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(DW) Eritrea's farmers harvest early as climate change shifts crop patterns

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Monday, 03 June 2019


Eritrea's farmers harvest early as climate change shifts crop patterns

Across the Horn of Africa, countries like Eritrea are experiencing increasingly irregular weather patterns, causing serious problems for farmers. Rising temperature are also degrading Eritrea's beautiful coastline.

Woman walks through a sandy landscape

Trying to find a path

The weather pattern changes in Eritrea are evident elsewhere. "While working in Central America, East Africa, and the Middle East, I’ve always talked to elder people, especially those in agriculture, and the message from them is consistent," says Sam Wood with Save the Children in Ethiopia. "Weather patterns are becoming less predictable and when rain comes, it is too much or too little.”

Field in Eritrea

Forced to reap early

During the past few years, Eritrea, like the rest of the Horn of Africa, has experienced fluctuating weather patterns exacerbated by the ocean warming trend, El Niño. Rains fell unexpectedly in Eritrea in October last year resulting in the government advising farmers to reap early.

Donkeys and people in a field in Eritrea

Vulnerable food supply

"Had they not reacted, or reacted based on the traditional harvest, they would probably lose their harvest," says Peter Smerdon with the World Food Programme. While El Niño is a complex and naturally occurring event, scientific research suggests that global warming could be making this cyclical event occur more frequently and intensely.

A landscape of houses and farms (DW/M. Belloni)

Climate change consensus

Most of the world’s scientific communities agree that long-term significant changes in the earth’s climate system have occurred and are occurring more rapidly than in the past. Continued emissions into the earth’s atmosphere are projected to cause further warming, impacting Africa in the form of increased temperatures and greater seasonal rainfall variability with more frequent extremes.

Farmer feeds donkeys and cattle

Economic ramifications for all

"People in wealthier countries should be worried about the effects of climate change in the Horn of Africa," says Challiss McDonough from the World Food Programme "Climate change is one of the main drivers of global hunger, second only to conflict, so, for donor countries, investing in climate and disaster risk reduction makes economic sense."

Large sycamore tree in a dusty field

Still standing

Pictured on the local Eritrean 5-Nakfa banknote, the sycamore tree has significant symbolism in Eritrea. Elders used to gather under these huge, hundred-year-old trees to discuss important community issues and laws. Many trees were cut down during colonization and war. Those that remain now have to contend with the effects of climate change.

White sandy beach dotted with seaweed

Beaches under threat

"One impact of climate change in a coastal region is rising sea levels that impact lives along the coast and increases the likelihood of flooding or flood-related disaster such as high tides that could wash out a crop," Smerdon says. "Also, salt-water intrusion due to climate change can increase erosion and increase salinity of soils and thereby damage soil content and fertility of land."

Fishing boat on the ocean

Corroding coral

Eritrea’s stunning coastline includes coral reefs, offering a potential boon for tourism – if they survive in their present state. "Until a few years ago, this piece of sea was full of corals, but then last year they all died,” an Eritrean diver tells DW. "The temperature of the sea was too high." At the same time, local fisherman rely on the ocean's resources to trade in fish and shells.


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