The lesser-known effects of climate change

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High up in Bolivia’s Andes, melting mountain glaciers are putting pressure on indigenous farmers, as climate change in the South American nation threatens traditional harvests, such as quinoa and canahua.

In the agricultural community of Cala Huancani, some 4,300 metres above sea level, local farmers are feeling the heat. Experts estimate the surrounding Cordillera Real mountain range has lost 40 percent of its glacier mass since 1980. The climate phenomenon has affected nearby lakes and rivers, reducing the flow of water farmers need for crops, livestock and their own well-being.

Local farmer, Paulino Quispe Mamani, spoke of the declining water supply and the pressure this is putting on him and other farmers:

“We once saw snow on the hills and we had plenty of water, but now we don’t have very much. In the hills, it used to rain a lot, and a lot of water ran through this place,” he said. “But now the small rivers are drier. Sometimes there is no water for the livestock, or for us. There are institutions that are helping us to find alternatives and move forward.”

To cope with changing conditions, experts from La Paz’s San Andres University have been advising agricultural communities on new crops and planting techniques, to make farming practices more efficient and to reduce the problems caused by lack of water and poor soil conditions.

The changing weather patterns have put pressure on the traditional farming practices of indigenous Bolivians.

These practices, which have been passed down through the generations, are now at risk, as Oscar Bazoberry, Professor of Development Sciences at the University of San Andres, explained:

“The adaptive mechanisms that they and other farmers had may not respond to the current context, and this makes them vulnerable. Then we become vulnerable as consumers and vulnerable as a country.”

Scientists estimate the temperature in Bolivia’s Andes is rising by around 0.32 degrees centigrade per decade. A huge change as, prior to 1975, the increase was three times less than this.

As conditions worsen, many are increasingly concerned for the future of Bolivia’s farmers.

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