What Works: Farmers Adapting to Climate Change

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By Matt Styslinger

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

Niger: Field Visits with ICRISAT

Climate change is adding even more pressure on already stressed food systems (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

As world population and incomes continue to grow, food systems are increasingly stressed. Unprecedented demand for agricultural products and shrinking land and water resources threaten global food security. Climate change adds even more pressure on these already enormous challenges. An increasing number of extreme events—such as droughts and floods—are expected around the world, which will affect food supply. There is an urgent need to promote agricultural methods that sustainably increase productivity and resilience to environmental pressures. According to the Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Jacques Diouf, “We will not achieve food security without serious investment in climate change adaptation.”

Climate scientists are predicting increasingly dry conditions in much of sub-Saharan Africa in the coming decades, making innovations in irrigation efficiency more important than ever before. Research conducted by David Bainbridge at The University of California, Davis has found that buried clay pot systems are one of the most efficient irrigation methods and is ideal for small-scale farmers. This ancient form of irrigation uses a buried, unglazed clay pot filled with water to provide controlled irrigation to plants. The water seeps out through the clay wall at a rate that is influenced by the plant’s water needs. In India, for example, melon yield with the buried clay pot system was 25 tons/ hectare using only 2 cm of water, compared with yields of 33 tons/ hectare using 26 cm of water with flood irrigation.

As sea levels rise and farmland becomes degraded and more scarce seaweed farming could help to mitigate greenhouse gases (GHGs) while also supplementing incomes, providing dietary protein, and offering a sustainable source of biofuels. Unlike many crops, seaweed farming does not require fertilizers, forest clearing, or heavy use of fuel burning machinery–and production of seaweed does not significantly contribute to global GHG emissions. Seaweed grows quickly and has a rapid rate of photosynthesis. This means that it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more rapidly than most plants, helping to better mitigate GHGs.

The industrial countries most responsible for the climate changes are beginning to recognize an obligation to assist poor populations in preparing for, adapting to, and becoming more resilient to higher temperatures and more extreme weather events. International agreements are being developed and promoted that highlight farmers’ roles in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change. The UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme (UN-REDD), for example, was launched in 2008 to develop a program where companies who are polluting the air and contributing to climate change pay small-scale farmers for the carbon stored in their trees, crops, and soil.

These innovations are encouraging as unprecedented climate changes take hold around the world. But we know many more are out there. Do you know of any initiatives that are helping farmers adapt to climate change?

Tell Nourishing the Planet what works and have your answers featured on the blog. Email me at Dnierenberg@Worldwatch.org or tweet your response to @WorldWatchAg.

To read more about ‘What Works,’ see: What Works: Improving Food Production from Livestock, What Works: Feeding Cities, What works: Connecting Farmers to Market, For Sharing the Best in Agricultural Innovations, Nourishing the Planet Asks You: What Works?, and For Sharing the Best in Agricultural Innovations, Nourishing the Planet Asks You: What Works?

Matt Styslinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

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