When the Rastaman Speaks: Climate Change and Food Security

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Dizzanne Bill interviews Carus John-Bejai, who, she writes, “is breaking the mold.” She adds that “At 23, this rastaman is flying through a PhD at the University of Nottingham, hoping to shed critical insight for Trinidad’s farmers in a changing climate.” See excerpts of her article and interview of John-Bejai, who comments on climate change and how it affects food security, among other issues:

Climate change threatens to impede upon any progress made in the eradication of hunger by decades and the global food system is not ready to handle this challenge. Carus’ dream is to be a plant breeder for tropical crops, and his passion is evident in the interview below. Given that climate change is already having severe impacts on the what, when, and how much of our consumption, it is particularly inspiring to see young Caribbean people standing ready as the technical minds behind solution-oriented approaches to the climate change/food security dilemma.

What does climate change mean to you?

To me, climate change is a very important topic for the Caribbean just as it is for the rest of the world. Climate change is represented by marked global increases in temperature, alternations in drought patterns, and soil salinisation, which is expected to have a dramatic impact on crop yields in the near future. As the climate changes then, it is expected that there will be negative effects on agricultural productivity.

This seems like a serious issue, what would you propose be done by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to propel climate change to the forefront of the minds of the average Caribbean citizen?

I think the introduction of environmental science courses in our schools has played a major role in improving our population’s understanding of anticipated changes to local climates and the potential effects they may have on our communities. I speak from experience here, as I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to undertake one such course during my time at secondary school. This demonstrates the value of educational programmes and public outreach towards achieving this goal.

The availability of food in the Caribbean is one dimension of climate change and food security. The direct link between climate conditions and food security worsens the state of the local agricultural sector and its domestic production of essential crops. As a result, the Caribbean is heavily dependent on food imports. In fact, the Caribbean region has a burdensome annual food import bill of US$4.75 billion and Trinidad and Tobago is the second highest importer of agricultural goods from outside the region.

From a technical perspective, what do you suggest be done to reduce regional and national dependency on food imports and build resilience against climate change?

We need to improve the efficiency of local production systems in light of climate change.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of severe weather events and is likely to further widen the yield gap of many crop species i.e. the inability to realise their true production potential. Additionally, with warmer temperatures we can anticipate that abiotic and biotic stresses will exert an even greater effect on local production; due to increases in the populations of biological pests and increased likelihood of drought events. I strongly believe development of stress tolerant cultivars that are better suited to our local environment is an area worth exploring. Our understanding of the physiological and genetic factors underlying tolerance to biological and environmental stress has greatly improved. We will need to select varieties with improved tolerance to drought, salinity and high temperature, traits that will inevitably be of value in improving the resilience of crops to climate change.

For full article and interview, see http://caribbeannewsservice.com/now/when-the-rastaman-speaks-climate-change-and-food-security/

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