16 Aug, 2021

Tanzania: Climate change, malnutrition and migration

by Ilaria Mereni

In the United Republic of Tanzania, most of the country’s economy is based on agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Tanzania’s agricultural sector contributes to about 30 percent of its GDP and to 95 percent of the country’s food requirements. Moreover, about 80 percent of the country’s population relies directly on agriculture for their livelihood.

The increase in extreme weather variability induced by climate change is having harmful effects on the agricultural production, food security, water resources and human health in a region where the agricultural industry is the main provider of wealth. In the case of Tanzania, this can be explained in terms of the high temperatures that the country faces during its driest seasons, which causes great damages to both yields and crop quality.

Furthermore, the decrease in the monthly rainfall averages is closely associated to the main factors that considerably hinder its agriculture industry, which strongly depends on the availability of water. In this regard, the United Republic of Tanzania (URT) additionally reported that as little as 2 percent of agricultural households have access to irrigation. On top of that, many prevalent human diseases in the country are linked to climate fluctuations, from cardiovascular mortality and respiratory illnesses caused by heat waves, to altered transmission of infectious diseases, and malnutrition caused by crop failures.

In particular malnutrition is among the most critical problems in Tanzania, which negatively affects the survival and long-term well-being of the most vulnerable groups of the population, such as children. In fact, The World Food Programme reports that 34 percent of children (3.3 million children) under the age of 5 and 40 percent or higher among those aged between 18–47 months suffer from chronic malnutrition, which is above the African average. Furthermore, according to the data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018, malnutrition in Tanzania has caused 10,635 deaths in one year.

Climate change is a clear contributor to the rise in hunger and malnutrition in Tanzania. The reduction in the agricultural production caused by higher temperatures and decreasing rainfall affects negatively children’s diet diversity, which is an important indicator of one’s diet quality. In fact, micronutrients such as iron, folic acid, zinc, and vitamins A and D are critical for child development, which means that the low consumption or the lack of access to these micronutrients causes an increase in malnutrition. In fact, the lack of an adequate and balanced nutrition impedes children’s proper development of physical abilities, cognitive skills and learning capacity, which will negatively influence their adult life.

For this reason, the rural Tanzanian population during the driest seasons usually migrates to more productive parts of the country as a coping strategy to deal with the decrease in crop supply, which gives them peace of mind in terms of food security and availability.

However, migration is an extremely challenging and dangerous activity that only the luckiest Tanzanian families can go through in order to improve their situation. In fact, the poorest and most vulnerable families living in rural areas may not be able to migrate to more suitable locations during the hardest seasons, as migration itself requires funds and resources that they may lack of.

For this reason, in support of the many Tanzanian families facing hunger each year, FAO has developed The Resilience Strategy as a strategy aimed at enhancing the resilience of agriculture- based livelihoods and local food systems, with the goal of improving food security and nutrition in Tanzania. “This will be achieved through a combination of protection, prevention and disaster risk reduction measures that address the root causes of vulnerability, as well as meet the immediate needs of people affected by climate shocks and crisis.” (The Resilience Strategy 2019-2022, 2019, FAO)

In addition, of equal importance is the role of NGOs, which with their projects provide important aid and resources to the weakest families of the Tanzanian population. Most of their actions aim at providing assistance, cures and nutritional aids to malnourished children and their families. Furthermore, extra focus has been placed on helping and educating mothers to set up an adequate and balanced diet and to improve health and hygiene conditions in the home environment where children are raised. For this reason, home visits in rural villages are regularly organized in order to monitor the ongoing progress of the nutritional programs. Lastly, many NGO’s projects are also aimed at training local health workers in order to reinforce and support the improvements made for the Tanzanian population.

In this context, we cannot forget to mention The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN Member States as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in order to call to action to end poverty and hunger, protect the planet, fight climate change and improve the lives of everyone.

In particular, the SDG’s purpose it to combat climate change, its effects and to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children, have sufficient and nutritious food throughout the whole year.

For this reason, working in partnership, the UN and the Government of Tanzania are developing and adopting programs, policies and plans, such as the UN Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP), which has a particular focus on the most vulnerable communities. Moreover, the Tanzanian Government has already implemented several climate change plans, including the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPs) and The National Environmental Action Plan, as well as several National policies on nutrition, such as the National Nutrition Strategy.

Nevertheless, tackling climate change and facing food insecurity and malnutrition is a very challenging objective which necessarily requires stronger international cooperation and attention. In this regard, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report (SOFI 2021) and the Matera Declaration on Food Security, Malnutrition and Food Systems issued by the G20 group ministers recently highlighted the need to strengthen collective efforts, cooperation and action at a global level, especially after the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Moreover, strategies and specific protocols should be created to ensure a more affordable and safe migration to the people who need to move to other parts of the country during the less productive and most difficult periods of the year.

Last but not least, more focus should be given to the education of the local communities, both in terms of access and quality. In fact, just an inclusive, complete and proper education of the local population can ensure the understanding, spread and implementation of a more suitable, sustainable and healthier lifestyle, which is essential also for the well-being and survival of the future generations. For this reason, measures and policies aimed at improving the education system could be a key step for the future of the country.