Climate change comes for farmers — from Mozambique to Iowa
Originally Published on Medium, September 20, 2019
Photo: Brian Strombeck
It felt ominous when I was in Iowa in March that both Iowa and Mozambique were underwater from cyclone-induced flooding widely attributed to climate change. I’d studied and written about both places in my recent book. These farming communities are as distant from one another – geographically and developmentally – as they could be, yet there they were in the same metaphorical lifeboat trying to save their families and farms from the floods.
I saw the devastation in central Mozambique in June – houses still missing their roofs, schools barely functioning, and farmers without seeds for the coming rainy season. The March cyclone wiped out crops that were nearly ready for harvest, leaving communities dependent for the present on food aid and without seeds for this year’s planting.
Parts of Iowa were underwater when I was there in March, and today Iowa and much of the Midwest is still suffering periodic flooding from the wettest year on record. Many farmers couldn’t plant because the ground was too wet, or they got their crops in late, reducing yields. There were only three reported deaths from the flooding; Iowa had the lifeboats to get people out of danger. But they are not out of the destructive path of climate change, and I sensed a new awareness of that danger, suddenly clear and present.
With farmers on opposite sides of the globe suffering the same types of severe storms provoked by a changing climate, I imagined them all in the same lifeboat. They would have a lot to learn from one another. The Mozambicans might tell their Iowan boat-mates that U.S. farmers, with their greenhouse-gas-emitting industrial-scale farms, bore at least some of the responsibility for the rising waves of climate catastrophe. But those African peasants might also share their secret to surviving climate change, one that could help reverse Iowa’s own self-destructive agricultural path. Listen closely, Iowa, can you hear it? Diversidade, whisper the Mozambicans. Diversity. It may just be the key to climate resilience, from Africa to Iowa.
A tale of two cyclones
The U.S. and African storms were both described as “devastating,” and they were. But devastation looks much, much worse in a place as poor as Mozambique, on the east coast of Southern Africa. And they don’t have many lifeboats....
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