When we think of climate change, images of natural disasters like wildfires and floods are usually the first ones that come to mind.

But climate change also affects the way millions of people around the world eat and produce their food. Rising global temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall have made farming around the world more difficult.

In developing countries with limited agricultural and technological resources, climate change has reduced the availability of many staple crops. More recently, severe droughts in parts of Africa have scorched harvests, leaving many people dead or on the brink of starvation.

A new publication from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is highlighting the work being done in some developing countries to combat the effects of climate change on the daily food supply and traditional methods of food preparation.

A cookbook titled “Adaptive Farms, Resilient Tables” features traditional recipes from six countries: Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Haiti, Mali, Niger and Sudan. The cookbook details how food insecurity caused by climate change forced the people of those countries to adapt their farming and food production techniques in order to preserve their traditional way of eating.

Some communities in the featured countries benefit from the Canada-UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Facility, which is funded by a US$16.5 million contribution from the Canadian government. The initiative incorporated the six countries’ national agriculture and water management projects.

Planting rice in Cambodia

Planting rice in Cambodia's Sambo district. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

The cookbook, launched last month and available online in a condensed version, explains how the national projects helped communities diversify their crop varieties and food production.

Community vegetable gardens were among the biggest success stories, Jennifer Baumwoll, the project co-ordinator for the Canada-UNDP Climate Change Adaptation Facility, told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview. 

For example, gardens were equipped with drip-irrigation to increase production of banana, papaya and other fruits in Cabo Verde. In Haiti, the focus was on growing beans, pineapple, melons and eggplant, while gardens in Niger were planted with green maize, cabbage and cassava, a starchy root plant and a major food staple in the developing world.

Having access to new types of fruits and vegetables made traditional recipes more colourful and nutritious, Baumwoll said. In a number of cases, the vegetable gardens were run by local women’s collectives. 

Women in Sudan

Women working on a water supply project in Sudan. (Photo: UNDP Sudan)

Before the gardens and other crop management initiatives were introduced, people in regions affected by droughts or unstable weather patterns often ate basic meals prepared with few ingredients, Baumwoll said. Limited incomes also meant that few people could afford to eat meat.

The idea to celebrate the achievements of the agricultural projects in the form of a cookbook came from Baumwoll’s own experiences while visiting Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Haiti, Mali, Niger and Sudan.

“A lot of times, the conversation would start with food: ‘What did you cook last night? How is that different from what you cooked last year or last month?’’” she said. “How do you see the ingredients changing? Where are you getting your corn now?’

One of the recipes featured in the book is a “typical farmer’s lunch” in Niger. The dish consists of balls made of millet flour, sometimes spiced with ginger and cloves, and served in milk. Under the CCAF project, drought-resistant varieties of millet were introduced, preserving the staple crop.

In other cases, entirely new crops were introduced in some regions, which could be used as substitutes in traditional recipes.

In Haiti, where resilient crops like sweet potatoes and cassava were introduced as alternatives to cash crops such as coffee, farmers started to add new ingredients to meals like Kabrit Kreyol, a traditional meat stew. 

The cookbook also offers a primer on some typical dishes served in each country.


Steam curry, a Cambodian dish featured in the cookbook. (Photo: Andrea Egan / UNDP)

In Cabo Verde, for example, katxupa is a dish made with corn and beans and customized with additional ingredients depending on the region. In Cambodia, an herbal paste known as kroeung is a cuisine staple, used as a base for soups and various dishes. It comes in three different varieties: yellow, green and red.

The CCAF projects that inspired the cookbook have now come to an end, but Baumwoll said individual countries are forging ahead with climate change-fighting policies and the UNDP continues to work with developing countries.