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ViewChange: Africa's Last Famine
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ViewChange: Africa's Last Famine
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Hardest Hit: Vietnam
This World Food Day is marked by one of the worst famines in recent history. But, with the right planning and a few new ideas, it could be the last. Get the latest from the Horn of Africa and beyond in this special report from Oxfam America and ViewChange.org.
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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
Next up: as drought and famine threaten the Horn of Africa, one farmer fights to guard her livelihood against a changing climate. See who's working in Africa and around the world to prove that hunger isn't inevitable in an all-new report from Oxfam America and ViewChange.org.
VOICEOVER
ViewChange is about people making real progress in tackling the world's toughest issues. Can a story change the world? See for yourself in ViewChange: Africa's Last Famine.
VOICEOVER
The Horn of Africa is in crisis. This season, the rains failed throughout much of the region, triggering in places the worst drought in 60 years. The result? Thirteen million people affected; 1.8 million Somalis alone displaced; families losing hundreds of thousands of animals they need to survive. Aid groups and governments around the world have scrambled to help. But with 750,000 people facing starvation, experts find themselves asking one question over and over: how can we make sure this famine is the last? The answer to that question might be captured in a single idea: resilience. For rural farmers, surviving this drought is the priority. Trying to build reserves for the next is overwhelming. But the public and private sectors have some new ideas to give rural families financial security to outlast the next emergency. Northern Ethiopia has been spared the worst of the crisis, but farmers here have seen their share of drought in the past. In one village, Adi Ha, farmers are experimenting with a new program -- one that lets them trade work for insurance against bad weather. Oxfam America has been following one farmer there for two years. Writer Coco McCabe brings us her story.
TITLE
Medhin Reda, Oxfam America, Ethiopia
COCO MCCABE [Writer, Oxfam America]
In my mind's eye I see Medhin Reda as I saw her one afternoon in Adi Ha a few months ago. She's heading to her field of teff. The shoots are new and fragile. But the tiny seeds they eventually produce will help feed her family. The rain has come, but the harvest is never certain. As a writer for Oxfam America, I'm often sent to cover humanitarian emergencies. But in 2009, I went to northern Ethiopia to report on a pilot program designed to help farmers cope with drought. And it was on that visit that I first met Medhin. I had gone to her village to learn about teff and the challenges of growing it in a changing climate. Teff is Ethiopia's staple grain, rich in nutrients. Farmers across the country cultivate it, and it serves as the basis of a bread called injera, much-loved in Ethiopia. It's flat, like a pancake, and made from fermented batter, which gives it a slightly sour taste. But in this rugged region of Tigray where Medhin lives, drought is always a worry. Coaxing crops from the ground is never easy and teff is labor-intensive. Though the rain was falling regularly in early August, no one knew if it would continue to the harvest. If the rain fails, so do the harvests and that means families don't eat. It's that constant uncertainty that farmers like Medhin live with, an uncertainty that can turn instantly grave because here, poverty leaves no room for mishaps.
MEDHIN REDA [Farmer]
Teff requires a lot of effort. We have to plow it three to four times and when the soil is softer, we add seed and fertilizer. As you can see, it has fertilizer and we planted good seed and that is why it looks good. Later on, the crop is taken to a grinding mill and ground. Some of the flour is mixed with water and fermented for two or three days and finally baked and made into injera. And it becomes good food and the main dish for our life. Teff is the most pure food.
COCO MCCABE
A single mother with just two of her five children still at home, Medhin lives in a small compound surrounded by a stone wall. She and one of her daughters hauled every stone for their house here. I listen to the pounding in her mortar and the wind stirring the stalks of corn and wonder how does uncertainty shape the life of a family, of a community? One answer is to migrate, like Medhin did during the time of a terrible famine that hit Tigray and other regions of Ethiopia in 1984. To survive, she fled to Sudan for a year with her young son and infant daughter. But another answer is in the stones of Medhin's compound. It's in her carefully weeded fields and in the trust she puts in her children. The answer is work: a determination to build, to plant, to harvest, to thrive, step by step. That work ethic runs deep in Adi Ha, and for some of its farmers hard work produces a cushion of cash. Those farmers have access to irrigation. Their harvests are guaranteed, whether it rains or not. But for Medhin, who doesn't have the benefit of irrigation, all of her work has gone into the day-to-day survival of her family. She's never had the luxury of a cushion. That's a reality that poor farmers around the world face every day. What do they do if drought kills their crops or floods wash out their fields? How do you help people soften those blows and build their resilience? That's what drove Oxfam and a group of partners to develop an initiative aimed at helping small farmers build their resilience. What they came up with not only improves farmers' access to credit, it provides them with insurance, something many of us in the developed world take for granted.
DAVID SATTERTHWAITE [Head, Rural Resilience Initiative, Oxfam America]
Now, everything you see around you here is insured, but in many parts of the world there is no insurance. So that service, insurance, is a core building block of what we call rural resilience. In doing this work, people often express doubts that we'll be able to address the underlying causes of the crises that we see again and again, like that today in the Horn of Africa. In order to do so we need to address the core issue, which is poverty. One way to think of poverty is continual crisis. We all need to be able to plan for the future. And that's the point of this initiative: to give people the opportunity to have confidence going forward.
COCO MCCABE
More than 13,000 farmers in Tigray bought weather insurance this year. Some, like Gebru Kahsay, also have access to irrigated land. Still, the insurance is a good investment, he told me.
GEBRU KAHSAY [Farmer]
We bought insurance as coverage and protection during a shock period. God forbid there's a shock. We do not want drought; we want abundance throughout the seasons. But in case drought occurs, we are covered. And I believe that is why the people are buying insurance.
COCO MCCABE
But what happens when people like Medhin are too poor to pay for a premium with cash? They can trade their labor for insurance. Mengesha Gebremichael, a program officer for the Relief Society of Tigray, told me that farmers themselves came up with that solution.
MENGESHA GEBREMICHAEL [Microinsurance Project Officer, Relief Society of Tigray (REST)]
This idea came from the farmers. We usually use the indigenous knowledge of the farmers. So In every aspect of our project our farmers are really participatory.
COCO MCCABE
I followed Medhin to a nursery one day where she selected a shawl full of tree seedlings to plant in a nearby watershed. The goal was to help to conserve the soil so farmers could plant there. The community work was part of her contribution toward her insurance.
MEDHIN REDA
I bought insurance because I am poor and I have to work to sustain myself. If I am successful enough, I will support myself, but -- if not -- I have insurance to cover me and I will be compensated. I have convinced more than seven people of how insurance can benefit all of us.
COCO MCCABE
But even before a payout, there is a tangible benefit and it has to do with a new feeling of confidence this initiative has inspired. Medhin's hard work was paying off. I could see her corn was growing tall. She owned a small herd of goats and both her youngest daughters were in school, something Medhin never had the advantage of herself. And because of the insurance, the fruits of her labor were not at risk. This time, when she gets ahead she can stay ahead. I was thinking about the miles of dirt track she treks each day to fetch water, to reach her fields, so many steps to ensure her family's security. I can't forget the answer Medhin gave when I asked how she was, two years after we first met. Hope was the answer she gave me. We have hope, Medhin said.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
So far this year, Medhin has been lucky -- Adi Ha has gotten enough rain and farmers are predicting a good teff harvest. But many other Ethiopians have been less fortunate, and most don't yet have the option of an insurance policy. So is weather insurance the silver bullet for avoiding these crises before they hit? According to Oxfam, it's part of a larger plan to give farmers a cushion when they need it most. As this animation explains, it's all a matter of managing risk.
VOICEOVER
Nine hundred and twenty-five million people on our planet are hungry. That's more than the population of the US, Canada, and the European Union combined. And within the next four decades, up to 200 million more people could face hunger as a result of climate change. Climate change brings uncertainty: sometimes too much rain, or too little. It means unpredictable harvests. And for many farmers, a healthy harvest is their only source of food and income. Without reserves, one failed harvest could mean families go hungry, kids drop out of school, and people sink deeper into poverty, making it harder for families to plan for the future. Through a new partnership, Oxfam and the World Food Programme are tackling that problem together with Swiss Re. The program is called R4, the Rural Resilience Initiative. It gives rural families the opportunity to manage their own risks, harvest to harvest. It's based on the fact it costs less to manage risks than it does to provide relief in a crisis. The Rural Resilience Initiative: it encourages farmers to save, it improves their access to loans, and it provides them with a common tool many people in developed countries take for granted -- insurance. The insurance provides farmers with compensation for their crops when rain fails to fall. Originally called HARITA, the program started in Tigray, Ethiopia, with REST, one of the founding members. It offered weather insurance for 200 households that conventional wisdom said were too poor to afford it. The initiative allows the poorest farmers to pay for their insurance by working on community projects that improve local agriculture, reduce the impacts of disaster, and help them adapt to a changing climate. Through insurance for work they build irrigation systems, which help crops thrive during dry spells. They make compost to fertilize the fields. They reclaim the degraded environment by planting trees. And since work is one of a farmer's surest assets, by trading it for insurance, farmers with little else can build and protect their future. Farmers can grow their savings to cushion the hard times. They can secure the credit they need to buy the equipment and drought-resistant seeds that promise bigger and better crops. They can launch small businesses that will help feed their families and ensure their children stay in school. So when you invest in rural resilience, you're helping farmers, their families, and their communities become stronger. What started with 200 households has reached 13,000 over three years and will expand to three more countries, growing village-by-village, border-to-border. Managing risks costs less than managing a crisis. Rural resilience. It just makes sense.
FRANCES MOORE LAPPE [Writer and Activist, author of "Diet for a Small Planet"]
I say there's no food crisis because, in fact, there's enough food in the world for us all to eat well. There's actually more food per person produced today than when I began focusing on this 40 years ago. In fact, there's more than enough for us all, even on the leftovers - after waste, because people are too poor to store their food; or we throw it out, in the industrial countries, we don't eat it; so waste accounts for about a third of the possible food. But on top of that, only about half of the grain produced in our world goes directly to feed people. The rest of it goes first through livestock or now into producing fuel. So we have a tremendous amount of waste that is built into our food production system. So the real crisis is a crisis of the quality of human relationships -- how we share in power, so that all of us have a voice over the most essential things of life, including food.
VOICEOVER
Don't go away: when we return, farmers in Vietnam prepare for drought or flood using some new techniques that will help them feed their families either way.

Segment 3

VOICEOVER
The drought in the horn of Africa may be the center of attention today, but it's not the only region grappling with an unpredictable climate. Farmers in Vietnam are used to dealing with seasonal floods, but thanks in part to climate change, droughts are a fact of life now too. Vietnam is a prime candidate for the insurance programs being tested in Ethiopia, but in the meantime, uncertainty reigns here. This short from Oxfam shows how farmers are learning to weather droughts and floods alike.
TITLE
Hardest Hit: Vietnam, Oxfam America, Vietnam
HUYNH KHANH HOA [Water Management Expert, Bac Ai]
In the future, with more changes in the climate, there will be more droughts.
NGUYEN THI THU THUY [Aid Worker, Vietnam]
Because of the climate change, droughts almost happen every year, with different levels of severity. The people suffer a lot.
CHAMALEA BAC [Community Leader]
I'm highly concerned about global warming and the impacts of climate change. The weather changes make it hard to determine when it is time to plant crops.
TITLE
Vietnam: Bac Ai
VOICEOVER
Southeast Asia is known for its floods. But the unpredictable weather caused by climate change has also led to devastating droughts. In Vietnam, farmers who depend on rainfall to irrigate their crops struggle to earn a living and feed their families. The situation is especially difficult in the Bac Ai district in the Ninh Thuan province. This area has the hottest temperatures, least rainfall, and some of the worst poverty rates in all of Vietnam.
NGUYEN THI THU THUY
Bac Ai is one of the 61 poorest districts in the country, which received special attention from the government. More than 60 percent of the people in this district are living on an income of less than 12 dollars per month.
CHAMALEA BAC
I have lived here for more than 30 years; my family is a farming family. I am highly concerned about global warming and the impacts of climate change, because it has not only affected me, but also my community. Everybody is affected.
VOICEOVER
The Rag Lai people, an ethnic minority who make up most of the Bac Ai population, are among the hardest hit.
PI-NANG THI GIAO [Rice and Cashew Farmer]
My husband and I have a rice field, but we do not get much from it. We have five months of dry season and only two to three months of rainy season. Sometimes it rains too much, and sometimes it rains too little.
VOICEOVER
While many Vietnamese people are accustomed to managing floods, the Rag Lai people find dealing with droughts to be the real challenge.
PI-NANG THI MAI [Commune Chairwoman]
Climate change affects the people here, especially those who depend on agriculture for their incomes. When it's too sunny, there's no grass for the cows. Rice and corn die when there's too much sun. The water resources are drying out.
CHAMALEA BAC
After the drought, our family lost two and a half acres of corn and two and a half acres of rice. We lost two cows. People didn't have fresh water, so we had to take water from the streams, which is a little more than a half-mile walk from here. The quality of the water was bad; it caused skin diseases and stomach disease.
VOICEOVER
The Rag Lai people are working to adapt to harsher growing conditions. With the help of the government, they are bringing more clean water to their communities, and they are learning how to cultivate crops and raise animals that can survive dry spells.
HUYNH KHANH HOA
When this reservoir is completed, we can be in more control: increasing the water for irrigation when it is needed, or reducing it when it is not.
NGUYEN THI THU THUY
The local government provides the construction of the big reservoir, and from Oxfam's side, we support them with training to the local people to enable them to manage the water system effectively.
VOICEOVER
The local farmers are growing hardier crops, like certain varieties of rice, cashews and corn.
KATOR CHUONG [Rice and Cashew Farmer]
In the morning, my wife and I work on the rice field, and later we work in the cashew garden. Most of our food comes from the rice field. Oxfam's training showed us a technique for growing rice. I know more now. Before, I didn't know when it was the best time to plant the rice in the ground, and when to stop planting.
VOICEOVER
And in Bac Ai, they're also raising different breeds of livestock that need less water and fodder.
PI-NANG KHUYEN [Cow Farmer]
My name is Pi-nang Khuyen, I'm 22 years old and I'm a cow farmer. I don't have much education because my parents are poor. I'm happy to have the cow; once she gives birth, life will be easier. I chose to raise a cow because it is easier to take care of than other animals. The cow survives the dry season better here. I have to feed other livestock and give water three to four times a day. But for the cow, it's only two times a day.
VOICEOVER
For communities that have worked the land for generations, these strategies have helped make responding to the changing climate conditions easier. Using their new skills, the reservoir, and irrigation canals, farmers can continue to provide for their families doing what they know best: farming.
CHAMALEA BAC
We are learning how to adapt to climate changes. We are beginning to understand how to change our farming and crops. People are learning better ways to plant and raise livestock. All of this has contributed to increasing the incomes of the local people.
VOICEOVER
As World Food Day arrives, the famine in Somalia takes on a new symbolism. With food surpluses in so many parts of the world, famine in Africa or anywhere else seems simply unacceptable. Insurance is one tool to fight hunger, but there are so many more: fair access to land and water, an aggressive focus on climate change, and a pledge from governments and companies to invest in local farmers. The rains in Africa may or may not fall next season, or the season after, or the season after that. But perhaps by then, farmers there will have the resilience to endure it all.
FRANCES MOORE LAPPE
Let's be really clear that hunger is not a place, a place in Africa, or any place somewhere. Even in the richest country in the world, in the United States today, one in seven of us are dependent on food stamps. So let's think of hunger as a set of relationships that have just gotten completely out of whack. And we can right those relationships, we can help empower ourselves so that others can be empowered too, because the world produces more than enough for all of us to thrive.
VOICEOVER
Want to learn more about drought, climate change, or anything else you saw here? Head over to ViewChange.org/TV, where you can watch, read, and get involved in projects that are making a real difference. Watch the films you just saw, and over 400 more from around the world, at ViewChange.org/TV.