In Copenhagen, An Agricultural Innovator Warns Against Inaction

M.S. Swaminathan warns against inaction in response to Climate Change (photo credit: Ben Block)

M.S. Swaminathan warns against inaction in response to Climate Change (photo credit: Ben Block)

By Ben Block

The agricultural innovations advocated by plant geneticist M S Swaminathan led to the Green Revolution four decades ago. This questioning scientist, whose foundation and research institute is based in Chennai, India, does not shy from self-criticism: The intense use of fertilizers and heavy dependence on irrigation that allowed Indian farmers to double and triple their wheat and rice yields in the late 1960s had involved a sort of “mining,” Swaminathan has said, which he and colleagues never intended to encourage over the longterm.

A leader in the field of sustainable food security, whom the UN Environment Programme has dubbed “the father of economic ecology,” is still innovating today. During a speech at Agriculture and Rural Development Day, held in Copenhagen on Saturday, Swaminathan encouraged participants to think broadly about potential agricultural technologies and approaches that would ensure greater food production despite the droughts, floods, and overall weather uncertainty that will accompany climate change.

Swaminathan’s suggestions included:

–        Incentives that maximize the carbon sequestration potential of farmland (“carbon banks”) through agroforestry and soil;

–        Research into agriculture at sea level for farmers at risk by sea-level rise;

–        Develop groundwater sanctuaries that harvest and store rainwater during heavy rains for times of water scarcity;

–         Integrated governmental approaches that gather local expertise on climate, disaster response, agriculture, water services, etc and disseminate relevant information to farmers through mobile phone messages; and

–        Recognition that women will be more adversely affected by climate change, especially in areas where women bear greater agricultural burdens.

Most importantly, Swaminathan stressed the need to reduce greenhouse gases rapidly. “The consequence of inaction will be human suffering,” he said.

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