At this juncture, the scientific consensus on climate change is pretty clear: the world is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s going to get a lot worse for a lot of people a lot quicker than we thought. Given the progressively more urgent calls to arms of past reports, the soon-to-be-released Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sure to paint an even bleaker, even more certain picture of what is to come. And as such, the question we all must ask ourselves will no longer be “what is the future going to look like?” but rather, “what are we going to do to survive an unfavorable future?” In other words, it’s about time we not just try to prevent climate change’s worst effects, but perhaps more importantly adapt to a warmer world.
Considering the central role of agriculture to human civilization, and how sensitive it is to variations in climatic conditions—including average temperature and rainfall changes as well as variable events like droughts, floods, and extreme weather—helping agricultural systems and farmers adapt is crucial. Of course, in doing so, we must respect the agency and capability of those that need to adapt to find and implement appropriate solutions that fit their own and their communties’ needs.
Indeed, endogenous agricultural innovation for a changing world happens every day, all over the world, when farmers get creative with the tools that they have to deal with the problems they face. For example, by experimenting with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)—a series of techniques that allow smallholders to increase rice yields with fewer costs and without resorting to Green Revolution-esque chemical crutches, 4 to 5 million farmers in 51 countries are seeing yields of one of world’s most important crops double. The success of these organic, low-technology techniques are most visible in the agricultural regions of India, where one farmer broke a world record in growing an impressive 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land. SRI techniques have also been used to successfully boost production of other vital crops like wheat, tomatoes, sugar cane, and yam.
There are simple and effective ideas like those involved in SRI being developed constantly by clever farmers around the globe, but the problem is: how do we get these ideas from farmer A, who has successfully increased her rice crop yield, to farmer B, who is desperate to do the same but can’t afford experimenting with untested techniques?
An India-based NGO called Digital Green has found a way to spread such ideas. Digital Green has pioneered a system that works with organizations already working on improving farming conditions, including established governmental agricultural extension programs, to train them to use video technology to more efficiently disseminate innovative ideas. By creating short videos of farmers who have mastered new techniques and screening them in nearby areas to neighbors who could benefit from them, Digital Green has been able to simultaneously increase rates of adoption of new techniques and decrease costs of agricultural extension. Additionally, in multilingual India, where Digital Green is concentrated, this localized approach has been particularly significant because of its ability to harness and deliver knowledge in the language of the farmers who need it.
Digital Green is still in its inception, but its system shows much promise for sustainable agricultural development. Moreover, the Digital Green model could very plausibly be used to communicate life-saving information when thanks to climate change, farmers can no longer trust traditional agricultural knowledge based on historic climatic conditions. Now a model of farmers helping farmers, it can easily become a model that enables climate change victims to help themselves.
At its most basic, adaptation to a warmer world will be about empowerment. Individuals in communities facing climate adversity, who see their food security threatened, will need to find creative ways to adapt. Enabling the diffusion of a diverse set of adaptation measures, tools like those promoted by Digital Green can provide both knowledge and strategies to adapt, hopefully strengthening bonds of solidarity between those affected and igniting the spirit of resiliency we will all need in the looming “Long Emergency.”