Going mobile: How phones have become a critical farming tool

10 Sep

When planting season arrives, Eleanor gathers what seeds she can find and hopes for the best. She gently places them in neat rows of crumbly red soil, using the same techniques her neighbours use, not really knowing if they’re correct. She listens to the radio, putting her faith in an unreliable forecast. And then she waits.

Around 75 percent of people in Kenya earn at least part of their income this way — from agriculture, including growing crops, raising animals and running related businesses. And the majority is small-scale, rain-fed agriculture, like Eleanor’s farm.

For her and millions of others, whether they can feed and provide for their families is tied directly to the success of their farm. But a host of systemic challenges have made this livelihood a dangerous gamble.

Poverty is high, with around half the population living on less than $1 per day, making supplies like fertiliser, pesticide, medicine, animal feed or other beneficial investments out of reach for many famers. In rural communities, where most farming takes place, the seeds available are often old, mislabelled or poor quality, and unlikely to produce to their full potential, if at all.

Additionally, there is usually not a market for farmers to sell what they have grown at a fair price.

Local weather and rainfall information, which establishes when farmers should plant, is chronically incorrect. And there is little to no access to formal agricultural instruction, meaning they rely on communal knowledge when determining what to plant, and how to prepare their land and treat their seeds — practices that may not be appropriate, but are all they have.

“Initially we would just do things locally without knowing whether we are doing it the right way or the wrong way,” Eleanor explains, of the conventional way of farming in her community. “We were just taking chances without really knowing what we were doing.”

And when it failed, her only recourse was acceptance — even if she lost everything. “There was very little I could do about that,” she says.

An unreliable livelihood complicated by climate change

Eleanor raises animals and grows sorghum, legumes, maize and cabbage to support her family, but recurring drought and a lack of access to accurate forecasts have made regular harvests impossible. “It’s difficult to prepare for the planting season,” she says.

On top of all this, Eleanor’s already-vulnerable way of life is being made more fragile by the effects of climate change.

“There used to be enough rainfall in the area, and the harvest used to be good and we could predict when the rains could come and [we should] start planting,” she says. "There is a lot of change between those times and now.”

Weather shocks — drought, extreme temperatures, flooding — have been happening at a more frequent and unpredictable pace, and five years of drought conditions across the country have destroyed crops, dried up animal pasture and fuelled hunger.

Eleanor remembers the worst of it, in the beginning, when the drought was so bad nearly all her animals starved to death, and her family had to survive on emergency food assistance from the government.

“During that period things were almost impossible for us,” she says. “I was getting desperate.”

Even today, after another poor rain earlier this year, the country has suffered a near total failure of its maize crops, a staple food source; an estimated 3.1 million people are expected to be food insecure by October; and fields across Eleanor’s community are parched and desolate.

When yields are low like this, “it means [people] have to reduce the number of meals they take in a day,” Eleanor says.

More frequent droughts are major setbacks for farmers like Eleanor, who have few resources to fall back on and often end up depleting their savings or investments to make ends meet until the next good rainfall.

As she walks her own dusty land, she points to the withered remains of a legume called green grams, row upon row of small, brown seedlings dried up at only a few inches tall.

These are the crops she would normally rely on to meet her family’s basic needs and pay her children’s school fees. Without the opportunity to earn that money, she traditionally has only two options to cope: make ends meet with a combination of other earning sources, like informal day labour, making bricks or migrating to another area for work; or sell off her assets, like land, animals or equipment, which means losing an investment and an important source of stability.

“It is a short-term solution to address the burning issue at that particular time,” Eleanor says.

Building livelihood security with technology

While Eleanor faces many of these same struggles year after year, one thing is different for her this season: her crops are insured.

Eleanor participates in Mercy Corps’ AgriFin programme, which uses mobile technology to provide farmers with services to improve their farms’ production and earn more income. Mobile phones are a common and critical form of connectivity for people around the world, including those in developing countries. In Kenya, almost 90 percent of adults report owning one, making the technology an effective way to reach farmers like Eleanor with resources they otherwise don’t have to strengthen their livelihoods and grow more food.

One resource offered through AgriFin is soil testing through a mobile platform called DigiFarm, with which farmers can learn how to optimize their land to grow more successful crops.

Through the programme, Eleanor can order seeds for a specific cash crop — something with a market demand to grow in a larger quantity — and sell the yield to a commercial buyer. The seeds are high quality and come automatically bundled with insurance so if the harvest fails, like it did this year, she doesn’t lose her investment and fall farther into hardship.

The seeds, and other supplies like fertiliser and animal feed, are stocked at local retailers so they are easy to access, and many can be purchased on loan if necessary, which is critical for farmers with few financial resources.

“I never knew that there were certified seeds suitable to this area, suitable to our climatic conditions,” Eleanor explains. “Now we have a place where we can get certified seeds at a fair price.”

The programme also offers soil testing, which Eleanor ordered to verify what crops are most suitable for her land, and SMS-based training, so she can use her phone to learn how to raise different crops and animals and build diversity in her production. Through a new partnership with NASA, the programme will also begin providing farmers with more accurate weather information so they can better prepare for the growing conditions ahead.

“Initially there were no such services,” Eleanor says. “[Now] knowledge has been imparted to us, and we can engage in the best agricultural practices.”

Helping farmers look forward

Ensuring farmers are able to successfully grow crops and raise animals is vital to helping communities around the world overcome poverty and hunger.

Last year, during a good rainy season, Eleanor purchased seeds to grow a new crop — sunflower — through AgriFin. Because the seeds were certified and she had guidance to grow them properly, she produced a successful harvest which she was then able to sell to a buyer identified by the programme.

The venture earned her enough income to pay her children’s school fees and start an emergency fund, something she couldn’t do before. “I was happy about it and I realised that [the programme] is a friend,” she says.

This year, because of the crop insurance, drought does not equal total loss for her for the first time ever.

“I have some hope that I will not lose everything, no matter the weather condition,” she says. “I am more comfortable … now. I don’t have worries.”

With this system of resources in place, farming can be an investment in the future — instead of a wager on it.

“Without the kind of information that I’m getting … I would be in a worse position,” Eleanor explains. “The farmers could be in a worse position.”

Already Eleanor says her family’s income and access to food has improved, and she’s looking forward to what else is possible. “Through the benefits I’m getting … [my] livelihood will improve and the children will be in a position to go to school regularly,” she says. “[AgriFin] is empowering us to gain new experiences.”

How to help

You are an important part of this progress. Our work helping farmers in Kenya and across the globe grow more food and build better lives is only possible because of caring individuals like you. With your support, our teams are able to reach more families with food and assistance, and help more communities learn how they can grow stronger for the future.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us support farmers around the world to build a stronger, healthier future.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to spread the word about the millions who need us.

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Mercy Corps: Climate Change is the Ultimate ‘Threat Multiplier’

9 Oct

Urges immediate action to stay below 1.5 degrees C of global warming

WASHINGTON—The global organisation Mercy Corps urges governments, businesses and civil society to take urgent steps to stay below 1.5 degrees C of global warming or face catastrophic suffering around the world, especially among the world’s most vulnerable people.

Mercy Corps’ call for action coincides with the publication of the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, which warns that without drastic and urgent change, the world will warm by about 1.5 degrees C over pre-industrial temperatures by as soon as 2040, causing sea levels to rise, droughts and changing harvest seasons. As communities and individuals become more desperate to survive, climate change becomes the ultimate “threat multiplier” and may ignite social disruption and violent conflict.

“Climate change is not a distant threat,” says Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps. “It’s a driver of fragility and conflict today, and this report is a frightening wake-up call. If we don’t take urgent and concrete steps now, the world we leave to our children will be hotter, hungrier and wracked by conflict.”

Mercy Corps has long worked with vulnerable communities and individuals to adapt to climate change. For example, in Timor-Leste, one of the hungriest countries in the world, frequent floods, landslides and droughts pose serious threats to food security. Good harvests are a matter of survival. The organisation works with communities there to grow drought-resistant crops and build bamboo walls to protect gardens from landslides.

“Three out of four people on earth depend solely on agriculture,” says Keny-Guyer. “Climate change turns people’s lives into a desperate guessing game, and for these people, the effects of climate change are a matter of life and death.”

Keeping warming to within 1.5 degrees C is vital if the world is to mitigate and adapt to the worst effects of climate change. Therefore, Mercy Corps calls for increasing the use of renewable energy such as wind and solar; helping communities better plan ways to reduce risk from natural disasters; ensuring vulnerable communities have access to good weather data and early warning systems; and developing innovative financial systems for people who have lost their livelihoods.

Join us and support Mercy Corps’ work around the world.

PDF icon News Release on Climate Change by 2040

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What we’re doing to help end global hunger

8 Jun

Food is central to human well-being: it provides the body with nourishment, offers livelihoods that lift people out of poverty, and brings communities together. Although food is a basic human need, too many people are trapped in a cycle of hunger by forces beyond their immediate control, like poverty, disaster, conflict and inequality.

Despite decades of progress in reducing world hunger, 2017 saw increases in the number of people who are hungry. More than 820 million people still go to bed hungry every night — that’s one in every nine people who don’t have the food they need to live a healthy, productive life.

The World Health Organisation considers this to be the single greatest threat to global health. Hunger is cyclical and generational: it inhibits people’s ability to work and learn to their fullest potential, which can curb their future and trap them and their families in more poverty — and more hunger.

Mercy Corps takes a multi-pronged approach to helping end world hunger, including implementing programmes that tackle the multiple drivers of food security, while also engaging in policy discussions that influence our programmes. Learn about this work and what is being done to stop world hunger below.

Global hunger today


Years of conflict have put millions in South Sudan at risk of hunger and famine. PHOTO: Jennifer Huxta for Mercy Corps

Common causes of hunger

World hunger is caused by so much more than a shortage of food. Even in places where food is plentiful or can be grown, challenges like disasters, conflict or poverty prevent people from accessing it.

People in poverty generally spend between 60 and 80 percent of their income on food, which can force them to prioritise feeding their families over meeting other basic needs or reaching long-term goals, like sending their children to school. If an emergency strikes, they may need to skip meals in order to cope financially — and the cycle of hunger continues.

According to the Food Security Information Network, conflict and insecurity were primary drivers of food insecurity in 2017, alone accountable for putting 74 million people in need of urgent assistance. Climate change is also eroding existing efforts to improve food security.

Hunger can also stem from inadequate food systems, like a lack of road infrastructure to connect people to markets, or poor storage facilities, through which food gets wasted and never reaches those who need it.


Extreme weather, like drought or flooding, can be devastating for pastoralists — like Ali in Ethiopia — who rely on regular rains to supply water and fodder for their herds. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Weather shocks, due in part to climate change, are also increasingly driving hunger. Half the world’s poor grow their own food, and natural disasters like droughts and floods frequently wipe out vulnerable families’ entire food supply and income.

Read more: A hotter planet, a hungrier world ▸

But even if all these obstacles to food access were removed, the world will still need to change its agriculture practices to meet the needs of its growing population.

Where in the world is hunger the worst?

Nearly all the world’s hungry — 98 percent — live in developing regions. Over 500 million live in Asia and the Pacific, in countries like Afghanistan and Timor-Leste, while 243 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Food Security Information Network reports the worst food crises in 2017 were in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan, where famine was declared in two counties.

In 2018, the network expects conflict and insecurity to remain a primary driver of hunger, especially in countries including Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, which is right now the world’s most dire food crisis.

Weather-related disasters, like drought, are also anticipated to be a major catalyst of hunger around the world in 2018 — but the impact will likely be greatest in West Africa and the Sahel, in places like Ethiopia, Niger, Mali, Kenya and Somalia.

What is being done to end world hunger?


Women in Niger gather for Mercy Corps’ farm training, which helps them grow better, stronger crops to last them through the lean season they face every year. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Work humanitarian organisations are doing

We can only tackle world hunger effectively if we address what causes it in the first place. This means improving systems and behaviours that enable secure access, availability and use of food.

Fighting the drivers of hunger is key to Mercy Corps’ work with vulnerable communities in more than 40 countries:

Read more about our approach to building food security ▸

During acute crises, we provide at-risk communities with lifesaving assistance and the tools to re-establish healthy bodies and prosperous livelihoods. We help people with food, livelihood tools, and cash donations when food supplies are low or unaffordable, such as when people are displaced by conflict or natural disasters.

We also work with governments, multilateral institutions and other key stakeholders to support funding programmes and implementing policies that help stop global hunger and malnutrition and improve the lives of millions around the world.

Legislation and help from the government


Our collaboration with partner organizations and the government is vital to securing long-term access to food and a strong future for everyone. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

After decades of underinvestment, countries like the U.S. have begun to reinvest in programmes to fight global hunger. The effort has built momentum over the years, culminating in 2015 when the global community came together to commit to pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals, with ending hunger as a top priority.

Private companies, NGOs, universities and academic institutions joined national governments with new agriculture and nutrition investments in response. In the United States, these new partnerships led to the Feed the Future Initiative, an anti-hunger response that has achieved impressive results: 9 million people lifted out of poverty, 1.6 million households free from hunger, and 1.8 million children properly nourished.

The passage of the bipartisan Global Food Security Act made this effort into law in 2016, and led to a new Global Food Security Strategy that built on the successes of Feed the Future.

This year, 2018, two major policy opportunities in the United States exist to continue the fight against global hunger:

  • The Global Food Security Reauthorization Act: Mercy Corps worked closely with private sector partners, other NGOs, academic and research institutions, the faith community and Members of Congress to help pass H.R. 5129 and S. 2269. This bill ensures the Global Food Security Act’s improvements to the Global Food Security Strategy and the Feed the Future Initiative will continue beyond 2018.

  • The Farm Bill: While this is largely a bill that focuses on domestic policy, one section of it reauthorises the Food for Peace programme that provides international food assistance. This bill provides an opportunity to continue to make this programme more efficient and effective. Mercy Corps is working to ensure components that allow flexible interventions stay in place, while advancing other reforms that will improve Food for Peace non-emergency programmes, which are vital to helping communities build resilience to shocks that make them vulnerable to hunger, like conflict and natural disasters.

How you can help

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more emergency relief for families facing hunger and others in crisis around the world.

  • Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help people beat hunger and build better lives.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to post the infographic and spread the word about the millions who need us.

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Wild weather: How we’re helping Kenyans fight climate change

6 Jun

What should be a welcome change to the weather in Kenya — rain — has instead turned the country into a life-threatening disaster zone.

Rainfall so heavy it can’t be absorbed by the dry, compacted ground has pelted counties across the country since March, overflowing reservoirs and rivers and causing extreme flooding that has wiped away crops, livestock and, at times, people.

Around 330,000 people have been displaced from their homes and another 183 killed by the flooding; water sources have been contaminated, skyrocketing the risk of disease.

These inundating rains — rainfall four times the normal average — come on the heels of a devastating four-year drought. Just a few months ago, many of the counties worst hit by the floods, like Wajir, were barren wastelands, packed red-clay ground pocked with dry brown trees and animal carcasses.

That dry spell had disastrous effects of its own. It dried up water sources, caused widespread death and disease of livestock, fueled inter-community conflict as resources dwindled, and plunged 3.4 million people into hunger.

While the number of people facing food insecurity in Kenya has dropped slightly with the recent rainfall, with these fluctuating weather patterns one threat remains a constant: climate change.

The effects of climate change in Kenya

Salada, 30, provides for her family by raising livestock, a livelihood that can be made very fragile by weather shocks like drought and flood.

The effects of the changing climate are playing out across the globe. But as weather becomes more unpredictable and climate-fueled disasters become more frequent and intense, rural pastoralists like Salada, a mother of five in Wajir, feel it acutely.

“The weather has changed between now and when I was young,” Salada says. “There was much drought even in those days, but it didn’t last year in and year out. It wasn’t as continuous as it is now.”

A quarter of Kenya’s population lives in arid or semi-arid climate areas like Wajir, a pastoral region with an economy based on raising livestock.

These areas, which are prone to being dry and receiving little rainfall, are already vulnerable to poverty, underdevelopment, conflict and disease. Families in these fragile areas rely on animals or related businesses to survive, so unexpected shifts in the rains that provide water and feed can be debilitating, sapping food sources and income, destabilising communities and threatening future development.

The options pastoralists like Salada have to cope with these weather shocks are difficult and few in number. She makes her living solely by raising camels and selling their milk, but drought means limited food and water to keep animals healthy and maintain their productivity.

“If there is no milk, then there is nothing else for us to do,” Salada says. “There are no other items we can trade. … We have no option but to stay without work.”

Pastoralists traditionally rely on regular rains to provide water and fodder for their herds. When the rains are inconsistent, it can have devastating impacts on animals' health.

In these conditions, pastoralists are forced to travel long distances to find water, fodder or safe shelter. They face conflict over limited resources. They may skip meals. Or they may pull their children out of school to flee elsewhere or work to help the family survive.

In 2017, at least 175,000 children were out of school due to the drought alone — and the odds haven’t been made better by the recent onslaught of rain. The flooding has displaced over 127,000 children and damaged schools and learning materials for more than 2 million students.

Halima, a mother of six, shares Salada’s grief. She supports her family by operating a selling station where she distributes milk from local pastoralists, but the effects of climate change risk collapsing her business.

“The weather was good [when I was young],” Halima says. “Milk was in abundance.” Now, there are periods when animals’ productivity is low or pastoralists must move their herds to different areas, and Halima only collects a small fraction of the milk she used to, which affects her income and ability to provide for her children.

“Food is scarce now,” she says. “It’s possible that you won’t find food for a whole day and will go to sleep hungry.”

People in rural areas, like Halima, are chronically vulnerable to hunger. Even with the current rain, 2.6 million people in Kenya still don't have the food they need.

How we’re helping Kenyans adapt to climate change

Halima sits in front of the refrigerated milk dispenser she received from Mercy Corps, which has made it easier for her to earn stable income. The machine keeps milk cool and dispenses the amounts customers want into plastic bottles.

It’s increasingly important to help fragile agricultural families in Kenya and around the world adapt to changes in the weather patterns they’ve relied for decades. But this work requires more than individual interventions — it means strengthening whole systems, communities and resources affected by the climate.

In Wajir, Mercy Corps is working to strengthen the market system for camel milk, so people like Salada and Halima can earn more reliable income and not be so vulnerable to precarious weather.

In the past, the process of selling milk was problematic — the only way to transport it to market towns was a long public bus ride in the searing heat, which often spoiled the milk before it could be sold.

Mercy Corps has made this process more efficient by providing a van with a solar-powered cooler to replace the public bus. Milk from rural pastoralists is stored safely in the van until enough is collected to transport it to a larger market town.

Once in the market town, the milk is directly transported to sellers like Halima who, as part of the programme, received refrigerated milk dispensers to replace their previous selling stations. The milk is deposited in the dispensers and kept cool until customers come to purchase it.

Less waste of milk means more income for those involved in the process, which helps them support their families more consistently — and build resilience for times when production is lower.

Without these changes, “I would not have made it,” Halima says.

Because livestock is such an important livelihood in his community, Musa wants to ensure the land can support his children and their herds in the future. "If that's protected, my kids will continue," he says.

We’re also focused on helping communities better manage their natural resources, which can mitigate the effects of climate change and help ease tensions over reduced water and grazing land.

Musa, 36, has experienced chronic weather shocks and knows the resulting struggles too well. “There is widespread inter-clan conflict because of resources,” he explains. “When you are grazing an area it gets depleted, and you move to a different grazing area and find another clan living [there], you upset them. You have to fight to get access to those resources.”

He has also seen the way deforestation for firewood and building has exacerbated the effects of drought in his community in Wajir.

The awareness campaigns Mercy Corps conducted have helped them make changes that will help them better cope with future dry spells.

“Community attitude and behaviours toward natural resources have already changed,” Musa says. “People used to cut trees and use [them] for fencing their homes and for firewood. [Now] they are not cutting trees. They are only picking up dead trees.”

In Wajir, Ahmed works as a DJ at a local radio station that broadcasts weather and natural resource messages tailored for the region's pastoralists.

And because information can be lifesaving in fragile communities, we have partnered with a local radio station and developed Wajir Community Radio, a radio programme that broadcasts climate information.

With our support, the station has doubled its reach and communicates important messages about the weather, so pastoralists know when to move their herds, as well as information on natural resource management and gender equity.

“The importance of reaching a larger audience is that … they are pastoralists,” says Halima Kahiya, the station manager. “They have been affected by different climate changes. We need to tell them about all the climate information: When is it going to rain? Is it going to rain heavily? Will it be enough? What are they supposed to do?”

Combined, these interventions are meant to give families in rural Kenya access to knowledge and support that help them preserve their resources, prepare for upcoming weather and build futures that aren’t left to the whims of climate disasters.

“From my business, I pay the school fees for my children,” says Halima, from the kiosk where she has her milk dispenser. “Mercy Corps gave me this … and I believe it will bring us more good things.”

How you can help

Seven-year-old Hadiba's father co-owns the refrigerated van used to transport milk from rural areas to the market town. The more efficient process helps everyone involved earn steadier income to support their families during weather disasters.

Our work to help communities adapt and adjust to climate change challenges is only possible because of people like you. With your support, we are able to reach more families with assistance and help more people build stronger, more resilient and peaceful communities for tomorrow. Here’s how you can help:

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us meet urgent food needs and help families around the world build a stronger, healthier future.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to spread the word about the millions who need us.

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Quick facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty

10 Apr

Around the world, people are experiencing both the subtle and stark effects of climate change. Gradually shifting weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events are all clear and devastating evidence of a rapidly changing climate.

The impacts of climate change affect every country on every continent. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires and droughts threaten the world's food supply, drive people from their homes, separate families and jeopardise livelihoods. And all of these effects increase the risk of conflict, hunger and poverty.

Visible evidence and climbing numbers demonstrate that climate change is not a distant or imaginary threat, but rather a growing and undeniable reality.

The situation is dire.

The latest United Nations climate change report warns that our window to address the threat is shrinking rapidly.

And it's people living in poverty who have the most to lose.

Read on to learn more about how climate change triggers conflict, exacerbates hunger and poverty, and what Mercy Corps is doing to help communities become more resilient in the face of change.

What are the biggest effects of climate change?

Climate change places compounded stress on our environment, as well as our economic, social and political systems. Whether it comes in the form of unbearable heat waves, harsh winters or extreme weather events like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico or Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe, climate change undermines development gains and leads to shortages in basic necessities like food and water.

“PeopleIn March 2019, Cyclone Idai torn through communities in southern Africa, wiping out homes, crops and important infrastructure like roads and bridges. Here, families in Zimbabwe attempt to recover their belongings from the wreckage. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Climate change threatens the cleanliness of our air, depletes our water sources and limits food supply. It disrupts livelihoods, forces families from their homes and pushes people into poverty.

Research suggests the planet has lost around one-third of its arable land over the past 40 years, in large part due to climate disasters and poor conservation, and every year more trees and soil are lost. More than 1.3 billion people live on deteriorating agricultural land, putting them at risk of depleted harvests that can lead to worsening hunger, poverty and displacement. Soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming.

And natural disasters are becoming increasingly frequent and destructive. The number of people affected by natural disasters doubled from approximately 102 million in 2015 to 204 million in 2016. Fewer people were affected in 2017, but at a higher price, with the year’s events costing a total of £271 billion and driving a 49 percent increase in economic losses over the previous decade. These damages can be nearly impossible for families living in poverty to overcome.

As climate events worsen, people are also threatened by more gradual changes, such as climbing temperatures and declining rainfall.

Droughts alone have affected more than 1 billion people in the last decade, and the damage hits the agriculture industry — the primary source of food and income for many people in developing countries — particularly hard. Between 2006 and 2016, more than 80 percent of drought damage was absorbed by agriculture, and 2017 data from the World Bank reported drought has wiped out enough produce to feed 81 million people every day for a year since 2001.

As these situations grow more desperate, food shortages could also force families to leave their homes and migrate to other countries.

Climate change is one of many root causes of conflict around the world: it leads to food shortages, threatens people’s livelihoods, and displaces entire populations. Where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, threats to the stability of states and societies will only increase.

Who is most affected by climate change?

An infographic stating that three out of every four people living in poverty rely on agriculture to survive.

While everyone around the world feels the effects of climate change, the most vulnerable are people living in the world’s poorest countries — like Haiti and Timor-Leste — and the world’s 2.5 billion smallholder farmers, herders and fisheries who depend on the climate and natural resources for food and income.

Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons, and natural disasters disproportionately threaten these populations, increasing their risk and their dependency on humanitarian aid.

A young woman and man work in a small field of lettuce.Juliana, 24, and her brother Estanislau, 35, work their family’s farm in Timor-Leste. The family relies largely on their crops of coffee, greens and vegetables to survive. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Nigerien women at their farm.Every year, farmers in Niger must cope with the hunger gap — a period of time when the year’s food stores have been depleted but the next harvest is not ready. Climate change has lengthened the dry season, and, with it, the time when families must go without food. Mercy Corps is working with farmers like these to grow hardier crops and help strengthen their families. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Three out of four people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. For these people, the effects of climate change — shifting weather, limited water sources and increased competition for resources — are a real matter of life and death. Climate change has turned their lives into a desperate guessing game.

As the effects of climate change increase, so will their desperation.

How does climate change increase conflict?

A herder stands with his cattle in Nigeria.Longstanding tension between farmers and herders in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" region has recently been exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Thousands have been killed and displaced by a surge in violence and reprisal attacks, in large part over diminishing resources like land and water. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Conflict is the primary cause of poverty and suffering in the world today. And it’s exacerbated by climate change.

By amplifying existing environmental, social, political and economic challenges, climate change increases the likelihood of competition and conflict over resources. It can also intensify existing conflicts and tensions.

A displaced woman waits with a crowd of people to receive a cash distributionClimate change contributes to instability that regularly drives people from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here, 65-year-old Deodat (centre) waits with other internally-displaced people to receive emergency cash from Mercy Corps. PHOTO: Elizabeth Dalziel for Mercy Corps

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, shifts in the timing and magnitude of rainfall undermine food production and increase competition for remaining arable land, contributing to ethnic tensions and conflict.

And in places like central Nigeria and Karamoja, an area of land that straddles the border of Kenya and Uganda, where resource scarcity has been a long-standing challenge, climate change has further reduced pasture and water resources, increasing competition and resulting in violence, such as cattle raiding.

But while climate change can lead to conflict, it can also provide an opportunity for collaboration. These challenges present a unique opportunity for collective action and cooperation in order to mitigate the impacts. For some communities, food, health and lives will depend on cooperation over conflict.

In Uganda, Mercy Corps is helping one South Sudanese refugee form a friendship without borders ▸

What’s the relationship between hunger and climate change?

Climate change threatens the world's food supply.

Floods and droughts brought on by climate change make it harder to produce food. As a result, the price of food increases, and access becomes more and more limited, putting many at higher risk of hunger.

A young girl stands outside her home in rural NigerFati, 8, lives in an area of Niger where food insecurity driven by land degradation and unseasonable rainfall has been made worse by nearby conflict that has displaced people and disrupted market activity. “We fight every day to keep having something to eat,” says Fati’s mother, Hani. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Undernutrition is the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century. The number of undernourished people in the world has been increasing since 2014, reaching nearly 821 million — a staggering 11 percent of the entire global population — in 2017. The vast majority live in developing countries — research shows hunger to be particularly on the rise in South America and almost every region in Africa. More than 30 percent of people in eastern Africa faced hunger in 2017.

Much of the increase is linked to the growing number of conflicts, which are often exacerbated by climate-related shocks. According to the 2019 Global Report on Food Crises, more than 113 million people in 53 countries were plunged into crisis levels of hunger in 2018; two-thirds of them were in places affected by conflict or insecurity. And climate and natural disasters alone triggered food crises for an additional 29 million people — mostly in Africa — with shocks such as drought leaving them in need of urgent assistance.

How does climate change create refugees?

“An

Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and prolonged drought force millions of people to lose or move away from their homes every year in search of food, water, shelter or jobs.

More than 60 percent of all new displacements last year were the result of weather-related disasters, with a total of 17.2 million people around the world being driven from their homes by shocks like drought, hurricanes and landslides — almost 50,000 people every day.

A damaged building in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Puerto Rico.Tens of thousands of families left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017. Because of climate change, Puerto Rico is at an increased risk for devastating storms like Maria, putting people, livelihoods and homes at risk. PHOTO: Jonathan Drake for Mercy Corps

Meanwhile, gradual changes brought on by deforestation, overgrazing and decreased rainfall slowly transform pastures to dust, destroy crops and kill livestock, effectively challenging the livelihoods of millions of farmers. These families are forced to leave their homes behind in search of basic necessities and new work.

And as sea levels continue to rise, those living near the ocean — about 40 percent of the world’s population — will be left with no choice but to move inland.

Almost all of these displacements are occurring in developing countries, where people have fewer resources on hand to cope with progressive shifts or sudden disasters.

What’s the forecast for the future and climate change?

The impacts of climate change continue to exceed previous scientific forecasts, worsening and multiplying at dramatic rates that will only be amplified in the years to come.

A woman uses a small pitcher to collect water from a hole she dug in a dry river bed.In Ale, Ethiopia, 40-year-old Manase collects water for her family from a hole she dug in the dry river bed. There is no water in the river during the dry season, so Manase must dig to find it. “The water problem in our village is very serious,” she says. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Access to clean water is likely to become even more limited, and the risk of hunger and famine will become even greater than it is today. By 2050, climate change reportedly has the potential to increase the number of people at risk of hunger by as much as 20 percent. The majority of those at risk live in Africa.

Tens of millions of people are expected to be forced from their homes in the next decade as a result of climate change. This would be the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to kill an additional 250,000 people each year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress, while continuing to jeopardise clean air, safe drinking water and sufficient food supply.

How is Mercy Corps helping?

A Mongolian farmer.In Mongolia, dry summers lead to harsh winters called the “dzud,” where temperatures can plunge below zero degrees and kill vital grasslands. Mercy Corps is helping farmers like Enkh Erdene improve the productivity of their cattle and farming operations. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Around the world, in places as diverse as Puerto Rico, Ethiopia, Mongolia and Indonesia, Mercy Corps is helping people adapt to climate change.

We do this work by considering the challenges each community is facing, and then developing localised solutions that will make the biggest impact. In order to create real and lasting change, the social, economic and political realities underpinning climate change must be addressed, in addition to mitigating the effects on the ground.

Read more about our approach to climate-resilient development ▸

We focus on increasing the use of climate information in decision-making — improving individual, household and community capacity to cope with change. In some cases this means working with government and private sector technology companies to increase the ability to access the information they need to reduce their risks.

A female farmer in Myanmar.Farmer Mya Nwel, 57, waters her chili plants in Myanmar. Mercy Corps is providing technology to help her save water and fertilizer, as well as higher quality seeds. "Now our income has increased, and our harvests and crop quality has improved," she says. PHOTO: Mercy Corps/Ezra Millstein

We help farmers diversify their crops, learn new technologies, and redesign their farmland to maximise its productivity and protect the soil in the face of increasingly severe and frequent droughts. To support their work, we also help increase their access to banking services such as loans and savings, as well as insurance products to help protect their hard work.

REPORT: How investing in resilience helps fight drought ▸

A woman stands near a water reservoir in Kenya.Kaltuma, 30, looks out over a reclaimed water reservoir near her home, a pastoral community in Kenya, which has recently been hit by a years-long drought. Mercy Corps helped expand the water source to help families in the region survive the dry spell. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

We train herders on how to keep their animals healthy in drier conditions, and boost market systems that can thrive in a changing climate.

How we're helping herders build resilience in rural Ethiopia ▸

We teach communities how to better manage their natural resources, and help them build stronger homes and reinforce river embankments to make them less vulnerable to natural disasters.

A woman works in a sugarcane field in rural Nepal.Sarita, 54, works in her village’s sugarcane field in rural Nepal. Her indigenous community has repeatedly been displaced by flooding from the nearby river, but Mercy Corps helped them plant sugarcane along the river bank, which holds back flood waters and doubles as a source of income. Since the sugarcane was planted, the community has reclaimed 40 hectares of land. PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps.

We also collaborate with local and national governments to improve their ability to manage and prepare for weather-related risks. We work with government to improve the way water and land is managed, build and manage plans for improving disaster response, and support the development of policies and plans that reduce vulnerability to climate change.

CASE STUDY: A governance approach to building climate resilience in Indonesia ▸

We see the shared experience of climate change as an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration, reducing the risk of conflict. For example, in Karamoja, we are facilitating resource-sharing agreements and promoting cooperation between communities to reduce conflict, providing a space for people living there to pursue new types of work such as cooking, cleaning or construction.

How you can help

Our work to help communities adapt and adjust to climate change challenges is only possible because of people like you. With your support, we are able to reach more families with assistance and help more people build stronger, more resilient and peaceful communities for tomorrow. Here’s how you can help:

Donate today
Help us build more resilient communities.
Sign the petition
Tell Congress to reject cuts to aid.

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A hotter planet, a hungrier world

5 Jun

Ali, 49, taps his staff gently as he shepherds his goats across the dry ground near his home in rural Ethiopia. Drought has been hitting his area with more frequency and intensity these days, depleting water sources and baking the surrounding pasture into dust.

The air is hot, the land rocky and littered with animal bones — relics of livestock that couldn’t survive the extreme conditions. Ali has just walked 50 miles to find water and fodder for his herd. One-third of them starved to death along the way.

Nearby, Meftuha and her husband, Abdi, stare at the empty pond they once used for cooking, drinking and watering their animals. Because of the drought, Meftuha rises at 6 a.m. to begin the 5-hour walk to collect water from another area. She frequently faints of exhaustion, but she makes the journey every other day anyway. They have already lost four of their five oxen; they can’t afford to lose another.

As rural pastoralists, Ali, Meftuha and Abdi depend directly on the land for life: to grow food, to provide clean water, to keep their animals healthy and to earn money. But climate change has turned their livelihoods into a desperate guessing game, disrupting the rain they've trusted for decades to keep them alive.

How we're fighting hunger in Ethiopia ▸

Three out of every four poor people on earth rely solely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. For each of them, the effects of climate change aren’t just an inconvenience: they’re a matter of life and death.

And this painful reality isn’t isolated to Ethiopia. It’s happening on every continent across the globe — with particularly destructive consequences for the people who have the least ability to endure it.

A global threat that punishes the poor

Flooding, like that caused by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, can wipe away crops, homes and tools — but it can also contaminate clean water sources and spread disease, creating another layer of risk. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Hurricanes in Haiti. Flooding in Timor-Leste. Drought in Nigeria. Heatwaves in France. The impacts of climate change are playing out in warmer temperatures, erratic rains and unpredictable weather patterns that pummel nations around the world.

And they’re intensifying: The rate of weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. The last drought in Ethiopia was the worst in 50 years. Nearly 90 percent of the 254 floods that struck Timor-Leste between 2002 and 2013 occurred in just the last four years. In 2015, China experienced 20 percent more natural disasters than its annual average over the previous decade.

Before we helped Mya, 57, learn how to conserve water and use better farming practices in Myanmar, she struggled to grow quality crops and earn enough income. Photo: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

“No one is safe, irrespective of region,” says Selvaraju Ramasamy, a climate change officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). “Climate change affects everybody.”

“In particular, the poorest are the ones suffering the hardest consequences of climate change, due to their extreme vulnerability and limited capacity to adapt.”

When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, many fisherman like Niño lost their boats. When Niño realised his family’s means of survival was gone, he cried. “I have no money. I am poor and I can’t even work now,” he said. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps, 2013.

According to the Climate Vulnerability Monitor, climate change kills an average of 400,000 people per year already, largely by climate-related hunger and disease. And that number is projected to increase to 632,000 by 2030. Eighty percent of these deaths are in low-income populations that have contributed little, if anything, to the warming of the globe.

The fight to survive the hunger gap in Niger ▸

In poor communities around the world, farmers increasingly toil under hotter conditions. Failed rains reduce food supply. Rivers dry up. Heat waves kill thousands at a time. Flooding wipes away crops, destroys soil and contaminates clean water supplies. Hurricanes raze homes and demolish fishing boats and tools. People lose their livelihoods. They become more vulnerable. They go hungry. They die.

Climate change and hunger

Around the world, farmers like Concy must find ways to grow reliable crops amidst a changing climate. In Uganda, we’ve introduced chia, which is easier to grow and harvest than other traditional seeds. Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

This destruction has a major impact on food. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports climate change has already affected the global food supply, and threatens to decrease yields even more by 2050.

“The impacts of climate change on agriculture, and the implications for food security are alarming,” Ramasamy says. “In many regions, agriculture and food production are already being adversely affected by increased temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns.”

Wheat, a staple crop grown around the world — and one that is sensitive to heat — is one of the first to be affected. The IPCC projects wheat yields could drop 2 percent a decade going forward. Maize, another staple food in many developing countries, has already suffered negative impacts as well.

Fighting hunger in Uganda, one garden at a time ▸

“Farmers depend on certain seasonal patterns so they know when to plant and when to harvest,” says Eliot Levine, deputy director of Mercy Corps’ environment, energy and climate team. “But those conditions are changing rapidly. In many of the places Mercy Corps works, climate change is making historically more stable climate contexts much harder to predict.”

Farmers don’t know when to plant crops anymore. The rain comes later than it did the year before, or it’s more sporadic. Warmer temperatures mean a crop a farmer once relied on no longer grows in his fields, because it’s too hot for that crop to flourish.

Changing temperatures can affect the availability of diverse foods, like fruits and vegetables, which can have disastrous consequences on health and nutrition. And as supplies dip, prices increase, making it even more difficult for families to get what they need.

Extreme weather, like failed rain, storms or flooding, can also hurt or halt food production. FAO estimates more than a quarter of all damage caused by climate-related disasters in developing countries between 2006 and 2016 was to the agricultural sector.

In the worst cases, these events can completely destroy a person’s means of survival. The drought in Ethiopia? It killed up to 90 percent of crops in some places and at least 1 million cattle.

More than 80 percent of Ethiopia’s population relies on rain-fed agriculture, like farming, herding and connected trades, to survive. When the drought hit last year, Mohammed’s veterinary business, which serves herders, came to a standstill. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

“The drought has severely affected this area,” says Mohammed, 45, a local veterinarian. “We had to feed goats like we feed our children. There was no pasture, there was no farming, there was no foraging. Before the drought I had so many ambitions to increase my outlet, to increase my services and the area I operate. But due to the drought everything has stopped.”

In Ethiopia and elsewhere, livestock and crops are savings, sources of food and means of income. So when the drought wiped out a third of Ali’s cattle, it took a third of his entire livelihood with it.

That’s why, for vulnerable people like him, one failed crop or disaster can mean an immediate plunge further into poverty and closer to starvation. Most are already barely subsisting to begin with and simply have no other assets to depend on.

To end hunger and poverty, then, we must tackle climate change, too.

Building resilience against climate change

Meftuha (back) collects water from the rehabilitated pond near her home in Ethiopia. A nearby water source saves her 10 hours of walking and ensures her family has the resources they need to care for their animals. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Back in Meftuha and Abdi’s village, the pond that provides their water is nearly full, returned to a sparkling reservoir in the middle of the vast desert. Mercy Corps rehabilitated it to help contain and filter the rain that will fall when the rainy season returns, and provide more stable access to the vital resource.

Nearby, Mohammed mans the rural veterinary pharmacy we helped him open, which has improved pastoralists’ access to the medicines and vaccines they need to keep their animals healthy, particularly during emergencies.

And Ali has newfound access to banking — thanks to a mobile banking app we connected him to — which means all his money isn’t invested in his livestock, and he can send cash to his children attending university around the country.

“I want a good life for me and my children,” Ali says. “I want to send them to learn, to get educated. I want them to work and start a business. In the future, I want to live a good life.”

Colombia is just one place where we’re helping farmers diversify their crops and learn agricultural practices that make them more resilient. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

In Ethiopia and around the world, in places as diverse as Colombia, Mongolia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia, Mercy Corps is helping people adapt to the specific climate risks they face, because we know it’s a vital way we can help them build stronger lives once and for all.

We do this work by considering each community’s unique challenges, then developing localized solutions that will make the biggest impact.

We help farmers diversify their crops, learn new technologies, and redesign their farmland to maximize its productivity and protect its soil. We also improve access to weather information, so people can make informed decisions.

We train herders like Ali, Meftuha and Abdi how to keep their animals healthy in drier conditions, and boost market systems that can thrive in a changing climate.

REPORT: How investing in resilience helps fight drought ▸

We teach communities how to better manage their natural resources, and help them build stronger homes and reinforce river embankments to make them less vulnerable to natural disasters. And we collaborate with local and national governments to improve their ability to manage and prepare for weather-related risks in their communities.

CASE STUDY: A governance approach to building climate resilience in Indonesia ▸

As the effects of climate change worsen and multiply at a dramatic rate, this work is more important than ever.

“Climate change is happening,” Levine says. “It is already a significant driver of development challenges, and shocks and stresses that push people into poverty and keep them in poverty.”

“We don’t have a choice. It’s already affecting the places we work, and we’re never going to achieve our goals and objectives without addressing climate risks.”

How you can help

Our work helping communities across the globe adapt and adjust to climate challenges is only possible because of caring individuals like you. With your support, our teams in more than 40 countries are able to reach more families with assistance, and help more communities learn how they can grow stronger for the future.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us meet urgent food needs and help families around the world build a stronger, healthier future.

  • Sign the petition. Tell Congress to reject extreme cuts to humanitarian aid. Around the world, people are in need of lifesaving assistance. We must continue to support them.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to spread the word about the millions who need us.

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Fighting hunger in Africa takes more than food

6 Apr

Hunger: It’s not a new problem for many countries in Africa.

While food is a basic necessity for human life, the reasons why millions of people go hungry are complex.

Crops are failing in Ethiopia due to dry weather conditions caused by El Nino, leading to the worst drought in a decade and triggering a hunger crisis that is affecting 10 million people.

In South Sudan, political instability and widespread displacement due to violent extremism have combined to create a double threat to food security.

And in Niger, widespread gender inequality keeps good nutritional information and regular meals out of reach, especially for women and girls.

Donate

These are just a few examples of why solving hunger takes more than just food. Better farming practices, safer communities and empowered women—these are some of the key ways we work within communities to tackle food insecurity at its source and come up with solutions that ensure families have enough to eat today, and tomorrow.

In Ethiopia: Better business can create more food


A group participates in a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia. We've been working with local farmers and families in Ethiopia since 2004 to help them earn steady incomes and become more resilient to the impact of unpredictable weather patterns. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

We define food security as a milestone achieved when all people at all times eat sufficient, safe, and nutritious food and practice behaviours that promote both their economic stability and well-being.

In a country like Ethiopia, where 80 percent of the population relies on rain-fed agriculture for the food and income they need to survive, this means building resilience against El Nino, climate change and other unpredictable weather patterns.

We’ve been on the ground in Ethiopia since 2004, working with local farmers and families to help them access more food and earn steady incomes. And we are continuing to work within communities to strengthen their economies and communities, so they can overcome the 2016 drought and hunger crisis.

By supplying herders with animal feed, scaling up training and supplies for veterinarians, and connecting herders in hard-hit areas who need to sell animals with commercial livestock traders we are supporting livelihoods.

And to help the Ethiopian government overcome these cycles of crisis for the long term, we’ve partnered with them to manage their early warning systems network, which monitors things like rainfall and market information to predict food shortages before they happen.

In the agriculture sector, only crops that can weather climate change and drought will support food security in the long term.

In South Sudan: Conflict and hunger create vicious cycle


Civil war has displaced more than 2.4 million people in South Sudan and left nearly 3 million at risk for starvation as violence shuts down markets and interferes with planting. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Food security and conflict are deeply connected.

Take South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011. While South Sudan has agricultural potential, civil war since 2013 has stunted its development as a nation. More than 2.4 million people — nearly 1 in 5—are displaced due to violence.

Violence interferes with spring planting and then often closes markets due to safety concerns. What little food is available soars in price, and most displaced families have no money to buy any goods. These food shortages are the most dire in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states.

Since the conflict began, our team has been providing urgent food, water and sanitation assistance. We identify vulnerable families in otherwise inaccessible areas, ensuring critical assistance — vegetable seeds, fishing tools, water purification tablets, nutritional biscuits and other supplies — reaches the people who need it most.

And in more accessible places, we distribute cash so people can get the food and provisions they urgently need to provide safe, healthy lives for their families.

Local traders receive funds to resupply their market stalls specifically with the necessities that are most in-demand, including foods like sugar, flour, rice, beans and salt.

Having access to clean water is key to sanitation and food safety in places like South Sudan and Somalia, where violent extremism and political instability has displaced 1.1 million people.

Food shortages can also cause political instability. In 2007-08, rapid increases in food prices triggered unrest in 43 countries, including a government overthrow in Haiti, as populations reacted to rapidly rising costs for critical food staples.

In Niger: Empowering women empowers communities


Fati, mother of 5, was selected by the community to receive health care and nutrition training from Mercy Corps to pass on to fellow mothers in her village in Niger. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Research shows that when men and women both have access to information, education and financial resources, everybody wins. Over the past few years, women’s role in food security has come into sharp focus.

Women farmers produce 60–80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production.

In the home, women—especially those in rural areas—are primarily responsible for selecting food and preparing meals, playing a decisive role in their families’ dietary diversity and health.

Tell Congress: Improve the health of women and girls with Food for Peace

In Niger, 10 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition and 44 percent are chronically malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. Because women do most of the farming and feeding in Niger, we know that empowering them with information and resources is key to fighting hunger here.

Our work throughout Niger helps mothers learn about proper nutrition. We train village leaders who in turn train the village’s mothers about the importance of good food and fruits and vegetables to ensure the health of their children.

We also are teaching women new ways to keep animals healthy, manage new wells and use new farming techniques that make the most of limited resources and are more resilient to climate change.

How you can help

  • Donate today. Your support helps us provide emergency food, support farmers and encourage budding entrepreneurs so they can feed their families.
  • Support policies the help empower women and girls. Tell Congress to support policies that improve food security.
  • Share with others. The hunger crisis in Ethiopia and the ongoing conflict in South Sudan need our continued attention. Share this story with friends so they can learn more about how they can help create lasting change that stops hunger for good.
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    Life of a girl: Solar power lights the way for Lourdes

    10 Aug

    Of all of her siblings, 15-year-old Lourdes dos Reis is the most serious. She attends a nearby public school with the dream of becoming the Minister of Education someday — but, as the oldest child living at home, she has many responsibilities in addition to her schoolwork.

    Each day, with quiet determination, Lourdes collects water for the family, completes her chores and helps her mother cook. And when all that is said and done — long after the sun sets — she clicks on her solar lamp and begins her homework.

    We met Lourdes in rural Timor-Leste, where more than half the population, including Lourdes’ family, doesn’t have access to electricity. Instead, many people rely on expensive, unsustainable energy sources that drain their financial resources and give off harmful emissions.

    But Mercy Corps’ Energy for All programme is building awareness and distribution of solar energy products in impoverished areas like Lourdes’ village, giving families like hers an affordable, safe energy alternative that helps them save money and improve their living environments.

    The solar lamp her father bought through the programme has a special significance for Lourdes — she now has a reliable light source to complete her studies each evening after she finishes her chores.

    Follow Lourdes through her day and find out how solar power is lighting the way for her to have a bright, successful future.

    6 a.m.

    Lourdes wakes before her three siblings. Usually, 18 immediate and extended family members share their three-bedroom home, which is made of bamboo, cement, dirt floors and a tin roof.

    Lourdes sweeps the floors and tidies the home before grabbing a small towel and bar of soap and walking to a nearby water spot for a bath.

    6:45 a.m.

    She helps her mother, aunt and cousins with breakfast. The family uses a traditional three-stone open fire in the kitchen, which in Timor-Leste is always a separate house behind the main house. Lourdes gathers bananas and eggs from the storage area, then arranges the firewood and fans a spark to start a fire.

    They get two fires going because there are so many people to cook for. Soon the smoke is billowing out the window and curling up over the roof.

    7:15 a.m.

    It’s time for Lourdes to get ready for school. She can’t find her hairbrush so her mother helps her look around her tiny bedroom, which has one bed shared among four young female cousins.

    Lourdes is in a hurry now — if she doesn’t leave soon she’ll be late for class.

    7:30 a.m.

    With a thin notebook in hand, Lourdes leaves the house. “Every morning I go to school with my brothers and sisters,” she says.

    The walk takes about 30 minutes down a long winding road through the village. She holds her cousin’s hand and they gather neighbors and friends along the way.

    Lourdes drops the younger kids at the primary school and walks five more minutes to the junior high school.

    8 a.m.-4 p.m.

    Lourdes joins her class of about 25 kids. They have a lesson in Portuguese grammar today.

    Both of Lourdes’ parents beam with pride that Lourdes is receiving an education. “I would like all my children to go to school because I was not pushed by my parents to go to school,” her father Anenias tells us.

    Anenias does carpentry and sells coffee beans to support the family. He makes £405-600 (USD) a year if the coffee harvest is good — but only £81-200 if it’s not. Lourdes’ mother, Isabel, helps pick coffee and spends the rest of her day tending the family’s home and garden.

    “I push them [the children] to go to school so one day they can have something to put on their plates,” says Isabel. “Their smartness determines the size of their plates in the future. I want them to go to school so they can be smart for their own future.”

    4 p.m.

    As soon as Lourdes returns home, she and a few friends walk 10 minutes to the nearest water spout to collect water. “We help each other collect water,” she explains. “They help me, I help them.”

    If the spout is dry, there is another waterpoint farther away, but Lourdes prefers the closer one so she doesn’t have to carry the heavy water as far.


    The water spout is a metal hose that is situated at the end of a small spring. The kids play on a large tree nearby as they each gather the water their families need for the evening.

    Lourdes fills six gallon-size plastic containers for the family and brings them each back to a bench outside her home’s kitchen, where they sit until they’re used for dinner. There are normally two containers left over for breakfast, but sometimes she has to run and refill early in the morning, too.

    4:30 p.m.

    After dropping off the water, Lourdes picks up her homemade woven basket, straps it on her back, and collects cassava and sweet potato leaves near the house for dinner. With 18 people to feed, she has to collect a lot of leaves.

    4:45 p.m.

    Once back home, Lourdes heads into the kitchen to wash mugs, plates, forks and spoons for dinner. She dunks them into a bucket to wet them, scrubs them clean and rinses them in another bucket. She then stacks the clean dishes neatly on a tray and passes them to her mother.

    5:00 p.m.


    Lourdes helps her aunts, cousins and mother with peeling and cutting vegetables. Tonight they are cutting green beans they bought at the market, and boiling the cassava and sweet potato leaves Lourdes collected from the garden.

    Most of the women and young boys have already been in the kitchen for at least an hour, and the smoke is thick. It can only escape from the room through the doorway, a small window and the cracks between the room’s bamboo walls and tin roof.

    5:30 p.m.

    While dinner is still cooking, Lourdes sneaks some time to play hopscotch with her friends and siblings. “I like having lots of siblings because there are a lot of people to play with and help each other,” she says.

    The kids giggle and talk for as long as they can, until Lourdes’s mother calls her back to the kitchen to help finish and serve the dinner.

    8:30-9:30 p.m.

    After the family eats, Lourdes is finally able to focus on her schoolwork. She gathers her notebook and textbooks and sits down at a table to study. It’s after dark, so she uses the solar lantern her father recently purchased through Mercy Corps’ Energy for All programme.

    “I got the light so my children can study. And if one day the light is broken, I will buy it again,” says Anenias. “In the old days we used candles and kerosene lights only.”

    But candles, kerosene and other nonrenewable energy sources, like wood and batteries, are a constant financial burden for families like theirs. Solar units only need be purchased once, so they offer an affordable, sustainable solution that helps low-income people better utilize their funds.

    With the savings, they’re able to invest more in their homes, livelihoods and futures, like Anenias is doing.

    “Since we got the light, we have reduced our expenses. We are now saving a little bit of money to send our kids to school,” he says. “With good fortune, Lourdes can become the Minister of Education and I’ll be happy. If she becomes a nurse, I’ll be happy too.”

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