October 5, 2009 / 3:24 PM / 10 years ago

African farmers suffer hardship as climate worsens

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - African farmers said on Monday floods and droughts expected to worsen with climate change have already brought poor harvests, and women workers are turning to prostitution and falling victim to HIV/AIDS.

A man walks across a flooded bridge, 60 km (37 miles) south of Durban June 18, 2008, after heavy rains caused flooding. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Testifying at the first pan-African climate hearings, the farmers’ stories will be relayed at December’s climate talks in Copenhagen, where Western countries and poorer nations are expected to adopt new carbon emission targets to curb global warming.

Caroline Malema, a smallholder farmer and mother of six from Malawi, said increased cycles of floods and drought meant she was struggling to feed her family and pay for her children to attend school.

Malema said hunger and poverty caused by global warming were leading many women in her village to resort to prostitution out of desperation.

“Women are suffering because they don’t harvest more, so women are going about selling their bodies ... These women at the end of the day are infected with HIV and AIDS,” she said of her village in Karonga.

Besides AIDS, which has already killed more than 800,000 people in Malawi since 1985 and left more than one million orphans, experts fear an increase in diseases such as malaria and cholera should temperatures rise.

Pastoralist Omar Jibril, from Wajir district in northern Kenya, explained how prolonged droughts had decimated his herd of cattle and goats, while Ugandan farmer Constance Okollet Achom cried as she described the effects of heavy rains and excessive heat.

“The rich, rich countries who are doing this just have to stop because they are living on our lives, we are dying for them,” Achom said.

Mary Robinson, honorary president of aid group Oxfam International, said hearing directly from poor African farmers was vital to December’s deliberations.

“That is the case we have to make — that climate change is about the poorest people being made poorer by our conduct and our carbon-rich environment and lifestyle,” she told Reuters.

The U.N. climate panel says rich nations, blamed by poorer countries for emitting most of the harmful greenhouse gases, should cut emissions between 25-40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change.

However, preliminary talks meant to narrow differences over ways to deepen the fight against climate change have stalled on efforts to convince rich nations to make tough emissions cuts and fund the efforts of developing countries.

Africa, the world’s poorest continent mainly dependent on subsistence agriculture, is expected to bear the brunt of unpredictable weather patterns that could ruin crops, entrenching poverty and malnourishment.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Charles Dick

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