As the last post mentioned, the US government’s latest report on climate change takes note of the challenges that await farmers in the coming years. But, as we know, farmers are dealing with variable and unpredictable weather right now, so that the crops they grew and the way they grow them is also changing.How are they doing so, what are they changing?
One interesting aspect of the response to changes in climate has been the rediscovery and resurgence of neglected/marginal crops. Often, these would be crops indigenous to a certain area which required little tending and were, sort of, taken for granted. Now, their ability to grow in marginal areas has become an advantage. An example here would be the case of the lima bean in Kenya. This bean remains dormant in the soil, waiting for the rain and so can survive dry spells,so it has moved from being a marginal crop to the center stage of cultivation.
“Climate Smart Agriculture” which consists of ensuring food security, adaptation and mitigation (as defined by the FAO) is redefining farming in different countries. The success stories range from harvesting water to grow millet in the Sahel to adoption of rice production techniques to use less water by smallholder farmers in Vietnam; from carbon farming initiatives in Australia to reduction in the contribution of Danish agriculture to emissions by better use of manure and lower use of inorganic fertilizers.
And what about American farmers? Some of them, it seems, see the disruption in climate as simply another weather pattern, but they are also aware of the need to follow good practices on the farm to be able to deal with the weather patterns. This means that they are quick to adopt the climate efficient techniques suggested by the USDA: practicing no-till farming, planting cover crops etc.
Whether changes come by way of policy decisions , as responses to the threat to a way of life or as pragmatic reactions to constraints, all these changes will add up to a better food system. But will they be enough to get us through the crisis ahead?