Climate-Smart Agriculture: A Philosophy of Sustainability
The 21st Century has provided a number of obstacles. With improvements in technology, constant and instantaneous communication, a fluctuating economy and, especially, changes in the climate, it is becoming clear that people across the globe need to adapt to these economic, cultural and environmental changes. In no sector is this truer than in our agricultural communities. All of the changes mentioned have direct impacts on farms everywhere, and the drastic and sometimes violent environmental swings have become troublesome over the past decade.
Climate-induced changes in agriculture have already become noticeable in many regions and countries, and some of the future projections are startling. Some state that the temperature may increase by 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by midcentury, and reports from Nature Climate Change explained that significant crop loss and a lack of consistency in year-to-year production can occur at a temperature increase of just 3.6 degrees. Perennial crop production will become particularly difficult as temperatures rise. Since perennials require a chilling period (generally 32 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit) that depends on low outdoor temperatures, their yields could decline. Cherries, for example, need as much as 700 hours of chilling time, and temperature increases will compromise their production, as well as many other perennial crops.
Precipitation is also expected to change, although it will affect specific regions differently. A lack of precipitation is expected in the south and southwestern regions of the United States, leading to poor crop and livestock production, while in other parts of the world, there is an expectation for increased precipitation, potentially leading to poor soil conditions.
With changes in temperature and precipitation, weeds, disease and pests will become more pervasive. This is big news, because these are already the largest contributors to crop loss. While there is currently a noticeable spread of invasive weeds northward in North America, a mixture of high temperatures and moisture may also lead to an increased proliferation of disease and insects. The high temperatures may particularly increase the amount of pests that farmers deal with. Since insects hatch and develop as the weather becomes warmer, higher temperatures in the winter could change the time of year that pests hatch and increase their populations.
What can be done?
To help raise awareness on how the climate can affect food security and the economic viability of the agricultural industry, individuals, communities and organizations across the globe have begun to discuss and practice climate-smart agriculture.
Climate-smart agriculture is abstract in nature, and should be thought of as more of a philosophy than a hard set of rules and guidelines. The idea behind climate-smart agriculture is that the global farming community needs to invest time, research and money into technology and standards that can help to sustain and improve agriculture as the climate changes. Climate-smart agriculture aims to improve crop resilience and productivity, promote a clean, healthy environment and support future food security.
Some methods in-line with climate-smart agriculture include:
- Improved irrigation methods
- Using controlled environments
- Safer, more-effective pest control
- Improved fertilization
- Altered planting dates
A number of organizations have already pledged their support to climate-smart agriculture, both verbally and monetarily. Organizations, like The World Bank (www.worldbank.org) and Farming First (www.farmingfirst.org), have helped to spread the word through literature and conferences. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has produced a comprehensive and informative workbook entitled Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook, which can be found on their website, www.fao.org, and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, better known as CGIAR, has planned to provide 60% of its budget to helping 500 million farmers overcome climate change and transition them to more climate-aware practices.
As the climate changes and agriculture becomes more difficult, it is now more important than ever to consider and integrate climate-smart agriculture. Since the theories and practices behind climate-smart agriculture continue to develop, it is essential to stay up to date and we will do our best to keep you informed.