Climate change and poverty go hand in hand

Posted on October 25, 2019

There are close to 800 mil­lion people in the world who are considered poor, those who live on less than $1.90 (R28) a day, and more than 820 million peo­ple who do not have enough to eat. Three quarters of people who are considered extremely poor live in rural areas and mostly depend on agriculture for income and food.

The fight to end poverty and hun­ger through agriculture has become more difficult because of the chal­lenge of climate change. Ending pov­erty, hunger and malnutrition, and tackling climate change have to be dealt with simultaneously. The effects that droughts and floods have on infrastructure, health and diseases are felt most by the poor. Climate change hinders their ability to pro­duce food, access resources and basic necessities.

In recent years, South Africa has also felt these sorts of effects — a persistent one being the frequency of droughts, which have occurred successively between 2015 and 2017. During this period average rainfall in the country was consistently low, placing immense pressure on agri­cultural activities. Production of most agricultural products fell below the usual rate, negatively affecting employment and food distribution.

For example, most poor people rely on maize to meet their food needs, but in 2016-2017, maize production dropped by more than 55%. For the first time in eight years, South Africa had to import maize. About 5.6 mil­lion tonnes were imported at a cost of R9.2 billion.

More than 14 million people in South Africa are classified as living under extreme poverty and most were affected by either a shortage (of maize in particular) or by high prices of food which rose at the end of 2015.

Inflation rose and stabilised at a significantly higher rate; this remained the case for most of 2017. The price of 5kg of maize meal increased from R36.39 in 2015 to R45.98 in 2017 — that is an increase of 26%, which is more than four times the upper inflation limit. Food inflation was higher than general inflation, implying that people who have to prioritise having enough to eat over other needs were more neg­atively affected by the drought.

Droughts and other climate change events increase the complexities of ending poverty, hunger and mal­nutrition and therefore need to be included in any efforts to meet these goals. Fully funded programmes and strategies need to be implemented.

South Africa is already provid­ing a cushion for the most vulnerable members of society through various types of social secu­rity protection such as social grants. These are directed at the elderly, dis­abled, war veterans, foster children and others.

The Department of Social Development accounted for more than 10% of the National Budget (R140 bn), and about 45% (R63 bn) went towards the distribution of social security protection.

If the government were to compen­sate for food price increases because of the effects of drought, then the social security protection budget will have to increase by about 1%.

Research estimates that the cost to Treasury to support the extremely poor population to maintain pre-drought living standards will be more than R275 million. This estima­tion was based on the welfare losses suffered because of price increases. These kinds of costs can be afforded on a once-off compensation basis. Long-term solutions, however, are needed to build people’s capacity, improve infrastructure to manage the distribution of food, as well as miti­gate the effects of climate change.

The easiest way to end hunger is to build people’s capacities so they can provide for themselves. But this has to happen within a context that rec­ognises the importance and value of the environment and resources.

Resources such as land, water-sav­ing technologies and seed varieties that perform better under dry condi­tions should be provided to the poor.

This support should reach these groups in the same way that social security protection reaches all parts of the country. Such efforts allow the poor to become self-reliant, and their capacity to provide food for them­selves is improved. They also have an opportunity to move into the next income group based on their own activities.

Dr Mmatlou Kalaba is an agricul­tural economist and lecturer in international trade in UP’s Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development. Elizabeth Mkandawire, PhD, is postdoctoral fellow and co-ordinator at UP’s UN Academic Impact Hub for SDG2.

This article first appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 25 October 2019.

- Author Dr Mmatlou Kalaba and Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 Corona Virus South African Resource Portal

To contact the University during the COVID-19 lockdown, please send an email to [email protected]

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences