As early as the 1990s, the Nobel Prize winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted a devastating range of climate change impacts around the world including an increase in the intensity and number of extreme weather events, forest die-off, melting glaciers and slow onset events such as rising sea levels with unimaginable disastrous consequences to agriculture and food security.
Farmers in many parts of the world nowadays face many challenges. Among them: meeting the ever increasing demand for adequate food supply; overcoming land degradation and diminution; reducing rural impoverishment or poverty; and, most important of all, coping with the impact of climate change on agriculture.
As the decision for a new international climate protection agreement moves from Kyoto to Bali to Copenhagen to Warsaw and Paris in 2015, what are some of the ways so far thought of to help farmers respond to the risks to sustainable agriculture and food security of climate change?
Farmers, savants share knowledge
For one, farmers with their reliable information about their immediate surroundings and scientists with their environmental data and technical findings ought to work together to share their complementary knowledge. Through new varieties and management techniques, scientists and farmers can develop strategies for adapting to the local effects of climate change.
Farmers need to diversify production and cultivate breeds that survive reasonably well in a broad range of circumstances and situations. Agricultural researchers should breed crops, livestock and fish for tolerance to stresses including heat, drought, insects and disease alongside improved land and water management techniques.
Other adaptation practices include draining flooded rice fields at least once a season to decrease methane emissions. Livestock producers can maintain fewer but better-fed animal stocks, and even change the species and breeds they raise. Agricultural emissions can be reduced through more judicious application of nitrogen-based fertilizer, development of alternative fertilizer additives and use of natural fertilizer such as manure and crop residues. Nitrogen-fixing crops such as legumes can also mitigate run-off and emissions.
In addition, legal initiatives to attain climate justice and education reforms to raise awareness of climate change issues are mitigation measures to lessen the impact of climate change. A seldom-mentioned Philippine law is the 1997 Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (RA 8435), which mandates regular monitoring of climate changes for the purpose of forecasting and formulating agriculture and fisheries production programs. Likewise, policy initiatives on climate change extends to cooperation efforts among concerned government agencies, LGUs, NGOs and international organizations as carried out by the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council before and after the catastrophe of the Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas through, among others, LGU preparedness plans, warning system, survival drills, provision of rescue equipments, humanitarian assistance and relief missions. Other mitigation initiatives relate to clean development mechanism and payment for environmental services which are actually tools for greenhouse gas emission reduction.
Be that as it may, it should be borne in mind that some strategies may decrease greenhouse gas emissions while contributing to global warming in other ways. For example, policies that disallow deforestation might increase emissions from farming.
Changing the composition of livestock might minimize methane production but increase carbon dioxide emissions through increased feed production. What is needed is an integrated approach to the net effects of methane, nitrogen and carbon emissions to assess the value of options available. It is also important to know that adaptation and mitigation strategies, which strengthen resilience of farmers to climate change are almost always mutually reinforcing. In that regard, synergies between and among adaptation, mitigation, agriculture and food security could be achieved through effective planning and implementation.
Fortunately, agriculture pushed by scientists has made its way into the climate change agenda. That means provision of funds for climate change adaptation and mitigation for agriculture and food security is well under way.