Recently, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report on the impact of climate change on agriculture in the Caribbean region. The report found that the region is expected to see an increase in the intensity and frequency of droughts due to climate change.
The Caribbean region includes seven of the world’s 36 water-stressed countries in the world. Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda are classified by the FAO as water-scarce because they have less than 1,000 m3 freshwater resources per capita.
According to the report, one of the main challenges is the low water availability, which affects the agriculture sector and the water resources. The region also experiences a large number of bush fires due to the drought-like conditions.
“Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries, so this is a key issue for Caribbean food security,” says Deep Ford, FAO Regional Coordinator in the Caribbean.
The FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva explains that extreme weather events can damage the agriculture sector in the island nations because they are becoming stronger and more frequent due to climate change. “In few places is the impact of climate change so evident as in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). For SIDS, climate change is not just an urgent issue. It is a question of survival,” says Graziano da Silva.
According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the region is vulnerable to the negative impact of climate change, even though it contributes less greenhouse gas emissions compared to other areas.
The Inter-American Development Bank says that climate change caused around US$136 billion in damages in the region between 1990 and 2008.
“This means that the Caribbean region can be taken back 20 to 30 years because of the issue of climate change,” says Juan M. Cheaz Pelaez, the senior program coordinator for Agricultural Policy and Value Chains at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).
Climate events have led to social, economic, and environmental damage, according to Cheaz. Droughts can decrease the crop yields and productivity, and affect the health of poultry and livestock.
A recent project by the University of the West Indies examined the impact of climate change on tomato and cocoa production in Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica. Researchers used crop-climate models for tomato and cocoa plants to determine the resilience of the crops to heat stress and droughts. The results of the community-level surveys showed that around 62 percent of farmers experienced a significant crop failure during the past ten years, and cocoa farmers indicated that the largest threat was drought in Trinidad and Tobago.
According to Cheaz, a single climate event can affect the livelihoods of farmers. As a result, the agriculture sector should be resilient in order to deal with the impact of climate change.
Governments should work to develop solutions designed to adapt to climate change, according to Jethro Greene, the chief coordinator of the Caribbean Farmers Network. Greene suggests that climate change will lead to an increase in severe climate events if countries do not develop policies to build resilient communities and promote sustainable agricultural practices in the region.
The report also highlights some of the issues related to drought management, which include limited funding, weak governance, and ineffective coordination of land management.
“These can be overcome by strong political will that encourages participation in policy and planning processes by all actors in the social strata, enabling the sustainable development of water supplies to face the upcoming challenges,” says Ford.