Promoting healthy ecosystems to build resilience to climate change


CAP attends the Pan African Hearing on Climate Change

On the 5th and 6th of October 2009 CAP participated in the Pan African Climate Hearing held in Cape Town. The event was hosted by Oxfam and the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) as part of the “tck tck tck” campaign. The hearing was one of more than 100 which are being held throughout the world, allowing over half a million people to hear about the testimonies of ordinary, or “extra-ordinary” people, whose livelihoods have been affected by climate change.  The hearing also provided a platform for scientists, civil society and decision-makers to hear what is needed in the affected communities and to draw on local understandings of appropriate solutions.The aim was also to feed these testimonies into the Copenhagen discussions so that the rest of the world can understand the needs of the developing counties in Africa affected by climate change.

Witnesses came from Uganda, Mali, Malawi and Kenya and South Africa. All live in agrarian communities, and over the last decade have experienced notable changes in the environment upon which they are closely interconnected with and dependent upon. The panel of speakers included Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, explorer and environmentalist Lewis Pugh, Steven Law of the EMG, Judge Denis Davis, Gina Ziervogel, of the University of Cape Town and a representative of Earthlife Johannesburg.
What was communicated through these testimonies is that small-scale farmers have the local knowledge of what is needed to adapt to changes in climate, however support from government, business leaders and NGOs is required. Solutions witnesses highlighted showed that affected communities need to be supported in developing skills to support themselves in alternative ways and that they are largely affected by floods in conjunction with droughts and thus require seeds that can within stand these.

Furthermore, to insure that efforts to adapt are channelled successfully, there needs to be open and culturally appropriate communication with affected communities. People’s dependence on the natural systems and resources means that impacts of climate change perpetuate existing social ills and existing power hierarchies, such as being translated through a gendered lens.  What is clear from these testimonies that the impacts of climate change are inextricably linked with social circumstance.

The second day of the event considered the local experiences of people living in Cape Town and the effects of Climate Change.  A special focus looked at the issues of food security and water scarcity in the context of climate change. Testimonies illustrated how livelihoods have been affected by climate change, where the seasons when to grow crops are changing, and the water conditions, currents and temperatures of the sea are changing.

As was highlighted in a recent meeting of the Climate Action Partnership held on the 13/14 October, the conservation sector has an important role to play in ensuring that these messages are brought to the decision-makers and leaders of South Africa and the broader region. We need to listen to local knowledge in order to ensure sustainable solutions which promote the livelihoods of communities, while protecting the ecosystems on which we depend. Some of the testimonies are summarized below.

Two statements sum up the sentiment that was communicated in the hearing. Steven Law of the EMG said “Climate change is the consequence of the modern world we have chosen to build. We can imagine a different world. I am not saying that it is easy, but ultimately it is in our hands. And to do this, we need to listen to each other.” Lewis Pugh stated: “We need an honest and just global solution that lets people live their lives. It is not a time for political expediency. We need concrete global action. We need a rights-based approach. Citizens must be involved in the decision-making.“


See testimonies under the Stories section on the Home page of the CAP website.

(1) Testimonies from Africa:

“People don’t know and they need to know what is happening around the world. Stories need to be told because that is how we have always communicated.“ (Anonymous speaker)

Caren Malema – Fruit and Vegetable Farmer (Malawi):

Caren Malema lives in Kalonga, in the north of Malawi. She farms kasova, bananas and other vegetables, and also supports her family through catching fish. She is the mother of six, three of which she supports in their schooling. In March 2007, Kalonga experienced a flood, which was followed by a severe drought. Consequential loss of crops meant that farmers in the region could no longer support themselves, and they sought for alternative means for their subsidence. People began to cut down trees in order to make charcoal. As a result, the women responsible for collecting firewood could no longer source the fuel in order to cook their food. Women, who lost their harvest due to the climate variability have sought to support themselves through “selling their bodies” to miners working in the region. Consequently the spread of HIV/AIDS has increased, and more children have become orphans. At the same time the rainfall season has shifted in recent years from November to December to January to March, and temperatures have become hotter. This has increased the mosquito population, and more children have contracted malaria. What we need is the promotion of skills for our women that they do not sell their bodies. “I am crying for the nation, and for the international [community] for our women.”

Omar Jubil- Livestock Pastoralist (Kenya):

Omer Jubil lives in the north of Kenya and is a Somali speaker. He is a pastoralist, owning the stock of mostly cattle and goats. He has forty children and grandchildren in total. In 1997 there was a flood in his region – the cause which he attributed to El Nino. Over 200 of his livestock were killed, and only 20 of his cattle survived. After this the droughts came. The droughts meant that there was no pasture to feed the livestock, and so they began feeding the livestock human food. The children were particularly affected. No longer could Omar support his children’s schooling fees and malnourishment rose. The changing climate also led to further environmental degradation and deforestation in that people began to cut down trees in order to sell firewood as an alternative means of income. He said: “We need to sensitize all affected communities, especially throughout Africa, to the impacts of climate change.”

Fanter Dira – Crop Farmer (Mali):

Fanter, who lives in Mali, farms millet and maize. In 2000 there was a flood and all of her harvest was washed away. Two years later there was drought. The flooding and the drought happened repeatedly. “It is not climate change – the climate is changing.” As a result the soil lost its nutrients and was unable to absorb the moisture during the wet seasons. Loss of stock meant that Fanter could not pay back her loan. Furthermore, she explained: “Farming is all we know.” As a result, people have begun to give up the agrarian culture and migrate to economic hubs to partake in other activities. This has broken down the family structure.

She explained: “We need solutions to cope. I am not begging anyone. We know what we need. What we need is seeds, equipment and fertilizer. And we need the training to cope with the new situation. I would like to share this with people. The government did try to help us, by supplying farmers with a variety of rice which you can grow in our soils. But the efforts of the government failed because we did not know how to cultivate the seed, because that is not what we grow. We are living in this situation and we would like to get out of it.”

Ragel Hesselman - Rooibos tea farmer (South Africa):

Ragel is an owner of a farm called Dobbelaarskop located in the Heiveld, two hours outside of Niewoudville in the Northern Cape. She is also the director of the Heiveld Cooperative, which farms the product of wild rooibos tea (which is certified both organic and fair-trade). The farm is one of the driest in the region. Between 2003 and 2006 there was a drought. The springs in the area dried up. The closest water source was 14 km away from the farm. Every second day she would have to walk the herd of cattle down the river. Then in 2008 the drought was broken with good rains. But the soil was unable to absorb the moisture, causing erosion. She explained: “Small-scale farmers need help in South Africa. We have the local knowledge but we cannot solve it by ourselves. The leaders must listen to us and take action.”

(2) Testimonies from the Western Cape:

Sarah Niemand – Fisher woman (Buffelsjags Bay):

Sarah Niemand lived in Buffelsjags Bay, which is a small town situated near to Cape Aghulas. For generations her family has been entirely dependent on natural marine resources for their livelihood. Since 2002 she has seen various changes in the climate – such as reduced stock, flooding, changes in ecological growth and water conditions. As a result, the community’s livelihoods have been severely impacted. She explains her experiences:

“I am a traditional fisherwoman. My house was built from broken timber and iron from the sea. In Buffelsjags Bay there are no schools, nor shops. Everything we know is transferred through oral tradition . For our livelihoods we depend on rock lobster, line fish, abalone and kelp which is dried, ground and exported.

In 2002, the waters moved up by six metres. We were very scared. In the middle of the night the neighbours came out, shouting and calling each other. We thought that that the water would come right over our houses. The water came into the neighbours’ houses. The suffered greatly. Then one day my brother went out into the sea. Suddenly for some inexplicable reason the water conditions have changed direction, and my brother and the skipper died that day.

In the past we would go out 12 sea miles to go and get kelp and today we go out one mile. The sea temperatures have increased, the alkaline balance of the sea water is changing and birds are nesting and certain fish species are moving further south. As a result, today we take out less stock. The law has also changed, putting limits as to what we can take out. This has made it worse for us. Are these signs of climate change?

The scientists are warning us about the impact on marine species, as well as the impact on coastal communities and the risk that we carry. But if I look at the ocean and how the ocean is rising over the last few years, I get scared and tell my family we must pack up and leave. But for me it is not easy to leave the place where I was born. My whole life is the sea.

Steps must be taken to anticipate climate change. We must ask why are we not part of the discussions of climate change? Why is our indigenous knowledge not part of the science and the knowledge of climate change? What does adaptation mean in the context where we are small scale fishermen are not the ones doing the damage?

We have solutions. The government can help us by reducing fishing quotas of the big trawlers because the by-catch is not sustainable. We could also be supported through the development of aquaculture projects in other places. Communities must be encouraged to look at alternatives”.

Sydney le Fleur – a Honey Bush Farmer (Plettenberg Bay):

In 2000, the Ericaville Farming Trust started a honey bush plantation in Plettenberg Bay Sydney le Fleur describes the changing climate:

“In the Southern Cape region most of the rain falls in August. It is then when the reservoirs are filled and the water resources are topped up in our region. In my lifetime there has never been a drought in our area. However, five years ago the rainfall shifted from August to late November / early December. In three to four days double the amount of rain fell, that would usually fall in a month in August. Houses on the riverbanks were swept away. On the lagoon caravan parks and parking lots disappeared over night. The water supply, electricity and other infrastructure, such as bridges were destroyed. Further inland the soil could not absorb the heavy rains and the water level rose so high that the horses in the stables drowned. This had a big impact on the community around Plettenberg Bay. Many people lost their jobs because work places disappeared and as a result the crime rate has risen. Since then we found more frequent and stronger winds. The daytime temperatures started rising between 2- 5 degrees.
On the farm the honey bush grows well on the slopes. With the rains the soil got too moist and we got root rot on the slopes. We lost about 30% of our crop. The next year we replanted, made ridges three times the normal height we had before to counter the root rot, which helped the next year. In the flat lying areas, we left most of the weed to extract the moisture, but this meant we got 25% lower production due to the competition for the nutrients.

In 2008, we were getting used to the heavy rains in November and everybody put measures in place to counter the effects of the heavy rains. On the farm built a dam. But we waited for the rain November, December and January. No rain. All of a sudden the situation was totally reversed.

The little rain was not sufficient for the higher ridges so to get to the root of the plant. We began to use irrigation and a tractor which was very labour intensive and costly. The windier conditions meant the dry topsoil would blow away. We bought in mulch to put on the ridges to stop that. We are now planting five more hectors of honey bush tea, with the help from Department of Western Cape through the use of drip-irrigation. With this and the higher ridges we might be covered for both wet and dry seasons. It cost us triple than normal hectors costs.

It is quite a challenge to be a farmer in the context of climate change. We have a lot of small scale subsistence farmers. I hope we can take hands from here on forwards to see how we can help one another to benefit us in the future. We go back to our communities and emphasis the impact that climate change has on all of us and create awareness so other people will join us and try and reverse the effects of climate change. “

Ernest Titus – A Fisherman (Lamberts Bay):

“My family has always been in the fishing business. I left school at 18 years old and joined my father as a fisherman. He could not keep the family going, so I had to contribute to the household income. Although this was not my vision and mission for life, in this situation I needed to do what is family and forefathers had done as a tradition over the years. Most people in Lamberts Bay had other ideas but we have little option but to continue the tradition.

We collect black and white mussels for bait. In the morning before sunrise the two of us will leave in our little boat which is 4 m long and travel a distance 15 nautical sea miles from home. The type of fish we mostly catch is the Hotnots fish as well as snoek and yellow tail (which are migratory fish). In the past we knew when the fish would be running. For example, we used to know when the north wind blows that that day we would get a good catch.

But over the last five years, things started to change. Even though the north wind would blow, the snoek would not be there. In the past the snoek would stay with us for 3 to 4 weeks, now we see we have it for one or two days. We used to catch the Hotnots fish, the bank fish which would lay the eggs and spawn in the area, but that also changed. What used to happen in October is shifting to other parts of the year. There is a shortage of oxygen in the ocean which contributes to crayfish walking out of the sea. The fish that you catch is soft. There are tropical fish in our waters that were never there in the past. The big trawlers used to come into our fishing grounds and this also influenced the number of fish we would catch. So what we would catch in only certain seasons – the trawlers always catch.

My own understanding of climate change is limited, but all I say is what happens to us as fishermen. Climate change seems to be beyond our individual control. We need to combine and hold hands across the work and begin to pray that support can come from divine beings. In West Coast we are asking government to come in and lend a hand so we can begin to look at alternatives to see what we can do. “
Click the image to enlarge: The impacts of climate change in the Sahara (Source:
The impacts of climate change in the Sahara (Source:
Click the image to enlarge: Source:
Click the image to enlarge: Source:
Posted: 10/19/2009 (4:09:00 PM)

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