When the sun is shining, our crops are dying

When I was in Sinoe County in Liberia last month with a team of researchers, we spoke with farmers in some isolated villages about changing weather patterns, and unpredictable rains. It seemed like a local problem, one that few knew or cared about.

Words: Chris Hufstader. Photos: Anna Fawcus.

Komonah, a small town in Liberia’s southern Sinoe County.

When I got back to the US, I was suddenly more aware of all the extreme weather stories in the news here, like the horrible drought in California over the winter and the devastating tornadoes in the Midwest in April.

Then the US government released the National Climate Assessment on 7 May, it is reporting that the negative effects of climate change are already hitting the US. It’s a problem for now, not the distant future. The world is a little smaller now, as climate change problems are here as well as in poor countries, where the most vulnerable people live.

The farmers in Komonah, a small town in Liberia’s southern Sinoe county, told me they are accustomed to seeing precipitation from April to October. Lately, however, that schedule seems to be changing.


Chris Hufstader in a conversation with Jackson Doe and Daniel Krakue.

“Now it rains to January or February,” the farmers told me. Then, they say that in 2009 the rains came early and the farmers weren’t ready. So they shifted their schedule for 2010. Unfortunately, the rains came at a completely different time, later than the previous year and closer to the normal time.


Eric Pyne, 31, is a married father of five boys and a farmer in Komonah village.

“We have crops that die without rain, like cassava and rice,” one farmer says. Too much sun, he says almost poetically, can be deadly for their crops: “When we see the sun shining, we know our crops are dying.”


Jackson Doe, 35, farms rice and cassava in Komonah village.

Now farmers like Jackson Doe and Eric Pyne in Sinoe County worry that they no longer know when to expect the rain, or when to plant. Part of this is due to the fact that Liberia’s forested regions are now under siege. Palm oil plantations are clearing the forests to expand their production, releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect that is warming the oceans and changing the climate.


Part of an oil palm plantation in Sinoe County, Liberia, that has been recently cleared and is being replanted.

“We have noticed a dramatic shift in the weather pattern,” says Daniel Krakue, who works for a Liberian organization called Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development. “Nowadays we don’t have a specific month as to when the rain will start and when it will end. So that has caused serious problems as to how people will carry on their farming.”


Daniel Krakue, who works for Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development in Liberia.

Oxfam is calling attention to the way major food companies get ingredients like palm oil because it can contribute to climate change and make life more difficult for small-scale farmers like the ones I met in Komonah.

This is a global problem, but there is a clear role we can all play to improve the situation: Call on companies like Kellogg and General Mills, two companies with among the worst record on climate change, to ensure their suppliers aren’t knocking down tropical forests and making climate change worse. You buy what these companies sell, so you have the power to compel them to act! Add your voice.

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