose ecosystems the UN considers some of the most vulnerable worldwide to the effects of global warming. Late rains have made only a dent in lost reserves, which hovered around 8% capacity, with a reservoir in the governing capital of La Paz at only 1% at the end of last year. This lack of water caused President Evo Morales to declare a national emergency in November. Friends in the city of Cochabamba weren’t as startled by the state of the emergency as those in La Paz, as rationing of water in Cochabamba is the norm. This past year Cochabamba only received, on average, water via the municipal water company, SEMAPA, a few hours once a week.

In the region of Mizque, 160 km outside of Cochabamba, adaptability to the effects of drought depends on whether one lives closer to the village, with more access to an irrigation system and agricultural machinery, or half-an-hour further out in the mountains, where one’s livelihood is more dependent on cultivating corn and raising cows, goats and vicuñas.

Jaime Pardo works for OBADES, the social arm of the Baptist church in Bolivia. MCC partners with OBADES in its work with locals in Mizque on food security projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouses, and crop diversity. Jaime shared that in early 2016 the rainy season not only started late, but was cut short when the rains stopped in March, leaving already planted corn unable to reach maturity. By the end of the year there was no more pasture left for livestock. Animals had to move around for hours in search of first water and then food, complicated by the drying up of once full rivers. It was a bit easier for the goats, who would eat anything within sight, even plastic. Jaime commented that the image seared in his mind of this past year is of skin-and-bone cows wobbling down the mountainside as though drunk, trembling and barely able to stand. As for their owners, without water to sow their crops, the only option has been to leave for the city.

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity. Photo by Jaime Pardo.

A vast number of farmers have also left Bolivia’s already dry southeast Chaco due to the unprecedented rate of cattle deaths, the region’s primary income. Lake Poopo in the western part of the country completely dried up at the beginning of 2016, not only due to drought,  but also water deviation for mining. The Uru people, who lived off the lake for centuries, have long since gone, along with their way of life. The swell in already exploding urban populations exacerbates poverty and puts greater demands on failing infrastructure and local municipalities to implement solutions.

In rural and urban areas alike, communities have plead with the government for assistance, with the repeated loss of crops resulting in economic ruin for families. Some irrigation and groundwater projects have come about as a result. Nevertheless, even the breadbasket of Cochabamba unprecedentedly began importing food from neighboring countries. Outdated infrastructure exacerbates the problem with up to 50% losses of water in some places within pipes and distribution networks. Privatization is an option, but faces opposition for often failing to reach city outskirts and municipalities. The Misicuni dam and hydroelectric project of Cochabamba, underway since 1957, is a set-back filled effort of 10 private local and international companies that is only now gradually approaching completion. It was originally planned to give water to 400,000 people in a city with now closer to a million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, deforestation of the northern Amazon, in Bolivia and beyond, inhibits the flow of humid air and rain to the Andes. Hydroelectric projects damage the river arteries of the jungle and affects the natural water preservation cycle. Damaged water cycles leave torrents of rain that show up late, to destroy crops at the time of harvest and cause catastrophes with flash-flooding, as opposed to the gradual, soft rains of days gone by. The need to address emergency situations means that working on root causes turns into a catch-up game for a government that is already behind on developing prevention and relief plans for a problem long foreseen.

Bolivia has accessed, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s green fund for a “My Irrigation” program to assist in rural areas. The construction of grain storage plants are underway. Experts emphasize the need for long term water shortage plans such as dikes for water storage, preservation and education initiatives, and continued efforts to renovate outdated water distribution systems so they can be ready to carry, for example, the water now beginning to finally gush from the Misicuni dam project.

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia Ramos.

The small, hopeful steps of local communities across the country, especially alongside governing bodies, are prevailing against the obstacles, even if those steps begin as little more than drops in a dry bucket. The community of Villa Vinto, not far from Mizque, in partnership with OBADES, is enlisting a Peruvian model in the creation of artificial lakes and dykes to capture and store rainwater. With municipal government offers of new farming tools as prizes for the best efforts, the project is hoped to spread to communities throughout the entire region. Mizque continues to produce drought-resistant maca, which in addition to being a delicious superfood, reaps greater economic benefits than typical potato crops. The persistent well-digging of colony Mennonites in Durango on the border with Argentina has allowed them to grow crops in previously declared agricultural dead-zones. If a drop of water can carve out a canyon, the small efforts of hands working together might be able to eventually fill that canyon with more water for the future.

 

Doing my small part for climate justice

This week’s guest writer is Amy Martens, Administrative Assistant and Research Associate for MCC Canada’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response Department.

In November, over 20,000 government officials and representatives of organizations and UN agencies met in Marrakech, Morocco for the 2016 UN Climate Change Conference. Over 190 countries affirmed their commitment to implement the Paris Agreement, which entered into force this November, and called for increased cooperation to meet the long-term goal to limit global temperature increase to well below 2°C.

marakeshSeveral initiatives for advancing climate action were launched during the conference including the NDC Partnership, a coalition of 33 countries (including Canada) who will work to help countries achieve their national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. In addition, Canada, Germany, Mexico and the United States announced national long-term strategies for reducing their GHG emissions.

While the upswing in momentum towards global action on climate change and the progress made in Marrakech is encouraging, current pledges to reduce GHG emissions are inadequate to limit global warming to under 2°C. Whether Canada can even manage to meet its own ambitious emissions reduction strategy to cut emissions by 30% before the end of 2030 is still in question—especially considering recent pipeline approvals. Watching Canada’s climate policy take shape sometimes looks a lot like two steps back for every step forward.

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Rapidly melting sea ice is a sign of climate change. Photo/Depositphotos

It’s tempting to dismiss climate change as a problem only governments and large corporations can address. Yet, as a resident of a country with the highest emissions per person in the world–almost double the global average—I am part of Canada’s carbon problem too. Considering this, what’s my responsibility when it comes to climate change? What role do I play in helping Canada achieve its GHG emission reduction goals?

According to a 2015 study, consumers—like me—are to blame for more than 60% of global GHG emissions. Emissions from our lifestyle choices, such as transportation habits or electricity use, often get the most attention. In fact, the majority of consumer emissions are an indirect result of our consumption; the emissions caused by producing the food and goods we buy.

This December, many Canadians will make the annual pilgrimage to purchase gifts for the people they love. In 2015, we collectively spent $13.5 billion on food, clothing, housewares, electronics, and more, during the month of December. While it’s fun to celebrate Christmas by decking the halls, hosting parties, and giving gifts, it’s easy to forget the significant impact of this consumption on our environment.

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MCC operates thrift shops across Canada and the U.S.  MCC photo.

I’ve slowly been confronting the truth of my consumption habits and the wider impact of my purchases on the environment. I’ve been trying to ask difficult questions before I fork over my money, like: How was this made? What is it made of? Who made it? I’m learning to re-evaluate how much stuff I actually need to live a meaningful life, and to cultivate mindfulness in my consumption. I’ve started to make planned and carefully thought out purchases. I’ve re-discovered the thrill of finding that perfect item used, and I’ve committed to wearing a limited wardrobe to work. I’m reorganizing my priorities to place greater value on experiences over belongings.

Since each one of us is contributing to climate change, we all have the responsibility to reduce our impact. With Christmas just around the corner, now is a great time to take a small step towards limiting household consumption. By making changes to reduce our personal GHG emissions, we send the message that we expect Canada to fully meet its national goal to reduce GHG emissions by 30% by 2030—and we’re willing to accept what’s necessary to make that happen.

It’s overwhelming to think about addressing the global issue of climate change. But large-scale change is the result of many small changes adding up. And I have a responsibility to do my small part for climate justice—one fewer purchase at a time.

World Food Day, climate change and supporting small-holder farmers

This week’s writer is Stefan Epp-Koop, chair of the board of MCC Manitoba. He participated in the Canadian Foodgrains Bank Good Soil learning tour to Kenya in July 2016.

When Hiram Thuo’s crops failed in 2009 due to irregular rainfall, he had little choice but to seek food aid. He did so reluctantly, sad that he was no longer able to feed his family. So Hiram, who farms near Naivasha, Kenya, began attending trainings on vegetable production, irrigation, and drought resistant crops.

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Hiram Thuo, posing with his wife (name unavailable), was excited to share about the changes he has made on his farm. Photo courtesy Andrew Richardson.

Hiram’s farm has been transformed over the past seven years. He now plants crops like watermelon, kale, spinach, capsicum, and passion fruit. These crops are highly sought after by local merchants. As a result he is now able to feed his family and sell the extra to traders in the local market, earning approximately $70 per month – money that is used to pay school fees and make further improvements on the farm.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit many farmers like Hiram during a Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) learning tour to Kenya. The trip was part of the Good Soil campaign, a CFGB initiative to engage the Canadian government to increase support for agriculture as part of our international development assistance.

Like Hiram, many Kenyan farmers we visited talked about the impact of a changing climate – in particular increasingly unpredictable rainfall.  And, like Hiram, many farmers have experienced remarkable transformations, thanks to support for training and scale-appropriate technology.

October 16 is World Food Day, which this year is focusing on the impact of a changing climate on food insecurity.  Small-holder farmers, who make up the majority of the world’s farmers and the vast majority of people experiencing hunger in the world, are very vulnerable to changes in climate such as rapidly changing rainfall or temperature patterns.

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The Good Soil learning tour participants posing with a plaque honoring Canadian contributions at ILRI. CFGB photo/Emily Cain.

Yet, while the Canadian government has shown renewed interest in addressing climate change and mitigating its impacts, its funding for agriculture through international development assistance has dropped by 30% in the past three years. Agriculture, however, can play a critical role in enabling people in developing countries to respond to changing realities: people like Hiram and many of the other farmers  we met in Kenya.

Re-investing in agriculture would allow vital research to take place like the work we visited at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. ILRI does research focused on the needs of small-scale farmers with livestock. We heard of research ranging from innovative insurance systems for livestock to protect farmers from droughts to identifying more reliable livestock feed for farmers with limited grazing land.

When we visited ILRI, much of the equipment proudly displayed a Canadian logo – a sign of a history of Canadian funding. But while there were a lot of old stickers and plaques, Canadian support has declined.  A reinvestment by Canada in agricultural research for small-scale farmers could make a powerful impact by developing scale-appropriate solutions.

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Lucas Makau with tomatoes ready for market. CFGB photo/Emily Caine.

Or it could mean enabling young entrepreneurs like Lucas Makau to start farming in new ways.  Lucas practices conservation agriculture on approximately three quarters of an acre.  This involves minimal tillage, using mulches or cover crops, and crop rotation.  Lucas has applied this to growing tomatoes, which he then sells in Nairobi – an entrepreneurial approach to farming that has generated income for his family.  A key benefit of conservation agriculture is that much more water is retained in the soil, making crops less susceptible to changing weather patterns.  This increases yields and reduces vulnerability.

Whether supporting grassroots initiatives or the structures and research that support them, Canada can make a big impact by supporting more agricultural initiatives through our international development assistance.  We can reduce global hunger and enable small-scale farmers to be more resilient to the effects of climate change – while also benefiting local economies, empowering women, and improving nutrition.

Please take action to encourage the Canadian government to increase aid for agriculture. Learn more about the Good Soil campaign; then order, sign and send Good Soil postcards to the Prime Minister.  In addition, visit http://aid4ag.ca/, which outlines ten priorities for investing in agriculture – priorities that have been supported by over 30 organizations across Canada.

The political, the personal and the More-with-Less Cookbook

Forty years ago my boyfriend gave me a cookbook for my birthday.  It was a copy of the very first edition of the More-with-Less Cookbook, a brand new cookbook from MCC.  He wrote into the inscription, “Given in the hope that this book helps you to live a fulfilling life.”  I married him a few years later – in part because he understood and shared my yearning to live justly and simply in a world of injustice and inequity.

More with Less

If Esther’s copy of the cookbook still had a cover, this is what it would look like this.

I still regularly pull out my More-with-Less Cookbook, which is torn and spattered and which lost its cover long ago. It is by far the most used cookbook on my kitchen shelf.  More than simply a collection of recipes, More-with-Less has been a steady companion in my faith journey.

Forty years after it was first published, the More-with-Less Cookbook is still going strong.  It has sold close to 957,000 copiesMennomedia, successor to the original publisher Herald Press, has promised a special edition for release later this year.

The cookbook was birthed in 1976 in the midst of a major global food crisis.  The world price of wheat had tripled between 1972 and 1973, while prices for rice and soybeans doubled. It was estimated that 500 million people worldwide were at risk of starvation.  The immediate cause for the food crisis was skyrocketing oil prices (induced by cuts in in oil production by OPEC), but a key longer-term cause was deemed to be affluence and overconsumption in the West.[1]

As an international relief and development agency, MCC watched these developments with great concern.  In 1974, at its annual meeting board members passed the “Hillsboro Resolution” (so named because the meeting was held in Hillsboro, KS) which committed MCC to significant new investments in rural agricultural development, advocacy on food aid policies, and development education aimed at more sustainable lifestyles.

The More-with-Less Cookbook, released two years later, was the signature piece of this development education initiative. For the first time in its history, MCC asked all its constituent supporters to examine their lifestyles – and to change the way they ate – as a way of responding to the global food crisis and sharing the limited food resources of the world.

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Lentils and legumes — key ingredients in the MWL diet.

The cookbook promoted eating more grains and legumes, much less meat, and eliminating highly processed and sugary foods. According to editor Doris Janzen Longacre, making the shift to a More-with-Less diet would save money, improve health and release resources so that many more people could eat well.  She noted how, if land was used to produce grain and legumes for human consumption, rather than to feed the animals that would become meat, it could sustain thousands more people.[2]

A deeply spiritual person, Janzen Longacre’s call for changed eating habits was intimately connected to her faith and her understanding of how Jesus called faithful people to live.  She insisted that Jesus recognized the destructiveness of the desire to consume and acquire ever more stuff, and she asked, “How can we keep overeating in the face of starvation and be at peace with ourselves and our neighbors?”[3]

Janzen Longacre was quick to point out that simply choosing to eat differently would not solve world hunger.  It was important that unjust distribution systems and oppressive government policies be addressed.  She went on to edit Living More with Less, a book that invited readers to broader lifestyle changes.  In it she wrote, the two realms of personal and political action “are as inseparable as the yolk and white of a scrambled egg.”[4]

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Doris Janzen Longacre. Photo Canadianmennonite.org

Janzen Longacre died in 1979 at the age of 39.  I often wonder what she would say about the catastrophic environmental crises we live with today – climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, and the contamination of air and water, to name just a few. I suspect that today, like 40 years ago, she would call for action in the halls of power of government, business and industry, as well as international systems of commerce, trade and aid.

But I believe she would also call on ordinary people to make change, to embody care and compassion for others, and to resist lifestyles of excessive consumption. I believe she would pooh-pooh those who say that technology will save us and free us from having to make lifestyle changes.  She would say now, like she did then, we are called “to live the reality that the kingdom of God is already here.”[5]

Theologian Malinda Berry, who was raised on More-with-Less meals, says the power of the More-with-Less Cookbook (and subsequent MCC cookbooks) is that it expresses and embodies an organic Anabaptist theology, perhaps better than the theology books.[6]  Susie Loewen Guenther, a young feminist theologian, agrees, also asserting that More-with-Less theology affirms the sacredness of what has traditionally been women’s work and wisdom as integral to discipleship.

Janzen Longacre’s legacy lives on in her faith-filled vision of justice and solidarity with suffering people and her call to those of us with much more than enough to live simply and sustainably.  It lives on in the thousands of people, myself included, who have been inspired by that vision and its call to link political action with personal change.

Thank-you Doris.  And happy birthday More-with-Less Cookbook!

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.

[1] Esther Epp-Tiessen, Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History (Winnipeg: CMU Press, 2013), 144.
[2] Doris Janzen Longacre, ed., More-with-Less Cookbook (Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1976), 13.
[3] Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook, 22.
[4] Doris Janzen Longacre, Living More with Less  (Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1980), 26.
[5] Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook, 23.
[6] Malinda Berry, “The Gifts of an Extended Theological Table: MCC’s Work Community Cookbooks as Organic Theology,” in A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity, ed. Alain Epp Weaver (Telford, PA: Cascadia Press, 2011), 284-306.

 

“If we don’t have hope, there will be none.”

This week’s guest writer is Dan Wiens, Food Security and Livelihoods Coordinator for MCC. He is also a farmer.  

This week I am traveling to Southern Africa to visit farmers who have been impacted by two successive years of drought.

Despite the very dry weather, the farmers I will visit have harvested some food, even as many of their neighbors have harvested nothing. This is at least partially because they covered their soil with mulch to conserve moisture and protect the soil from the harsh sun. Mulching is just one of several adaptations to climate change that MCC’s local partners in the region are encouraging farmers to try.

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Stezen Mudenda of Kulima Mbobumi Training Center in Zimbabwe, uses mulch to conserve moisture in the soil. (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)

Next week (February 7-13) is International Development week. So, along with thinking about those mulching farmers, I’m also thinking about the big picture of international development. What difference is the work being done in the name of international development really making in the daily lives of people?

I admit this kind of taking stock sometimes leads me into dark places.

It’s true that the farmers I will visit have figured out how to grow food even during a drought year. But they are still just barely feeding their families with the limited resources they have. Questions about whether it makes sense to encourage farmers to adapt to a drying, marginal climate should not be ignored. Is our intervention just delaying the inevitable? Is it just a matter of time before these farmers will have to abandon their farms as the desert encroaches?

I ask similar questions about farmers MCC works with in the Ganges Delta of Bangladesh. With rising sea levels, these farms are at risk of losing their soil to excess salt from sea water.

The forces that mitigate against the success of our international development efforts are huge, diverse and unpredictable. Climate change and rising sea levels are just  two of many factors.  Others include: political instability, conflict, inadequate market structures, and the list goes on.

So where do I find hope in the work I do with farmers?

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Essambié Kanko (R), Jacqueline Kando (C), and Sabine Badiel (L), farmers in Didyr, Burkina Faso, participate in a program to help women farmers adapt to climate change through conservation agriculture practices. (MCC Photo/James Souder)

Friends of mine from the Global South have said to me, “Hopelessness is a luxury only the rich can afford.”  They go on to say things like, “In this place we have to have hope, because if we didn’t there would be none.”

In light of these truths, while I’m still compelled to ask the hard questions, I’m also compelled to see actions like mulching as symbols of hope, rather than acts of desperation.

Of course there is no such thing as a panacea in this business. Mulching and other such adaptations to climate change have their limitations and challenges. What’s more, the true locus of hope is not really with things like mulch.  It’s with people.

When I finally visit farms in Southern Africa later this week, I’ll be looking for hope not so much in mulch, but in the words — and especially the eyes — of the farmers. This is not because of some romantic notion of the noble farmer sticking with her farm until the bitter end. Indeed, some of the farmers may someday decide to abandon their farms to look for other opportunities. Whether they  stay with their farms or not is not the metric by which we should be measuring success.  The metric should be their own sense of hope. The farmers have to find reasons to maintain hope for a better future for their families.

For if they don’t have hope, there will be none.

The Paris agreement. And now what?

This week’s guest writer is Stephanie McDonald, senior policy advisor for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.  

As I entered the site of the Paris Climate Conference, known as COP21, late last November, I was surrounded by representatives of 196 nations, including negotiators, civil society leaders, people of faith, business executives, politicians and Indigenous people.

They had all gathered in the French capital for the talks. Some were there as official country delegates, others to show, en masse, their support for a deal that would slow global warming and ensure all on the planet had a chance to survive and thrive.

José Miranda 1

José Miranda. Photo/Stephanie McDonald

But it was the people who weren’t in attendance who were on my mind the most.

The noticeable voice missing in Paris was that of small-scale farmers from the developing world — people who are on the front lines of changing weather patterns, and whose lives are being disrupted the most by climate change.

Two months earlier, in September, I had traveled to Nicaragua to meet farmers and learn how they were being impacted by our changing climate. The country was well into the second year of a drought and farmers spoke of at least a decade of unpredictable rainfall and growing seasons.

I met José Miranda, a father of three, in northern Nicaragua. His family has never had excess harvest to sell on the market, but until five years ago they at least produced enough for their household consumption. Since that time, they’ve had to purchase more of their food, and cut out items that are too pricey.

José told me something chilling that I wish all of the negotiators in Paris could have heard: “Until 2007 we had pigs. We had grain before to feed them and now we don’t. My uncle used to have cattle and then the water source dried up. The only thing left is for the people to disappear as well.”

Guillarmina Castro with soil from her CA plot

Guillarmina Castro with soil from her CA plot. Photo/Stephanie McDonald

In the community of Pavón, 150km to the southwest of José, I met Guillarmina Castro.

She too wasn’t in Paris to tell how she lives close to a river that used to flood with the heavy rains, sometimes cutting off Pavón for up to two weeks at a time. The last time the river was high was with Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Now the river is dry.

Guillarmina is working with a project funded by Mennonite Central Committee Canada, through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, that is teaching conservation agriculture (CA). Its three main practices – soil cover, crop rotation and minimal disturbance of the soil – have had success in increasingly arid regions. Guillarmina is having to adapt to what appears to be the new normal in her area.

Thankfully, she has reason to be hopeful. “We get better yields and can produce with less rain,” she said.

Now what?

On December 12, delegates to COP21 reached an agreement and the climate talks concluded. It was the words of one man in the gathered faith community in Paris that helped me put in perspective the question of “now what?”

In 2013, Yeb Saño was a negotiator for the Philippines at the annual climate conference, that year held in Warsaw, Poland. As the talks were underway, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people.

In his  address to fellow diplomats in 2013, Yeb wept as he spoke of the devastation at home. He said he would fast until the conference ended or until concrete commitments for action on climate change were made. Yeb inspired the global movement Fast for the Climate.

Yeb Sano, Fast for the Climate

Yeb Saño and Fast for the Climate, Paris. Photo/Stephanie McDonald

At an event in Paris in 2015, Yeb said, “We need to stop believing a single conference will define our collective future. It is through every act of caring and love that we build a future free of climate change.”

It was a powerful reminder that each of us has agency, countless times every day, to show love and caring for our neighbour. We can be conscious of our purchases, what we consume and how we get around.

We can also applaud our government when they get it right, such as providing financial support to those most affected by climate change, as the Canadian government did in late November.

And we can tell our representatives that we care about the issue of climate change and what it means for farmers like José and Guillarmina who are dealing with the impacts right now.