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Justice for farmers hit by climate change impacts

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COMMON OCCURRENCE—Floods sweeping away crops

By Fedness Thole, contributor:

Samson Chimzimu, 22, has never heard about climate justice.

Chimzimu, from Dowa District, however, knows that changes in rainfall patterns, soil erosion due to floods and loss of soil fertility affect crop production.

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The changes have resulted in a drastic drop in maize harvest from his garden.

His family is often hit by hunger, as a result.

He admits that the engagement of farmers in his location with extension workers has been abysmal as the agriculture experts cite inadequate resources as a cause of their sporadic presence.

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“They claim that they do not get enough resources to take them throughout big extension areas which they are assigned to support. So, we meet them only once in three months,” Chimzimu says.

When floods and other disasters induced by climate change strike, poor and marginalised communities are hardest hit, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

This is said to be the central argument of ‘climate justice’, described by activists and experts as a reshaping of climate action from a technical effort to ensure the hardest hit are ‘compensated’.

For farmers such as Chimzimu, being equipped with tools and techniques of circumventing the impacts of climate change is their ‘climate justice’.

“For instance, we have been trained in climate-smart agriculture and we have adopted techniques such as the use of organic manure and soil and water conservation,” Chimzimu says.

Climate change is reported to be the most pressing environmental issue facing humanity that has disrupted the natural, economic and social systems.

Rural communities in Malawi are the worst hit, according to reports.

On the national scale, the impacts of climate change continue being felt today after a tropical storm christened Ana damaged a hydropower plant down the Shire River early last year.

The storm, together with another that hit Malawi two months later, left close to a million people in need of humanitarian support with at least 200,000 of them driven out of their homes.

According to the sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was released last year, climate action has never been as crucial as it is now.

The IPCC report estimates that around 3.5 billion people live in areas that make them critically vulnerable to the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.

Solidarity Exchange for the Environment and Development (Seed) partners, who include Network for Youth Development here in Malawi, have been working with farmers to advance climate justice.

For the past five months, the network has been conducting workshops and interviews in Dowa and Lilongwe districts where a “large gap of knowledge about climate change” has been noted.

Some of the farmers reported to have never heard about climate justice.

One of the network’s project officers Grace Mwasi says climate change has hit Malawi hard, especially in the agriculture sector, which is the country’s economic backbone.

Mwasi explains that climate justice is a concept that addresses the just division, fair sharing and equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate change.

“It is sad that there is a wide knowledge gap when it comes to how best people, especially farmers, can adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“So, we are trying to address the gap by promoting climate justice awareness among the youth in relation to climate change, agriculture, gender and youth participation in the country but, currently, we are physically working with the youth from traditional authorities Chimutu and Malili in Lilongwe,” she says.

National Coordinator for Civil Society Network on Climate Change, Julius Ng’oma, also highlights lack of awareness of climate change and climate justice as a big problem.

“Most people are not exposed to critical information on climate change and climate justice, and sometimes the available information is not user-friendly, which makes the young people not have interest in it.

“We need to move from a one-size-fits-all approach when packaging the information and choosing platforms through which to disseminate it,” Ng’oma says.

He suggests the need for deliberate policies and laws that would encourage people to play active roles in raising awareness on climate change like introducing mandatory environmental and climate change subjects in school syllabi.

“There is a need for information to reach the people of Malawi, especially the current and future generations of farmers, for climate justice to become a reality,” Ng’oma adds.

Seed is being implemented by Point of Progress in Malawi and Spire in Norway, with funding from the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation.

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