Ecologically Nothing Ever Really Dies

EcoLogically Nothing Ever Really Dies, Only transformed from one useful form to another...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stop sweating the small stuff. Give climate change uncertainty a hug

I recently moved to a new place for a 6 month research fellowship. There is always that nervous pang you get whenever you are planning to go to a new place. Its more a mix of excitement and fear. Am i going to be comfortable there? Is it going to be anything like home? Even something as small as finding a new barber to do your hair just the way you like it can be quite a trip. We love our comfort zone and the uncertainty of the unknown is always unnerving. Yet, you move anyway and in no time you are enjoying the experience of discovering this new space and what it holds. More often than not, once you are over this initial hurdle of doubt, you realise that the adjustment is not as bad as you had initially imagined it.

This kind of reminds me of the challenge of inaction on the climate change issue. Most of the hurdles to concerted action and investment towards climate change mitigation and adaptation focuses on the uncertainty of the future. This is reasonable of course...i should know, given my own issues with location change. But uncertainty is a part of everyday life isnt it? We deal with it all the time. It hardly ever stops us from making the decisions that are needed and moving forward...unless you are a paranoid schizophrenic of course. Then you bury your head under the covers and whine about how difficult life is while entertaining "they are out to get me" theories swirling around in your head.

In my mind, we have hardly ever had as much information about the decisions we have to take in our lives as we do now on climate change. You would think that by now we would have already "moved," especially with  a scientific consensus! Maybe we just dont realise just how difficult such a thing as scientific consensus is. If you have ever followed debates at scientific conferences or the trail of comments in peer reviewed journals,  you would know that scientists are always at loggerheads. They hardly agree on cause and effect or solutions, if they do, they are in disagreement on methods.  Its more like these guys... see video.


Anyway, now scientists are in agreement (at least most of them...) and still a caution first approach prevails. Researchers Markowitz and Sharrif at the University of Oregon in Nature Climate Change, and in their post on the moral case of climate change think its partly because "Uncertainty breeds wishful thinking."..."Uncertainty about future outcomes generally increases self-oriented behaviour and optimistic thinking... uncertainty also promotes optimistic biases." In short, climate change uncertainty as reported by scientists is usually interpreted as "that doesnt look too bad" or "which is it? Those people (scientists) should make up their minds," thereby leading to inaction. We need to get over this hurdle one way or the other and act. Markowitz and Sharriff suggest packaging scientific evidence in a way that triggers moral concern. I bet even if scientists were convinced to go that way, it will be quite some time before they agree on how to do it.

Shouldnt we just embrace uncertainty and stop sweating the "small stuff"? Stop worrying weather #seewhatididthere? you will find a barber at your new place to do your hair right or not, especially if a group of knowledgable beauty experts agree that there will be enough barbers to choose from and that it is "highly likely" you will find one that suits you.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Addressing Climate change related food security challenges in Rural Africa

I came across this short documentary on youtube about climate change and how it affects smallholder rural farming communities in Zimbabwe. The documentary was done by Development Reality Institute. It looks at how local communites view climate change, what indegeneous knowledge they use to predict weather and to cope with it etc. In short it brings together what i feel are some of the important entry points to dealing with climate change related food security challenges at the smallholder scale in rural Africa.There are quite a number of interesting issues brought up especially where science meets indegenous knowledge. What i enjoy most is the positivity with which rural communities are progressing under multiple challenges, and how clearly they articulate challenges, needs and expectations regarding climate change and food security. We should listen more.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Egonomics of poverty: "Silly" reasons for hunger and poverty in Africa

courtesy of
Munyaradzi Mufambisi says “If we already know the basic parameters of what needs to be done, why have we allowed hundreds of millions to go hungry in a world that produces more food for every woman, man and child? Bluntly stated, the problem is not so much lack of food as a lack of political will. There is indeed enough food in the world to sustain every person. The problem of hunger is not one of supply but of an economic system based on inequality and a gross concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.” 
How I like quoting my friends like world renounced commentators. I pulled this off Munyaradzi’s Facebook profile. In case you are wondering, He is a friend and an economics/finance guy…hence the wealth and economics slant of that argument. More importantly, he is an “ordinary” guy with the concerns of any man (mine at least). This old Facebook post came to mind recently and got me thinking, could there be other reasons for a world going hungry despite producing enough or having the potential to produce enough food for all? I confess, my mind trod as far away as possible from the economics and finance argument of it all. Since I know only enough of that to hold up a conversation with a Taxi rank marshal from Gumbonzvanda (don’t ask). This is what came to mind:
There is a saying by my people, “kufa nenyota makumbo ari mumvura”. Loosely translated, “Dying of thirst while we stand in water.” I thought, there must be at least some things that we are doing to fuel this vicious cycle of hunger and starvation amid plenty (we here referring to Africans/Zimbabweans). Without worrying much about the Global economics, politics, wealth sharing and food distribution argument. What is our part in this?
Could it be a case of the man thinks the water in which he stands is too dirty to drink and so he may die from diarrhoea (which is quite ironic because if he doesn’t drink the water, he is sure to die anyway). Could it be that he doesn’t have a cup and so is too proud to cup his own hands to drink the water. Has the man been given too much of a taste of "Le good life” to make him too proud to go back to the basics in order to save his own life?
Yellow maize popped into my head. Zimbabweans call it “Kenya.” I think because it came from Kenya…I can’t be sure. It is a type of maize that any self respecting Zimbabwean would never grind to make our beloved Sadza (a thick porridge…there is more to it really but for progress’ sake, let us just call it that) come what may. It is maize like any other maize, but the colour is associated with extreme poverty, especially severe famine. The last time I saw a meal made from yellow maize was in 1993. This was around the time Zimbabwe experienced the worst drought of my generation. It is as if Zimbabweans signed a contract with the wind that stated “as of this year, we will never make Sadza from yellow maize again, its too demeaning” and as long as the wind blows, that contract stands! A Zimbabwean will only have his Sadza white or no Sadza at all. We wouldn’t be caught dead eating a meal made with yellow maize. We would rather starve. Such attitudes and beliefs though seemingly petty and trivial to an outsider can easily make or break a well meaning programme to relieve people from the clutches of hunger. Even if all the maize in the world were redistributed, we wouldn’t touch it as long as it was any other colour but white. Our egos won’t allow it.
Another idea popped into my head. How about improved farming technologies? They have worked wonders all over the world (case in point being Asia), why not Africa? Of course there is a whole political, socio-economic argument there, but im shying away from those. I am sticking with the seemingly silly arguments today! It got me thinking, improved technologies have failed in Africa (of course not entirely) not from a lack of trying. In a ridiculously large number of cases, farmers just simply won’t adopt them. Again, there are a lot of political and economic reasons to that too. However if you have as a researcher or development person ever encountered indigenous farmers that simply tell you “this is how we have done things for as long as we can remember and we are not going to change” then you probably know what I am talking about. All scientific reason and evidence will not move such people even if efforts are for their own good. Tradition and history can easily throw spanners in well meaning works to alleviate hunger and poverty. There is a lot that can be learnt from indigenous people (a whole lot) but if locals also continue to resist foreign interventions, simply because our egos won’t let us part with tradition, then progress towards “food for all” will be severely retarded.
How I would love to hear other “seemingly silly” arguments about why there is so much hunger and poverty in the world. Where else on the continent or the world does the “yellow maize” or “we have been doing this for years” mindset persist?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Space has been conquered. What about child hunger?

A picture of a starving child being stalked by a vulture made headline news all over the world in the early 90s. I couldn't have been old enough to know how to cross a busy street let alone solve simple maths problems like 5 minus 8, probably responding with “it cant,” along with a puzzled facial expression. The picture showed a starving Sudanese girl who had just collapsed on her way to a United Nations feeding station. she could hardly move or make a sound. She was that hungry. She had lost control of the use of her limbs and voice, her brain most likely shutting down and her spirit completely broken. She could have been just as old as I was then, and yet, she wasn't grappling with simple childish things like math and street crossing problems. Rather, life and death at the hands of starvation.
Pulitzer prize winning photo by Kevin Carter showing a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a patient vulture.
I have only recently come across this picture through the Bang Bang club a partial dramatisation of this event and the life of the photographer Kevin carter who took the picture. What a sad sight. And yet despite almost 2 decades having gone by since the picture was taken, UNICEF reports that 17000 children die daily from hunger and related illnesses (1 child every 5 seconds!), this picture still holds meaning to this day.

While it is hard to look at the picture without trying to moralise, that debate has since run its course but the timeless message in the picture remains. To me the message is simply, something isn't right. If we can allow little kids to starve to death or even go through life without enough to eat, something just isn't right. In this age of amazing developments, where we have come from smoke signals to video chatting, hunting and gathering to genetically modified food, how can we still be unable to feed every one on the planet? Let alone helpless children. " We" were able to put a man on the moon over 4 decades ago but to this day "we" cant put 3 meals a day in every child's plate. That cant be right.


Is it not the role of every member of society and the whole world to ensure that children are protected and assisted to reach their greatest potential? Well, it should be. Clearly we are not doing what we should be. Could this be because we simply do not care? Have we gotten so carried away in our own luxuries to appreciate the suffering of other people? Yes, challenges exit in the world and particularly Africa which make efforts to feed all people very difficult. Amid all the wars, civil unrest, and political instabilities the starvation of children and young people is still inexcusable. We shouldn’t expect to overcome most social ills on this continent if the young members of our society are hungry. A hungry child cannot learn or do anything productive and is prone to violence. What more, their master becomes whoever offers them food. Imagine what other social ills can come from that.

By saying “feed the hungry”, the world does not ask for a man to be landed on another planet, far from it. Simply that the world cares enough to take the necessary steps to make food available to all people on earth especially the vulnerable and helpless children. It is not easy, thats a given. But genuine concerted efforts to that end are a good start.

If we think always with our minds and never with our hearts, we will lose our humanity.


I came across this anti-hunger campaigns which i think is quite catchy. The I billion hungry movement: I am MAD as hell! Sounds very convincing when you listen to Jeremy Irons say it on this video.