Climate change cuts plantain production, schooling

bananas lying around
Copyright: Flickr/Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

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  • Researchers assessed impact of climate change on plantain growth and education
  • Plantain production and schooling decreased by 43 and 20 per cent respectively
  • Expert calls for plantain varieties resilient to climate change and pests

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[YAOUNDÉ] Climate change is reducing plantain yields and school attendance rates in Cameroon, says a study. 

According to researchers, the Central African region, where Cameroon is located, lacks studies on climate change social impacts.  
Therefore, researchers assessed temperature trends in Cameroon for the period 1950 to 2013. They also linked the impact of increased temperature changes to plantain growth and education using agricultural and educational data from surveys and government reports for 1991-2011.

The study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment last week (1 January) showed that plantain production in Cameroon decreased by 43 per cent from 1991 to 2011.

Trevon Fuller, the lead researcher and an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, United States, tells SciDev.Net that from 1950 to 2011, the average annual temperature increased by one degree Celsius.

“There was also a significant statistical relationship between decreased schooling and lower productivity of plantain.”

Trevon Fuller, University of California, Los Angeles

“Hotter temperatures are accompanied by increased dryness of the air, which places stress on plants during fruit development leading to lower yields,” Fuller explains.

As plantain yield decreased, so too did parents’ income in Cameroon, and the effect was slowing in school attendance.  

“The average years of post-secondary schooling decreased from 2.76 years in 1991 to 2.22 years in 2011, a decline of nearly 20 per cent,” Fuller says. “There was also a significant statistical relationship between decreased schooling and lower productivity of plantain.

“We believe that this is because as yield decreased, households received less income, for instance, from plantain sales. As a result, parents had fewer resources to invest in their children’s tuition and school materials such as textbooks and uniforms, resulting in decreased school attendance.”

Richard Munang, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) regional climate change coordinator for Africa, says that several studies corroborate and “make the findings plausible”.

Munang cites a World Bank study showing that in Cameroon, where agriculture employs up to 80 per cent and contributes about 30 per cent of gross domestic product, a temperature increase of above two degrees Celsius could result in a US$500 million loss in farming net revenue.

According to a report of the UNEP, Central Africa is already experiencing the highest annual mean temperatures ever recorded in history.

Munang underscored the need for Africa's agriculture and food systems to provide increased productivity and income opportunities.

He adds that the UNEP is already supporting Cameroon and several African countries such as Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia to achieve food security using a framework that encourages partnerships with multiple sectors linked to agriculture.

“Approaches used to produce food … [should] guarantee increasing yields even in the face of climate change,” Munang tells SciDev.Net.

For Fuller, the study is significant for governments and decision-makers because it can serve as a call to action for programmes to improve plantain through selective breeding to produce new cultivars more resilient to higher temperatures and pests.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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Trevon L. Fuller and others Climate warming causes declines in crop yields and lowers school attendance rates in Central Africa (Science of the Total Environment, 1 January 2018)