Why I Joined 50,000 Other People in the Journey to Rio

Why I Joined 50,000 Other People in the Journey to Rio image 1
Rio+20 Conference Center. Photo: CARE/Stefan Mielke

By Kevin Henry, Project Coordinator, "Where the Rain Falls"
June 20, 2012, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

In addition to coming to Rio to join my voice in solidarity with tens of thousands of other people from every corner of the globe committed to making the "Future We Want" a reality, I came specifically in connection with a project I lead on behalf of CARE France. This project, called "Where the Rain Falls" and funded by the AXA Group and the MacArthur Foundation, is a research and action project seeking to better understand, and then act on, the impact of climate change (specifically changes in rainfall patterns) on food security and human migration in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. To achieve these goals, CARE, in partnership with the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security, has undertaken field research in eight countries (Guatemala, Peru, Ghana, Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam). The findings of our research will be published later this year in a series of country case study reports, followed by a global policy report to be launched at COP18 in Doha; the research will also inform the design of community-based climate change adaptation projects in Peru, Tanzania, India, and Thailand.

Why is this research on the impacts of climate change on food security and human migration important, and what are we learning? The answer to that question starts with the fact that the livelihoods of the great majority of the rural poor remain heavily dependent on agriculture (crops and livestock) and thus rely on "Mother Nature" and a healthy natural resource base. In many developing countries, including many of those included in the "Where the Rain Falls" (WtRF) research, smallholder agriculture remains largely rain-fed. Smallholder agriculture, central to the social, food, and economic systems in many countries, is already a tenuous proposition, particularly in arid and semi-arid zones. And it will only be made more tenuous by changes in rainfall patterns and temperatures.

While the findings of our research are still being analyzed, it is already clear that households in the very diverse research communities in the eight countries where the WtRF research was conducted do report having already observed significant changes in rainfall patterns over the last 20-30 years. These changes vary from site to site, but most often involve some combination of the following: a) delayed onset of rains and/or shorter rainy seasons; b) reduced number of rainy days; c) increased frequency of severe rainfall events, sometimes leading to flooding, landslides, and riverbank erosion; and d) generally more unpredictable rainfall patterns, making it difficult to plan their agricultural activities. Community members also observe other changes in local climate that affect food production, including milder winters, hotter summers, and, in some cases, increased incidence of high winds, hail, and other extreme weather events.

Reducing the vulnerability of poor households to the negative impacts of climate change requires providing them dignified choices to: stay where they are and be provided information and resources to adapt by developing more resilient livelihoods; or when necessary, to migrate elsewhere, with dignity, to secure a better future. Migration is already a strategy used by poor households in developing countries to both cope with (short-term) and adapt to (long-term) food and livelihood insecurity. The WtRF research shows clearly that poor households are already using migration as an important strategy to cope with both seasonal and chronic food insecurity. While local migration is within the reach of most poor households, there is the risk of some populations, particularly the most vulnerable households, being "trapped" and unable to either ensure their food security in situ or migrate.

The "threat" of increased environmentally-induced migration is thus very real and is likely to grow over time unless global efforts to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change are stepped up dramatically. But the "threat" is primarily to poor households in rural communities in developing countries, who will have to struggle to either eke out a meager existence at home or migrate, often under difficult and dangerous conditions, to either urban centers or other rural areas with better agricultural conditions or other employment opportunities.

It is because of the impacts climate change is already having on poor households, and the need to take action to better understand and respond to these changes, that I have traveled to Rio to share with and learn from others.

If you want to find out more about the "Where the Rain Falls" project, please visit the website: