The Role of the Small-Scale Farmer in Minimizing Climate Change Impact

Climate Change and Food Security

The State of Food and Agriculture 2016 has made it clear that the agricultural industry is currently at a point in time where the actions taken by farmers, development organizations, and governments today will directly affect the livelihood of millions in the future. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that “in order to meet the demand for food in 2050, annual world production of crops and livestock will need to be 60 percent higher than it was in 2006”. The remarkable challenge we have ahead of us, however, it to not only end hunger by 2030, but to also limit the impact of climate change. We must put our most sincere efforts into making our agriculture systems and local capacity as efficient and sustainable as possible.

In order to limit the global impact of climate change, it is imperative that the global temperature increase remains under 1.5 degrees Celsius. 81 nations of the world have committed to combat climate change and to adapt to its effects by signing The Paris Agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Coming into affect November 4th, the committed nations will begin efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, adapt their energy sources, and to enforce policies that lesson their impact on climate change.

Climate change and food insecurity are very interrelated global issues; they each are negatively impacting the other. Compared to a projection discounting climate change, the world will experience a 5-7% crop yield loss by 2050. As climate change becomes more predominant, we will see rising temperatures that limit crop growth, loss of freshwater sources that negatively impact aquaculture, and heat waves that adversely affect livestock. Likewise, agriculture contributes to at least 21% of global emissions worldwide, releasing carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. These effects will vary regionally, but by 2030 will negatively affect all four food security dimensions: access, availability, utilization, and stability.

  • In South America, climate change will greatly impact hunger in less-developed regions. Much of South America will struggle in aquaculture due to fish species moving southward, much more frequent and extreme tropical storms, and species extinction. Tropical forests will be affected by water availability, and rainfed agriculture will experience higher crop losses.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa will experience similar problems to South America. Because 95% of crops in this region are rainfed, the frequency of extreme wet and dry years will drastically decrease crop yields of the small farmers. Fishery employment is expected to decrease by 50%. Plants and animals will also undergo reduction in numbers region-wide.
  • Climate change will alter Asia’s agricultural zones northward and will limit rice and other cereal crop yields. Many countries in Asia will see coastal flooding as well as a loss of aquaculture and freshwater resources. Similarly to South America and Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia will experience biodiversity loss.

What Small-Scale Farmers Can Do

In the midst of a problem that is generally regarded as a policy issue, small scale farmers have a large role to play in decreasing the impact of climate change on agriculture and livelihood. There are several key actions that must be taken to address the constraints on agriculture by climate change:

  1. Strengthen small-scale farming systems. Farmers must learn how to adapt practices to changing climate, build adaptive capacity in implementing effective actions in changing situations, and must
  2. Diversify both their agricultural production and their income sources. Farmers need to diversify their crop so as to be able to withstand weather variation. They must also spread financial risk by diversifying how they are making their living.
  3. Manage natural resources in a sustainable way. Farmers must implement sustainable growing systems, such as FAO’s Save and Grow model, which cuts down fossil fuel use and doesn’t exhaust their resources. Agroecological production systems also efficiently utilize inputs (i.e. recycling biomass).
  4. Improve infrastructure, credit, and social insurance. Improved infrastructure ties into more efficient farming techniques. Support to risk management and diversifying finances allows farmers to adapt to changes in their markets.
  5. Reduce gender inequalities. Women face disparities in responsibilities, knowledge, and training opportunities in farming innovation. Rural women also face an increased workload when freshwater becomes scarce.

Though small-scale farmers may disproportionately bear the financial burden of reducing climate change impact, it is important to state that the costs of doing nothing greatly outweigh the costs of implementing these interventions. FAO’s Director-General Jose` Graziano da Silva believes “We have the opportunity to end hunger within our lifetimes. This is the greatest legacy we can leave to future generations”. Our actions today can lessen the impact of climate change and ensure a productive food system for the future.

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