Climate change is all over the planet. We are witnessing what the world has never witnessed. Changes in the climatic environment and related factors are making farming unpredictable. Numerous reports have indicated the impacts of climate change on agriculture. Agriculture is highly dependent on the weather and thus makes it very vulnerable. At the same time, the ecosystem and the human race is highly at risk if this phenomena is left to thrive.
Climate changes include the increase in temperature, variation in rainfall, extreme and frequent droughts, storms, hurricanes, floods etc. There are crops that do well in high rainfall environment, other do well in moderate rainfall areas, others are able to adapt to dry spells. There would be positive and negative effects associated with climate change. One region might receive adequate rainfall while another might experience drought and floods. In regions already experiencing unfavorable weather patterns, climate change would worsen the situation. These regions would include arid and semi-arid areas.
Climate changes bring with it a myriad of other challenges for the farmer. The challenges could be in the form of pests and diseases, pre-harvest food destruction, post-harvest losses and unfavorable conditions for crops. Of particular concern is the organic farmer who doesn’t use synthetic chemicals to prevent and mane pests and diseases. Further effects of climate change would be reduced crop productivity, scarcity of water both for human use and farming, reduced river volumes and flow, reduced rate of precipitation, destruction of vital ecosystem, destruction of species for both plants and animals, increase in the frequency and intensity of forest fires, decreased hydropower output, increased mortality rates, severe malnutrition, food insecurity, fueling of conflicts and civil strife, increased poverty levels, well, the list can go on and on.
It’s been argued and proven that industrial agricultural activities also do lead to a degree of emissions of greenhouse gases namely; methane and nitrous oxide, that has been shown to worsen global warming. Methane results from compositing while nitrous oxide results from nitrogen based fertilizers. Nitrous oxide has been shown to have the ability to trap over three hundred times the heat trapped by co2. However, agriculture has the capability of minimizing these greenhouse gases emissions and cause carbon sequestration. The synergy effect of industrial agriculture and other industrial activities has grave consequences for the earth.
When agriculture suffers climate change shocks, there is a rise of risks that arise with the situation. Several research studies have shown the increased risk of conflict development poses by food insecurity. For example, the Stability Journal published a research article titled Food Insecurity and Conflict Dynamics: Causal Linkages and Complex Feedbacks, it was found out that food insecurity acted as a catalyst of conflict by creating increased tensions and instability, reason for mobilization into rebellion and acted as conflict-multiplier.
Addressing food insecurity would result in stability and decreased tensions. This shows that there is inter-dependency between conflict and food security. The Arab spring revolution is believed to have been characterized by increased costs of obtaining staple foods in early 2011. Malnutrition is an effect of sustained food insecurity. Child and maternal mortality rates are higher in nations with poor food security. It’s also results in decreasing work productivity. Poverty levels are also found to be higher in food insecure households.
Several reports have documented how climate change is affecting food production. For example, organic farming of vineyards in Germany has been hailed to thrive well. However, with drastic weather patterns changes witnessed ranging from warm and wet, a new challenge has arisen that organic farming techniques have been unable to handle. A rise in fungal infection known Downy mildew has threatened the vineyards and it can only be handled by the use of synthetic chemicals. This kind of infection if left un-treated can wipe a whole crop of vineyard.
Another report paints a grim picture of the Arabica coffee getting extinct. Yes! For all those of us who really love that Arabica variety. The Climate Institute has shown that the increase in temperature with erratic rainfall is already resulting in reduced coffee production and that in some years; this coffee variety might completely be wiped off the face of the earth. Coffee farming is currently not doing well in Ethiopia and Colombia as a result of climate change. By 2050, it’s predicted that we might witness a 50% reduction in coffee production. The increase in temperatures in crop production results in increased pest and diseases incidences. These nations are currently witnessing a resurgence of the coffee borer. If indeed there will be an effect on coffee production in that time, coffee prices will be unaffordable to many households.
In such challenging times, how do we afford to meet the global food demand? Several strategies have been proposed. Regardless of the approach, the key underlying factor is that we must use such methods that lead to reduced greenhouse gases emissions. The development of drought, heat and pest resistant crop varieties should also be encouraged. This should be done with the conservation of the local biodiversity and sustainability being a key factor. Traditional crop breeding methods have been shown to result in better adapted crops within a very short duration.
The issue of yield is also vital in this debate. Cross breeding has been shown to result in corn varieties that have higher yields than the regular varieties. It’s also been shown that traditional crop breeding methods surpass the yields achieved in genetically modified crops. Further studies shows that crossbred crops are able to endure drought conditions that the GMO variety can not. The development of such crops is vital particularly in drought prone areas and nations with poor economies like Africa where it’s believed the effect of climate change will further worsen the situation. As the global farming community might not all adopt organic farming, the controlled use of nitrogen fertilizers is very important and at the same time prevent over-use.