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Plantains, Education and Climate Change

New research from the Congo Basin Institute has revealed links between climate change, plantain productivity and education levels in rural households in central Africa. The study charts a decline in yields of plantain – an important crop throughout west and central Africa – and predicts those declines will worsen due to changes in climate, and that, in turn, will adversely affect education.

Read more about the work in this article from Mongabay. Below, lead author Trevon Fuller, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA's Center for Tropical Research, talks about the impetus behind the study as well as its broader impacts:

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its most recent assessment of the physical, biological, and social impacts of climate change. The IPCC mapped a variety of such impacts in Africa, ranging from coral degradation in Madagascar to warmer temperatures in the Great Lakes Region. A curious feature of the IPCC map is that it shows no biological or social impacts in the Congo Basin. The lack of impacts is surprising because we know that temperatures are expected to increase significantly in the region. This leads to the question of whether climate change has had effects on biological and social systems in the Congo Basin, but these effects have not yet been documented.

We hypothesized that crop plants such as plantain might be sensitive to climate change due to their limited temperature and water tolerance. To test this, we analyzed plantain production in Cameroon over the past 20 years. The results were striking. The yield of plantain decreased 43% during this period, and the association with warmer temperatures was statistically significant. Importantly, the impacts of climate change on agriculture had cascading effects on social systems. As the plantain harvest plummeted, there was a decrease in school attendance by six months, likely because farmers had less money to spend on their children’s school materials. If present trends continue, by 2080 temperatures in Cameroon will increase by approximately 4° Fahrenheit, and school attendance will decrease by 1.4 years.

These predictions, however, are not a foregone conclusion. Instead, our analysis should be seen as a call to action for policies to mitigate climate change in the Congo Basin; for example, farmers could be taught to cultivate new crop varieties that require less water and have greater tolerance to heat.

A plantain farm in Cameroon.