Caribbean climate tracker and the University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus Geography club team up for climate discussion

“While changing climate is a natural occurrence, anthropogenic impacts are speeding up and worsening climate change in unprecedented ways,” Dizzanne Billy, Hub Manager of the Caribbean Climate Trackers stated as she started off the feature presentation at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine Campus’ Geography Club’s special seminar dedicated to recognition of World Food Day.

The discussion formed part of the celebrations hosted by the University’s Faculty of Food and Agriculture to commemorate World Food Day 2016. Acknowledging the current problems that climate change presents for farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, fisher folk, consumers, and food security in general, this year’s World Food Day celebrations focused on the theme, “Climate is changing, Food and Agriculture must too.”

As any proud Climate Tracker would, Dizzanne started her presentation with a brief introduction to Climate Tracker. The audience was encouraged to engage in climate action through journalism, by becoming part of the Climate Tracker initiative. The students embraced the message of the important role that media plays in informing the public on the issue of climate change as well as its influence in inspiring change.

In addition, as participants learned, around the globe, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing and sea levels are rising. Our planet must still supply us – and all living things – with air, water, food and safe places to live. Over the past century, the burning of fossil fuels and other human and natural activities have released copious amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. These emissions have caused the Earth’s surface temperature to rise, and the oceans to absorb additional heat. Not only has this led to considerable sea level rise in the Caribbean, we have also experienced flooded wetlands, contamination of aquifers, and loss of habitat for fish, birds, and plants. Higher sea levels force both humans and animals to abandon their homes and relocate. In some parts of the world, low-lying islands have been submerged completely.

Global warming has seen the Caribbean face increased frequency and intensity in weather-related disasters, which destroy coastlines, where the majority of populations settle and develop agricultural ventures. We only have to look at the massacre Hurricane Matthew left in its trail. It was the worst storm the Caribbean region has experienced in the last decade, taking thousands of lives and flattening infrastructure in countries already facing development challenges.

According to a UN report, climate change is “a major and growing threat to global food security,” and it could increase the global population living in extreme poverty by between 35 and 122 million by 2030. At the same time, the global population is growing rapidly and this is expected to reach 9.6 billion by the year 2050. How will we meet this great demand for food? We need to develop food and agricultural sectors which are able to withstand the changes that are happening and will happen, regardless of mitigation measures toward climate change.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (World Food Summit, 1996). However, the impacts of climate change are all linked and they impede the planet’s ability to assure food security for all.

Photo by Luke Smith

climate conditions and food security worsens the state of the local agricultural sector. Photo by Luke Smith

Participants were informed that the direct link between climate conditions and food security worsens the state of the local agricultural sector and its domestic production of essential crops. As a result, the Caribbean is heavily dependent on food imports. In fact, the Caribbean region has a burdensome annual food import bill of US$4.75 billion and Trinidad and Tobago is the second highest importer of agricultural goods from outside the region.

“All these technical terms mean one thing. Lack of food security is risky business, it is dangerous for you and it is dangerous for me. Climate change threatens to progress made in the eradication of hunger by decades and as it stands the global food system is not ready to handle this challenge,” Dizzanne indicated.

As the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) promoted for World Food Day 2016, “agriculture and food systems now need to adapt to these effects by becoming more resilient, productive, inclusive, and sustainable.”

In wrapping up the climate discussion, members of the session were afforded the opportunity to win a hamper provided by the faculty of food and agriculture. After a round of short questions, Johannah-Rae Reyes was the lucky person to walk away with the prize. With the Caribbean Climate Tracker movement bringing “food for thought” to the University of the West Indies, persons were left to digest one question: climate is changing, should food and agriculture change too?

Our presenter left us with these parting words, “the impacts of climate change on our food security affects our ability to survive. For this reason, it is important that youth get involved in leadership and journalism with regard to climate action. We need to inform people how climate change is impacting their lives, because only when they see the direct impacts on their lives will they change their behavior and be empowered to influence the government and industry.”

Tyrell Gittens

About Tyrell Gittens