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Farmers struggle to adopt climate-smart methods

  • Farmers struggle to adopt climate-smart methods

    by Market Insider

    Friday, 16 Aug. 2013

    Preliminary results from a project aimed at helping Malawi, Viet Nam and Zambia make the transition to a 'climate-smart' approach to agriculture show that some farmers are struggling to adopt the new methods, while others are finding ways to cope with climate-change problems, such as late rains.

    According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), broadening the options available to farmers requires increased investment, both from traditional agricultural finance as well as emerging climate finance, such as the Green Climate Fund. This may be required to help farmers make the needed transition.

    Launched in January 2012, the Economics and Policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture (EPIC) Programme promotes a climate-smart agriculture approach in each country with supporting activities ranging from research to policy support and investment proposals.

    Agriculture and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods and food security are highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. At the same time, agriculture, as a significant producer of greenhouse gases, contributes to global warming. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that seeks to position the agricultural sector as a solution to these major challenges, prioritizing food security and the adaptation needed to achieve it, while reaping potential mitigation co-benefits.

    It involves making changes in farming systems to achieve these multiple goals, as well as supporting institutions and policies. One of the main activities of the project is identifying which agricultural practices are climate smart for specific conditions. For example, the project has involved the study of conservation agriculture, which covers topics such as reduced tillage, permanent soil cover and crop rotation. The practice has been promoted by the governments of Malawi and Zambia.

    Conservation agriculture can potentially increase productivity through better quality soil, and it can help farmers adapt to climate change through better water retention. It also can help mitigate climate change by trapping carbon in the soil.

    Project analysis indicates that many farmers in the two countries have difficulties adopting to the full conservation agriculture package, because, for example, they need crop residues for animal feed instead of soil cover. Sometimes the problem is that farmers are too poor to wait several seasons for the benefits of the practice to materialize.

    But the project is also finding that climate change is already altering which agricultural practices work best for farmers, which could increase the appeal of conservation agriculture.

    In Zambia, analysis of climate data shows an increasingly late onset of rains in some areas. Since crops are planted only after the first rains, late rains mean late planting, which can seriously shorten the growing season.

    Project research shows that farmers in these areas of variable rainfall and late onset of rains are the most likely to maintain conservation-agriculture practices, which has the advantage of preparing the land before rains arrive.

    In Viet Nam, at the project site in the northern part of the country, maize is planted on sloping land all the way to the tops of mountains, which in theory should be covered only by forests. Once the maize is harvested, the rains come, washing away the soil. The erosion has led to landslides, with loss of life.

    Project researchers studying climate data of Viet Nam have found that climate variability is increasing, which  exacerbates the erosion problem.

    In response, the project is looking at more sustainable land-management practices and the use of perennial crops such as coffee and tea, which unlike maize can stay in the ground for 30 to 40 years. However, coffee and tea production requires years to generate high returns, which is a challenge for farmers who are currently growing maize, which has strong demand and fetches a high price.

    The project is aimed at identifying areas of potential conflict between climate change and agricultural policies and supports high-level policy dialogues to resolve them. It also brings together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss what climate change may mean for the future and the options available to confront it.

    At the international level, the project supports participation of ministry of agriculture staff on negotiating teams at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings.

    Taking action to address climate change requires investment and that is why building investment proposals that can link agriculture and climate finance is a key function of the project.

    While the three project countries have different physical, economic, social and cultural characteristics, the project has found opportunities for the countries to learn from each other. For example, Viet Nam is focusing on building climate-smart value chains for key commodities, which could result in lessons for Malawi and Zambia. The steps that African countries are taking to link climate change and agricultural issues at the policy level may result in lessons for Viet Nam.

    The project also found that variances in weather patterns from country to country, and differences in the capacities of farmers, institutions and economies, mean that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' blueprint solution, although the approach to identifying appropriate measures is universally applicable.

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