Published On: Mon, Sep 19th, 2016

Climate change now affects peoples’ eating habbits in Rufiji, says new study

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By Orton Kiishweko, Dar es salaam

Climate variability has led to reduced amounts of annual rainfall, thus affecting food productivity and consequently food shortages in Rufiji, a new study has found

As a result , this has led to changes in dietary habits among the people in Rufiji, according to the scientific study

The study, authored by Naomi Jones Saronga, Idda Hubert Mosha, Anna Tengia Kessy, Mangi Job Ezekiel, Alex Zizinga, Opportuna Kweka, Paul Onyango and Sari Kovats has appeared in BioMed Central.

It urges the government to look for strategies which would help people produce and have enough foods in their households.

The strategies , the reserchers suggest, can include using modern irrigation methods among farmers in Rufiji as of now they depend on rainfall which fails them due to climate variability. Also we recommend studies to be conducted which will assess the impacts of climate variability on nutrition quality of meals.

Examples of drought stressed maize

Examples of drought stressed maize

The authors cite improved understanding of the influence of climate variability on eating habits as required to manage health outcomes that could be produced.

Agriculture production is the main source of income to people in Rufiji district, where communities produce food for household and also for income.

Effects of climate variability and weather extremes include occurrence of floods and prolonged dry seasons, which are recently reported to be very frequent in Africa continent, affecting food production.

The study notes that prolonged dry seasons as well as frequent floods have been reported to destroy cultivated food crops in Rufiji district.

The study findings showed that respondents recognized changes in seasonal trends such as rainfall pattern and increase in temperature in the area.

Drought and floods reduce food production and cause shortages in households. Low and poor harvest of food crops is the major contributing factor in their farms of rice and maize, the main staple food crops grown amidst prolonged dry seasons. They reported existence of household food shortage which was not there 10 years ago.

Participants developed adaptation mechanisms that included reducing food quantity, eating of new meals which were not eaten before as a main meal such as cooked unripe mangoes and stiff porridge.

Household members decided to change eating habits as an adaptation strategy to the situation of food shortage. Some discussants acknowledged reducing number of meals, eating two meals a day instead of three or four as it was 10 years ago.

They said that as a coping mechanism, qualitative research has shown that households can modify their eating habits in response to food shortages. Staple diets eaten when food was plenty are replaced by less preferred diets, others reduce feeding frequency, and some households reduce food quantity in order to enable food supplies to last longer .

Studies that connect climate change and/or variability and food production are many. However, studies that connect climate change and/or variability and eating habits are lacking. Therefore, this paper assesses how climate variability influences the eating habits of Tanzanian rural households.

Rufiji is one of the six districts of the Coast Region in Tanzania. It is bordered to the north by Kisarawe and Mkuranga districts, to the east by the Indian Ocean, to the south by the Lindi Region and to the west by Morogoro Region.

The Rufiji River runs through the district, and it forms one of the biggest river plains in the country. The district covers approximately 14,500 km2, with a population of 217,274 (104,851 males and 112,423 females) .

Quoting from those interviewed, the authors gave an example of one discussant who said thus: “ in 1998 we experienced great flood in Rufiji, however, prior 1998, we experienced severe drought in 1997, which led to low harvests to the farmers. After that, the following year (1998) was when we experienced severe floods, in such people got little harvests from their crops, even those people living in valleys were in suspense and moved from the valleys and lived somewhere else.

A discussant stated:
In my memory, I remember year 1998 when there were floods and all crops were drowned, people brought some items to us as aids including wheat flour, at that time I was a young boy. Again, in 1999 there was a drought and at the end of 1999 there were bigger floods compared to those of 1998.

Majority of study participants confirmed that their eating habits had changed due to prolonged dry season that affects the district recently.

For example, one participant had this to say:

Eating pattern here has changed a lot because formerly we used to eat three times per day. Nowadays we eat two meals per day so that we can get something to eat in the evening because crops are not abundant so life is hard.

Another one had this to comment:

Eating habit has changed greatly because previously we used to harvest enough food crops and store them and so we prepare any amount of food we like… but as for now we harvest little crops which are not enough throughout the year due to this we are forced to buy food from shops and if you have a large family and have low purchase power you can end up buying little which won’t be enough for your family.

Another discussant said:

Eeh I mean like one kilogram of maize flour I divide it into two parts – one part I cook porridge in the morning as breakfast and the other half I prepare it as dinner so as to satisfy my children.

Another one commented:

As for me it depends I can eat twice or thrice per day. In the morning I can have my breakfast, in the afternoon I don’t eat and in the evening I get dinner like stiff porridge (ugali) and beans. It depends on what you get on that particular day.

Another discussant had this to say:

My meals depend on that day, because there are other days that are better off and I eat thrice per day, and where the situation does not allow me to have three meals I usually have breakfast and dinner only.

A discussant said:

Eating habit has changed because floods and droughts destroys our crops, and you prepare farms again for planting new crops not sure if they will be destroyed again…So eating pattern changes because we rely on farming to get our foods, now it’s different because we have to look for other ways to get our foods something different from what we used to rely on our farms for foods.

Majority of the discussants mentioned that they buy food from the shops most of the time since they do not have enough food from their farms due to floods and droughts.
One discussant commented:
Some people do piece works like farming and selling logs and timbers so that they get some money to buy some foods, so that is the situation we are living in now in Rufiji.

“Our study findings revealed a couple of changes that were brought about by climate variability in Rufiji. First of all, climate variability is reported to have affected food availability in Rufiji, hence affecting peoples eating habits with a notable change in the reduction in number of meals consumed per day due to food shortages,”noted the findings

On food security, this study revealed that households do not get enough food to eat throughout the year due to droughts, floods and insufficient rains in Rufiji.

The study recommends that additional research is warranted to assess the impacts of climate variability on nutritional quality of meals.

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