Climate change has serious implications for fishers, livestock farmers -Caribbean Week of Agriculture hears

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) The need for robust information and evidence-based policies to combat climate change was underscored during the week as participants at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) focused their attention on the effects climate change was having on livestock and marine resources.

While the damage climate change is having on crops is widely observed and reported, stakeholders are moving to bring the effects of climate change on livestock and fisheries to the fore, pointing to the need for climate smart policies for the two sub-sectors.

Climate smart agriculture refers to practices which help to achieve productivity in the sector, adapt to changing climate and help, as far as possible, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Livestock and fish, important sources of protein, are just as susceptible to the vagaries of climate change, the experts said.

With respect to the effects of climate change on livestock, recognition has been given to the need for the development of livestock climate models. Increases in temperatures Region-wide have resulted in heat stress for small ruminants such as goats and sheep, the CWA heard, and modifications on the accommodations for them had to be made in consideration of their health and comfort. It was very important, participants pointed out, to understand the stresses climate change placed on livestock. High mortality among poultry could be blamed on elevated temperatures.

There was consensus that climate resistant technologies also needed to be developed and implemented immediately. Participants also recognized the utility of knowledge-sharing and cross-learning opportunities that exist between farmer and fisher.

Fisheries and aquaculture
The fisheries and aquaculture sector was a very important source of food and nutrition security, foreign exchange earnings, employment and livelihood opportunities, particularly for the poor and vulnerable members of society, said Mr. Milton Haughton, Director, Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM).

About 338 000 people are directly employed in fisheries sub-sector in the Region. The sub-sector accounted for some $250M of exports in 2012, according to Dr. Leslie Simpson, Natural Resource Management Specialist, Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

But numerous problems threaten that source of food and livelihood. Among them are marine pollution and habitat degradation; over-exploitation and irresponsible fishing practices; and those associated with climate change, sea level rise, and warming oceans.

Experts pointed to other “stressors” such as changes in ocean currents and ocean acidification. The latter occurs because of the increasing amounts of CO2 which is being absorbed in the water from the atmosphere. Ocean acidification may have many negative effects on a variety of marine species and ecosystems, such as coral reefs, which would have rippling consequences throughout the entire food webs in the seas and oceans dynamics.

Information and understanding
According to Mr. Haughton, it was critical to improve the understanding of how marine ecosystems and fish populations might change in response to ocean acidification and the other stressors, so that preparation could be made for the changes.

This is the same line of reasoning proffered by Dr. Olu Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

“Every time we talk about climate smart agriculture, a lot of people tend to focus more on the crops, but it’s also important that we also include and start to talk about climate smart livestock and … climate smart fisheries as well…

“For us to take action and address these issues, there is need for robust evidence… We need not make climate change a buzz word; that everything that happens is due to climate change. Let us be sure that we are able to take positions based on studies and robust evidence. For example, what is it we know about climate change and its impact on agriculture in the Caribbean, and what is it we do not know about climate change and what is the extent of the gap between, and what is the partnership required to fill in this gap? Every time we hear about climate change, it is always something that is apocalyptic… but are there opportunities? …What the CTA is trying to do is to scout for and find solutions and policies that have worked…” he said.

Inclusiveness and strong collaboration among stakeholders, especially farmers’ organisations, was critical, he pointed out.

The time to act is now, he told representatives of the media. Further delays in taking action will be more costly, he warned.

As highly dependent as Caribbean countries are on their coastal marine resources and livestock for social and economic development, they cannot afford to be complacent with climate change.

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