The other night my curiosity was piqued when I was watching a report on national TV linking the war with ISIS in Syria and Iraq with climate change. I admit my initial reaction was to roll my eyes as I listened to see how they were going to connect the dots on this one. It seems climate change is being linked to everything, but this is the first time I had heard about it being linked to war.
The person being interviewed said climate change had caused a drought in Syria and other parts of the region and crop failure was leading farmers and people living in rural areas to flee to cities where people are fighting about ethnic and religious differences. Not only has war led to chaos in these countries, but not being able to produce food has created unrest and made the people ripe for joining groups like ISIS.
The report went on to say that if there wasn't a drought, the farmers would be staying on their land, they would be able to feed their families and produce additional food to sell to others and the region would be more stable. The person being interviewed speculated that maybe sending more guns into an area that is already unstable is not the answer.
That got me thinking. I didn't realize there was a drought in Syria. Whether the drought is caused by climate change or not is not the issue here. The drought is real and I can understand how farmers not being able to produce food and feed their families and others can lead to chaos. What it sounds like the farmers in Syria and Iraq need is not to be armed with more guns but better farming practices and perhaps irrigation. But I'm not sure about the logistics of that. Sending university Extension agents into this region to teach farmers about no-till farming, hybrid selection, crop rotation and creating contour strips and grassed waterways to conserve moisture and help drill wells for irrigation, is probably not the answer right now. The risks are too great. The last thing I want is to turn on my TV and see one of my favorite Extension agents being executed by ISIS.
I'm not sure what the answer is to stabilizing Syria and Iraq. I'm sure the answer is very complicated. But what is happening in that region of the world makes me realize the wars that are being fought in the world now and going forward are not just about oil, but about food too. I believe the risk of unrest over the need for food will escalate as our world population continues to grow.
That said, maybe the answer is not to end war but to prevent it from happening in the first place. While it is too dangerous to send university Extension agents to Syria and Iraq right now, I think it makes sense for them to go to Central America, South America and parts of Africa (where there is no Ebola) to teach farmers in those countries at risk of war due to food shortages how to grow crops and raise livestock more sustainably.
Many Extension agents in Wisconsin already do this on a limited basis. I would expand the program by sending dozens of volunteers with each of them as well as Peace Corps and U.S. Agency for International Development volunteers who could stay for years in a country to work with farmers while the Extension agents return to the U.S. You've heard the saying -- you give a man a fish he eats for a day; you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime? The same is true with teaching farmers in third world countries better farming practices. It could lead to farmers in countries at risk being able to stay on the land, feed their families and sell their extra crops and livestock to others. In turn, that would cause less reliance on humanitarian aid from the United States and maybe help bring peace to our world.