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Lunedì, 20 Luglio 2015 02:00

Adapting agriculture to climate change

Farmers around the world must deal with consequences of the changing climate for food production. Available data and models suggest that in the foreseeable future climate change can not be avoided. This means that farmers - especially in the global South countries - will be forced to implement various adaptation strategies as fast and as cheaply as possible. The aim is to adapt to the new environmental conditions in a way that will allow farmers to continue to produce food at the needed level.

The issue of feeding the world in the context of climate change is often perceived as solely a technological challenge. It is argued that crop yields can increase enough if farmers receive new and improved seeds resistant to unfavorable weather conditions or if they use more fertilizers. However, numerous scientists researching the connections between climate change, agriculture and food security point out that in reality farms can become more resilient to climate change by using various uncomplicated adaptation strategies and practices.

A good example is increasing the content of organic matter in soil which helps store more water in it. By adopting this simple method farmers can become more prepared for the prolonged dry periods.

The info-graphic below presents a number of strategies for climate change adaptation which are considered crucial especially from the point of view of farmers in the global South countries. More diverse production on farms, cultivation of crop varieties better suited to new climate conditions, easier access to weather information, agroforestry, improved water management and implementation of more sustainable agricultural techniques are just some of the methods which can help to make food production more resilient to the consequences of climate change.

Click the info-graphic to enlarge and learn more:

Info-graphic

Source: CCAFS

Patrick Whitefield is one of the leading permaculture teachers in the UK. He has written three books on permaculture: "Permaculture in a Nutshell", "How to Make a Forest Garden" and "The Earth Care Manual". His latest book is "The Living Landscape: How to Read and Understand It", a subject especially close to his heart. He also practices as a design consultant. The interview was conducted by Marcin Gerwin.

Marcin Gerwin: With temperatures rising and changing weather patterns, agriculture will most certainly feel the effects of climate change. Do you think permaculture has the potential to help farmers to deal with the changing climate?

Patrick Whitefield: One specific way in which permaculture can tackle climate change is through diversity, which we emphasize. In terms of trees, one of the big problems with planting trees is that we don't know what the climate will be when those trees mature. So if we plant a large variety of trees, lots of different kinds — some of which are suited to hotter or cooler climates — then hopefully we'll get the ones that will survive and be still thriving in 50 or 100 years. The ones which don't thrive can be taken out as thinning.

In terms of the short-lived plants, vegetables, cereals, and so forth, I think that planting mixtures is important, because one of the main effects of climate change is not so much steady increase in temperature but an increase in extremes — of drought, of flood, of hot or of cold. For example, in cereals it is probably worthwhile to sow a mixture of varieties in the field. So in a dry year one variety will do well, in a wet year another variety will do well.

Are the techniques that are used in permaculture for soil management useful in this regard as well?

With the management of the soil there is always a tension between long-term health of the soil and short-term management needs. When people plow the soil or dig the soil it is usually to gain some immediate benefit. But the long-term effect is usually detrimental in terms of soil fertility, particularly in terms of humus content. One of the main principles of permaculture is that we try to avoid digging or plowing — we try to leave the soil as undisturbed as possible. This allows for a long-term buildup of humus, of soil structure and beneficial soil organisms. This will give a much more resilient soil, a soil which is much more capable of withstanding the extremes of weather.

It works both ways — humus, which is stored in the soil, is actually carbon which is taken out of the atmosphere. Someone has even calculated that if everyone in the world were to stop plowing and digging immediately, the change would be big enough to control global warming, because that much more carbon would be taken out of the atmosphere. I don't know whether that is true or not. What I would say is that four times as much carbon is stored in the Earth's soil as all the living plants and animals. People talk about planting trees to mitigate global warming, but it is the wrong idea. The most important thing we can do is to stop disturbing the soil.

Is it possible to practice no-digging on a large scale farm? Or is it something that people can do only in their backyard gardens?

Yes, it is. In my book "The Earth Care Manual" I give some detail of a method called bi-cropping where we have a perennial sward of white clover at ground level and then we grow cereals or other crops through that permanent cover. There is special cultivation equipment to help with that. That is one particular method which I think is quite well suited to the British climate, but probably less so to drier climates, because you have rather a lot of competition for water between the clover and the cereals. That is an example of something that could be done at any scale. You can have a farm that has a thousand hectares where you are using that method.

I saw a very interesting video recently on the internet of a North American farmer who was managing three thousand acres. He was doing it conventionally, and although he wasn't an organic farmer, he was doing away with plowing. And the effect on his soil was amazing – you could really see the buildup in organic matter. I was really impressed by that. This was not from one of the usual people you would expect — someone who has been doing it organically for years or who was well known in the permaculture circuit. This was a mainstream farmer working on a very large scale. And he was doing more or less the same thing with the soil that we would do in permaculture.

One of the possible effects of climate change is increased occurrence of droughts and floods. Is there something that could be done to reduce their impact by using permaculture design?

The thing about flooding is that nothing can really be done on the scale of the individual farm or even individual small district. It has to be done on the scale of the whole river catchment – from the top to the sea. What we must do is to hold more water in the upper reaches of the river, up in the hills. There is also to some extent a tension between water and food production. Most farmers want to get excess water off their land quickly. But in those higher reaches, where we need to store water, the potential for food production is relatively low (most of it is animal production). So the most important output of these areas may be in terms of water storage rather than in terms of food production. When they go out of food production it won't make very big difference compared to the more fertile, low-lying flat areas further downstream — the ones that suffer from flooding. This is something that can only be done on the political level.

In permaculture we tend to emphasize those things which can be done on the level of individual, the family, or the community, but there will always remain some things which can only be done on the political level.

And what about droughts?

Windbreaks are one important thing because the wind dries out the land, it dries out the plant. It increases the amount of water that the plants need in order to produce. Also keeping the soil covered – using mulches. But mulches are only practical on fairly small scale.

What would you suggest for a large scale farms then? A vegetable farm for example?

It is more difficult. On a large scale the only way to keep the soil covered really is to have living plants covering it. And living plants use water. The most important thing to protect ourselves from droughts is again to have diversity in what we sow and what we plant. If you grow a mixture of plants — the ones that yield best under ideal conditions and the drought-tolerant ones — then you know that you will get a crop every year.

I think we need a certain change in mentality. The attitude of farmers is to go for maximum every time. So very often the aim of the farming system is to get the maximum yield. And in order to get maximum yield you need ideal conditions. We've been used to a climate which is remarkably stable, but this may not be a case in the future. So we need to move away from the idea of always going to the maximum, but to go for a stability of yield — in other words to know that every year we will harvest something, rather than hope that this year we will harvest the maximum.

Some people recommend the use of biochar — a charcoal as a soil amendment — to improve soil fertility and to help mitigate climate change because it means taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. What is your opinion about this? Would you recommend it as well?

We are at the very beginning of understanding how biochar works. Of the many trials which have been done with it as many have been unsuccessful as successful. One thing which is emerging is that it seems you need to mix it with compost before applying it for it to really work. If it can work reliably it will certainly be worthwhile, both for farmers and for climate change.

The interview was first published by Polish Green Network on its website dlaklimatu.pl.

Photo credit: London Permaculture (Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Lunedì, 18 Maggio 2015 02:00

Farmers in Ghana adapt to climate change

In another series of short videos farmers from the Global South speak about their struggle with the consequences of climate change. This time you can learn more about the challenges faced by small-scale farmers in Ghana.

In the first video, Naakpi Kuunwena, a farmer from Koyukuo village in the north-western part of Ghana, talks about the impact of climate change on his crops. He is especially concerned about the changes in the rainfall pattern observed in the recent years as well as the increasing water scarcity and the lack of necessary irrigation infrastructure such as dam. The appropriate irrigation system is essential in the current situation of growing problems with rains. Even though an NGO has drilled a borehole in his fields, it is not enough as it allows to fill only a couple of buckets. Naakpi additionally pumps the water to his fields from the nearby river, but this water source is also unreliable because the river dries up too fast in the dry season. Watch the video here.

The second video presents Yusif Hadi, a hard-working cattleman and a farmer from Koyukuo village. He talks about the increasing lack of rainfall in the area and its negative consequences on crops and the availability of the animal feed. The cattlemen are forced to change the feeding habits of their herds by supplementing the fodder with maize husks and groundnut tops. Another strategy used by Yusif to adapt to the changing climate and shorter rain seasons is planting faster growing maize varieties. Watch the video here.

In the next video, Joel Yiri, a farmer from Jiripa village, explains his business approach to farming which has allowed him to significantly improve the situation of his farm. For some time he has been using pig manure as a fertilizer on his fields, which has helped him to increase his maize yields and consequently also his income. Joel points out that changes in the rainfall patterns mean that local farmers have to adapt to the new circumstances. This can be done in various ways, for example through crop diversification. Watch the video here.

The last video focuses on Jumuo Namaayi, who is a farmer from Koyukuo village. He describes how over the last few years the rainy season has become shorter and how this has impacted various crops and the production of fruits such as mango. The fruits increasingly do not ripen in time and are attacked by more pests and diseases. Local farmers have also problem with growing maize. Not enough yields force villagers to migrate south in search of work. One response to to this situation suggested by the authorities has been to include new crop varieties which grow faster. Watch the video here.

Source: CCAFS

Photo credit: Neil Palmer / CIAT (Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

We encourage you to watch a series of short videos exploring various ways in which small-scale farmers from Kenya try to adapt to changing climate.

The first video presents Margaret Silas from Ngurumo village. On her farm she grows mainly coffee, sweet potatoes, mango, macadamia, arrow roots and trees. Due to the lack of rain farmers in her village face a lot of problems. Most of all seedlings tend to dry out and farmers are forced to carry out re-plantation. In order to adapt to these challenges, Margaret started to use on her farm more sustainable farming techniques, which result in higher yields and improved food security. Using more manure and planting seeds in small holes allow the seeds to survive up to two weeks without rain. More sustainable farming methods protect soil and prevent it from eroding. Consequently, this leads to better crops, as proved by Margaret, whose maize yields have increased from 3-4 to 57 bags. Watch the video here.

The second video focuses on Andrew Gitari, who is a farmer and a former teacher in Kabaune village in the Giaki region. He talks about the impact of deforestation on the environment and the importance of trees in attracting water and rain as well as protecting soil from erosion. He explains the need for the right types of the trees which do not demand a lot of water themselves. Currently, farmers in his village grow fruit trees such as mango and guava. Watch the video here.

The next video tells the story of Anastacia Muthoni, who is a widowed farmer living in Makengi. She talks about the problems caused by the lack of rainfall and the need for additional irrigation of the crops on her farm. One way in which farmers in her village try adapt to climate change is through crop diversification, for example by planting cassava on their fields. Watch the video here.

The fourth video presents Celeste Thia Kangani and Julia Ndia from Karurumo village. They are farmers who despite their old age must take care of their orphaned grandchildren and face challenges related to the decreasing yields. They describe how the climate has changed locally and rains have become less frequent. In the past Celeste and Julia planted sweet potatoes and cassava, which used to give high yields, but now the situation has changed and they are forced to use fertilizers for the first time. Watch the video here.

In the next video Celeste M. Nyaga from the Karwe village explains how the new seeds varieties and training on different farming techniques are helping local farmers adapt to challenges caused by changing rainfall patterns. Watch the video here.

The sixth video presents Ruth Marigu Njue, who is a single mother taking care of 10 children in the Kururumo village. Farming is currently harder for her than it used to be because of numerous problems caused by higher temperatures and the lack of rains. In order to avoid plant diseases and pests, she has started to cultivate fast growing crop varieties which help her adapt to climate change. As a way to cope with the draughts she has also begun to plant more trees around her farm as they are supposed to attract water and rains. Watch the video here.

The last video tells the story of the Kamburu community and their cooperation with the Kenyan Institute of Culture and Ecology (ICE). It shows how the local community worked together in order to reclaim control over its food system and as a result it became more united, healthier and more resilient to climate change. In cooperation with ICE Kamburu members re-learnt how to use traditional sustainable farming techniques, such as composting and using manure as a fertilizer. They increased biodiversity of their crops through returning to local seeds and introducing a greater variety of indigenous plants. The project was a good exemplification of the fact that the agricultural knowledge needed to achieve food security, protect environment and adapt to climate change can be very often found already within local communities. Watch the video here.

Source: CCAFS & ICE

Photo credit: P. Casier / CGIAR (Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Martedì, 27 Gennaio 2015 02:00

Conference in Warsaw

Another event of the ClimATE Change project is behind us. The international conference "Future Agriculture Farmer- and Climate-friendly" organized by Polish Green Network took place on the 12-13 December 2014 in Warsaw, Poland. We want thank all the attendees for their active participation during those two days. Among many participants of the conference were farmers, food producers, representatives of the academia, journalists and other people engaged in the promotion of sustainable agriculture.

The first day of the conference, moderated by Antoni Bielewicz from the European Climate Foundation, was filled with lectures, presentations and discussions with the participation of Polish experts as well as guests from Germany, Italy and Malta. On the second day of the conference there was a study visit in Mazovia region farms titled "On the trail of climate-smart practices".

The first speaker of the conference was Marcin Popkiewicz, physicist, lecturer, writer and journalist, specializing in the issues of economy, energy, natural resources and environmental protection. His presentation on the impact of climate change on agriculture and vice versa served as an excellent introduction to the themes of the conference. The lecture made it evident that serious reduction of the greenhouse gases emissions from agriculture and transforming the global agricultural production into a more sustainable one are essential to feed our planet in the context of changing climate.

Our next speaker was Łukasz Nowacki from Transformation Foundation, sustainable agriculture promoter and permaculture teacher, specializing in eco-hydrology and ecosystem biotechnologies. His presentation explained how one can protect natural resources on a farm and at the same time contribute to the climate protection. The presentation clearly showed that one of the best ways for farmers to guarantee crop yields in the situation of climate change is restoring natural soil fertility.

Examples from Italy, Malta and Germany

Next speeches were given by our guests from the ClimATE Change project partner organizations. Rosiaro Lembo, from the Italian organization CICMA, spoke about international actions concerning access to water and food in the context of climate change, especially in the global South countries.

In Italy increasingly popular are the so-called eco-regions, which engage local communities in the development of sustainable agriculture. AIAB, the network of Italian organic farming movements, is currently engaged in creation of the network of such initiatives which bring together not only farmers, producers and consumers but also local authorities. AIAB's activities and Italian eco-regions were presented by Pietro Pinto from COSPE.

Irene Mangion, from the Maltese organisation KOPIN, presented challenges related to climate change faced by farmers in Malta. Due to Malta's location and its environmental conditions, farmers struggle there with the lack of access to the enough amount of water. Additionally, soil salinization is increasing which causes big difficulties for both food producers and other island inhabitants. In these conditions especially important are various organic farming initiatives which promote natural food production methods. This is why KOPIN is engaged, among other things, in the promotion of permaculutre. KOPIN representative spoke also about KOPIN projects with farmers in Ethiopia.

Jan Urhahn, from the organization INKOTA, gave presentation about new social movements supporting local food production and consumption in Germany. Among various initiatives gaining increasing popularity are urban gardens, food cooperatives and other consumer groups. INKOTA representative presented also projects implemented by INKOTA together with farmers in Nicaragua and Mozambique.

Voice of the Polish participants

The first day of the conference was concluded with the panel discussion about the situation of the organic farming in Poland in the context of the climate protection activities. Among the speakers were Katarzyna Jagiełło from Greenpeace Poland, Maria Staniszewska from Polish Ecological Club, Aleksandra Priwieziencew from Social Ecological Institute and AgriNatura Foundation, and Piotr Trzaskowski from Warsaw Food Cooperative. Our panelists presented the activities of their organizations and together with other conference participants tried to answer the question how the development of sustainable and organic farming in Poland can be best supported. The discussion ended with the screening of the Polish Green Network's short film "Power in Coop".

Study visit in the Mazovia region farms

The second day of the conference was dedicated to the study visit in three farms, including two organic ones. Our guide was Ewa Sieniarska from Social Ecological Institute, who has been cooperating with farmers in the region for years. During our visit we wanted to show the participants how small farmers and food producers cope in Poland and how their practices, also in case of animal husbandry and meat production, can support climate protection.

To view photos from the conference click here.

The international conference "Future Agriculture Farmer- and Climate-friendly" will be held on the 12-13 December 2014 in Warsaw, Poland. The Conference is organized by Polish Green Network in the framework of the ClimATE Change project.

Agriculture is an important source of the greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time climate change threatens food production in Europe and other regions of the world. Agriculture – one of the causes and victims of climate change – can also be one the best tools for climate protection.

The conference will try to answer the question, how farmers and food consumers around the world can protect climate and natural resources. The event will consist of two days: the first one will be the actual conference and on the second one there will be a study visit in the Mazovia region farms. 

The conference is directed especially at people interested in the issues of sustainable agriculture, rural communities development and the growth of food consumer movements and initiatives.

You can download the detailed conference programme on the left.

The international conference "Future Agriculture Farmer- and Climate-friendly" will be held on the 12-13 December 2014 in Warsaw, Poland. The Conference is organized by Polish Green Network in the framework of the ClimATE Change project.

Agriculture is an important source of the greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time climate change threatens food production in Europe and other regions of the world. Agriculture – one of the causes and victims of climate change – can also be one the best tools for climate protection.

The conference will try to answer the question, how farmers and food consumers around the world can protect climate and natural resources. The event will consist of two days: the first one will be the actual conference and on the second one there will be a study visit in the Mazovia region farms. 

The conference is directed especially at people interested in the issues of sustainable agriculture, rural communities development and the growth of food consumer movements and initiatives.

You can download the detailed conference programme on the left.

What are the interdependencies between climate change and agriculture? How can farmers protect climate? How can they manage local natural resources in ways which are sustainable and protect biodiversity? These are some of the questions Polish Green Network tried to address together with the participants of three workshops organized in Poland in the framework of the ClimATE Change project.

Giovedì, 24 Luglio 2014 00:00

Climate Change Adaptation Measures in Malta

Presentation delivered by hydrologist Marco Cremona during the Workshop on Climate Change and Agriculture organised by KOPIN Malta on the 19th of May 2014.

You can download it simply by clicking on the link on the left.

Presentation delivered by Dr Charles Galdies from the Institute of Earth Systems at the University of Malta during the Dialogue-oriented Workshop organised in Malta by KOPIN on the 20th of May 2014, as part of the ClimATE Change project.

You can dowload it by clicking on the link on the left.

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