With the global population expanding and climate change accelerating, farmers and other people involved in food production must pivot to climate-smart technologies. This will help ensure food security year-round and ensure that food production doesn’t suffer under drought conditions.
Agriculture is vulnerable to climate change because of higher temperatures, erratic weather patterns, extreme weather events, invasive crops, and pests. This has led to lower crop yields, nutrition, and livestock production. Governments and farmers must invest more in adaptable practices to ensure fewer people go hungry. Globally, about 700 million people face food insecurity.
Conversely, agriculture contributes up to 29% of greenhouse gas emissions. Without climate-smart technologies, this could increase the effects of climate change. There is also a lot of food waste because of socio-economic factors, lack of proper food storage, and severe weather events.
Climate-smart practices and technologies that should be implemented
The evolution of food production is inevitable. Constant innovations mean agriculture has been changing periodically. However, more radical practices need to be implemented to adapt and mitigate climate change. There are also actionable changes that farmers can practise.
1. Using quality seeds of well-adapted varieties
Different regions develop varied seed and crop varieties resistant to extreme weather. These varieties are also designed to reduce their environmental impact. The most common qualities scientists generate include resistance to drought, salinity, and flooding. Various crops also need to be adaptable to the unique conditions they face.
For instance, some crops need to be resistant to frost during the pollination stage, high temperatures during growth, or heavy rains that erode or compress the soil. In addition, the shifting light rains and hot weather can lead to decreased germination, and varieties are needed that can withstand these extremes.
Seed systems within countries must ensure farmers have access to well-adapted varieties. National agricultural institutes and farmers’ cooperatives should preserve indigenous seed varieties that have naturally adapted to current climate patterns. Plant breeders can also take existing seeds and genetically modify them to ensure they meet the high qualities required by the current climate.
Governments must also invest in better awareness for farmers. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN has found that farmers are more receptive to changes when they are well-armed with knowledge. The government must also enable responsive seed delivery systems with strong and enforceable policies, strategies, and legal frameworks.
Growing genetically diverse crops resilient to climate change can help reduce stress on an agricultural ecosystem. Major grains such as maize, wheat, or rice are grown in monocultural farms. In natural ecosystems, biodiversity occurs naturally because plants have evolved to rely on each other for better survival. Having a farm with only one crop type reduces the crops’ ability to respond to major environmental changes. Monoculture farms also require heavy reliance on pesticides. When a parasite variant develops resistance to pesticides, an entire species of crops can be eradicated. Greater diversity of crops enhances farm resilience. It also makes it easier to control pests and parasites.
In-farm biodiversity also makes pollination more effective. In addition, it enables more efficient use of water, soil, and other natural resources. Different crop varieties can be grown if the farm has to grow one type of crop. Using crops harvested at different times can help farmers cope with erratic rainfall patterns. Farmers can also practise relay cropping, intercropping, or crop rotation.
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3. Integrated pest control
Climate change increases the spread of weeds, pests, and diseases. This is because of the depletion of natural host plants. Because of the globalisation of food production, invasive pests from different ecosystems adapt and dominate an agricultural ecosystem, threatening food production. Integrated pest control means using appropriate mechanisms to reduce the spread of existing pests. Pesticides are used at a controlled level to reduce soil poisoning.
Growing healthier crops and using natural pest management, such as predators, parasitoids, and antagonists, can help maintain ecological balance and reduce harm to human health. In southern Africa, a parasitic weed such as Striga has led to yield losses of grains and legumes. Using organic manure, crop rotation, and fallowing helped control Striga spread. However, monoculture and human population stress on arable land have frustrated efforts to control the weed. In western Africa, farmers reduced Striga infestation by preventing the production of new seeds, decreasing the seed bank of the weed by rotating non-host crops, and improving soil fertility.
4. Water management
Water management is critical to climate-smart agriculture. Farmers need to consider water management methods for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For farmers, this means enabling farming systems to cope with erratic rainfall. This includes increasing the capacity to store water in the soil, using reservoirs, water harvesting, enhanced infiltration, and access to groundwater.
Modern irrigation schemes can also implement better allocation mechanisms, reliable water delivery, and efficient water use. Rice schemes contribute to a third of agricultural emissions. Cultivating aerobic rice, avoiding water saturation when rice isn’t growing, and reducing flooding help reduce emissions and improve emissions. Governments and farming cooperatives must incentivize farmers to use and store water efficiently.
Read also: Irrigation As The New Solution To Food Shortages In Africa
5. Land management
Reducing the need to expand farms and grazing land can help boost sustainability. Increasing productivity on existing farms can reduce emissions and enable the soil to store more carbon. Balanced cycling nutrients by exchanging organic and inorganic matter in crop production and protecting soil is one of the most effective ways for farmers to manage their land. Soil protection can be done by crop rotation, covering the soil with a layer of crop residues, mixing mulch with soil, and growing crops with large amounts of biomass.
Read also: Agriculture: How Soil Testing Can Transform Small-Scale Farming In Kenya
Using suitable machinery to carry out farming helps increase productivity and efficiency. It also boosts efficiency in the extraction and transport of farm produce. Using smaller tractors reduces soil erosion, disturbance, and carbon emissions. In addition, using jab planters or direct seeders can reduce the environmental impact of using diesel tractors on small-scale farms. Timely access to harvesters, threshers, and harvesting permits reduces post-harvest loss. A case study in Zambia shows that conservation agriculture which utilises smaller tractors and other efficient mechanisms boosts production and reduces climate impact.
Having simple scientific tools can give farmers actionable strategies to combat climate change. Providing access to weather forecasting and early warning systems in the event of extreme events can help farmers take action and reduce the risk of food loss. Having monitoring equipment to record water use and soil degradation can help farmers adapt to the rapidly changing agricultural ecosystems.
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