Climate Change and Food Security in Peru
Author: Victor Guevara
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 05/03/2010
According to research carried out by the UK-based Tyndall Centre of Climate Change, “Peru is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change” (Andersen, Suxo, & Verner, 2009, pág. 2). But how would climate change affect food security in Peru, especially for rural groups? Which would be the most vulnerable groups in the face of this situation? To what extent is there adequate current information to respond to the possible issues to come? These are some of the questions on which I will reflect in this short article.
In 2008, on the World Food Day (October 16th), the Peruvian Government issued the Declaracion de Lima (Declaration of Lima) which points out “the urgency to implement mechanisms to facilitate the social and economic development of the country guaranteeing the future of food in a framework of equity and fight against poverty, although considering the sustainable use of natural resources, the adaptation to climate change and the protection of the national ecosystems” (Agrobolet’n, 2008. P. 2-3) (the highlighting is mine). However, even when this declaration is full of good intentions –as all of them are, it does not necessarily reflect the current policies and actions taken in Peru.
Situation of Food Security in Peru: Rural Agriculture
Currently the population in Peru is approximately 28.8 million persons. According to the Minister of Agriculture (Ministerio de Agricultura Del Peru, 2010), in the year 2006 the participation of the agriculture sector in the national GDP was 8.3%. Nevertheless, 31.6% of the population (8.1 million persons approximately) obtained their livelihoods from this activity. Moreover, during the same period 31.2% (approximately 2.8 million persons) of the Economically Active Population (EAP) worked in agriculture activities. In addition to that, agriculture in Peru contributes 62.8% of the national supply of food.
Given the above and considering in addition that only 34% of the farming lands are irrigated, whereas the other 66% depends directly on rain, we can conclude that agriculture in Peru is highly vulnerable in the face of Climate Change.
According to the figures of the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica e Informatica (National Institute for Statistics and Information) corresponding to the year 2008, poverty decreased in one year from 39.3% to 36.2% of the population (Diario El Comercio, 2009). The fact that Peru has reached a certain sustained level of economic growth during the last years might lead us to think that malnutrition is an overcome situation.
On the contrary, the levels of undernourished populations continue to be a serious problem. One out of five children in Peru does not consume the minimum necessary to satisfy his or her basic needs for growing (chronic malnutrition). In rural areas the figure is one out of three children. When it comes to families with caloric deficiencies, the number is 31% of the total, and worse again in rural areas than urban areas (La Revista Agraria, 2009). In addition to that, the percentage of families with caloric deficiency was 31% in 2008, which meant an increase of 2% since the year 2005.
The contrast in this apparent contradiction between the economic growth and the persistent high levels of malnutrition in the country seems to be based on the different conditions between rural and urban areas. The improvement of conditions, when it really happened, occurred in the urban rather than in the rural areas. This distinction allows us to acknowledge that the roots of malnutrition (higher in rural areas) are in the demand capacity of impoverished rather than in the supply of food.
Considering that there is an important dependence on imports to provide food for part of the population (37.2% of the total supply of food is imported), the food supply is highly vulnerable, even more for the sector of the population that depends more on the local production rather than buying supplies.
To give an example, during the international rise of food prices in 2007 the percentage of under nourished population momentarily increased by 7%. It shows how dependent the country can be if it relies on imports while making evident the weakness whether of food security or food sovereignty. Although the National Strategy for Food Security was approved on 2004, according to La Revista Agraria it has not been applied yet.
The state of affairs for farmers
The last agricultural census was performed in Peru on 1994. Indeed, when he was minister of Agriculture, Mr. Carlos Leyton (2008) decided to include in the budget an account foreseeing to carry out the mentioned study on 2010. Unfortunately, this happened to be excluded later in the discussion between the current minister of Agriculture and the minister of Economy. However, the matter is that the lack of interest to execute the study during the last governments seems to be explained as a deliberate decision to know more about the relatively small group of modern companies working on agriculture of exportation. Large amount of details regarding hundreds of thousands of small farmers is not a priority (La Revista Agraria, November 2009. P.3). Clearly, there is a preference to promote agriculture of exportation in large scale.
In this context, the country blindly addresses agrarian policies, ignoring various features, for example: whether the number of small farms have increased or decreased or in what regions, how much livestock there is and where it is located, what the new structure of land tenancy is, what technologies are being used or not used, what the ages and education level of farmers are, and in general, what is lacking to have an agriculture sector oriented to cover the national needs of food and at the same time fulfill the welfare of the farmers themselves. This being said, even when certain programs exist to promote rural agriculture, the current national policies might be inadequate due to serious vacuums in the planning (La Revista Agraria, November 2009. P. 4-5).
In the current context, what might be the impacts of climate change and the possible measures to take?
According to one of the few specific studies researching about the possible impacts of climate change to happen specifically in Peru, Andersen et al. say that “there are both winners and losers from expected climate change in Peru, but that the negative effects tend to dominate” (Pag.24).
The Special Report of the Comunidad Andina de Naciones (Andean Community of Nations or just CAN in Spanish) points out that the El Ni-o and La Ni-a Phenomena would increase their intensity and frequency due to climate change. These would be the most important threats in the region resulting in severe infrastructure damage and a significant decrease in the production levels of fisheries and agriculture.
In turn, the national Strategy on Climate Change (Poder Ejecutivo del Peru, 2003) indicates that another main effect of climate change in Peru that has already been happening, especially during the last fifteen years, is the melting of glaciers. Another side effect linked to glacial melt is the formation of unstable lakes and glaciers that may produce significant landslides. The added possibility of droughts can also enforce the diseases of crops through the increase of plagues.
However, there are not yet official approved plans foreseeing concrete national actions to be taken with regard to climate change effects. As we have discussed above, climate change through its several effects will most likely seriously affect the rural agriculture in the country, meaning negative impacts to farmers’ livelihoods and national food security. In this context, the level of knowledge and policies is currently a critical issue in order to have an adequate response to the future crises.
While this is true, it is also important to remember the results of the study presented by Laplante. Based on the analysis of a database of 151 countries over the period 1960-2003 “Toya and Skidmore (2005) unambiguously find that both the total number of deaths and the extent of economic damages caused by natural disasters decrease as per capita gross domestic product (GDP) increases” (2009, pág. 4). Needless to say that based on the limited output of Peru’s GDP, it is vulnerable to such damages, especially considering that farmers comprise a high percentage of the poor sector in Peru.
In addition, the study by Dell et al. stresses that the effects of climatic changes are worse in poor countries. They say “in poor countries, a 1°C rise in temperature in a given year reduces economic growth by 1.1 percentage points on average” (2008, pág. 27).
Given the characteristics of agriculture in Peru, the country is highly vulnerable to climate change in the case of an eventual future diminish in rain and aquatic sources. While there is already a serious rate of undernourishment in the national population, the rural and farmers’ sector will be severely affected if Peru loses capacity for local production and becomes more dependent on imports.
The discussion for a balance between the food security paradigm (the population has real access and there is sufficient supply of adequate food, regardless of whether part or most of the food is imported) and the food sovereignty paradigm (not only there is provision and access to food but the most important part of it -especially for the staple foods- is self provided by the country) is necessary for adequate policies in order to ensure food for the poor when climate change effects occur. The inaction will mean not only a severe increase of poverty but especially higher vulnerability of the already poor rural sectors.
Bio: Victor Guevara is an MA student at the University for Peace.