Agriculture offers innovative solutions to the climate crisis … for the globe and its own survival!
When we see the news reports on climate change, it often includes footage of factory chimneys and traffic jams. We may or may not realize that agriculture is also a key contributor. In fact, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agri-food sectors – the systems by which our food is grown, produced and distributed – represent around 34 percent of total GHG emissions. But in hearing this, do we ever reflect on the fact that agriculture is also one of the areas most affected by climate change? Being both a source and a victim, the agricultural sector is in a unique position to offer solutions to this massive challenge.
With rising temperatures and unpredictable, extreme weather events, climate change is already threatening food security in many parts of the world.
In response, FAO is ramping up its work to help transform our agri-food systems to better respond to the climate crisis. One way of doing this is by spreading the use of green and climate-resilient agricultural techniques, which can help to reduce the negative impacts from the way our food is produced and reaches our plates.
Here are four examples of how FAO is helping farmers and food producers around the world to implement green and climate-resilient, innovative solutions:
1- Climate smart farming techniques in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, the impact of climate change and environmental factors on agriculture is already quite clear. Fields are becoming unproductive due to heavy rains, excessive soil tillage and lack of nutrients. Reservoirs are silting up, affecting irrigation systems and hampering efficient use of water. All this leaves smallholders struggling to make a profit and often resorting to environmentally unsustainable farming methods to eke out a living from the land.
Through the Save and Grow project, supported by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, FAO trained over 1 130 farmers to optimize the use of water, agricultural inputs and labour. The training has helped smallholders who grow the island’s main crops use 10 to 20 percent less water for irrigation, so they can store more for the next cropping season.
By preparing their land early instead of waiting for reservoirs to fill up, they can irrigate 15 percent more land in the dry season. Saving water during the growing season, planting early and making better use of rainwater means they have more water left after the dry season. They also learned how to apply fertilizer more precisely, reducing the amount used by 27 percent.
2- Reforestation in Paraguay
In areas of eastern Paraguay, deforestation and forest degradation are widespread, and climate change makes communities who are dependent on family farming for food production and livelihoods increasingly vulnerable.
FAO is responding to the needs of these communities as the lead agency implementing an ongoing Green Climate Fund (GCF) project in the area, which focuses on 87 000 people, many from indigenous communities. Farmers will receive Environmental Conditional Cash Transfers in exchange for undertaking climate-sensitive, agroforestry projects.
These initiatives include growing trees such as eucalyptus, citrus fruits and yerba mate plants and abandoning the practice of chopping down native forests for fuel. The cultivation will help provide shade, conserve soil, store CO2 and regulate water flows, helping small-scale farmers adapt to more frequent droughts and floods by diversifying from their traditional mainstays of cotton, beans, cassava, sesame and sugarcane.
3- Climate-resilient fishing in Malawi
In Malawi, the fisheries sector directly employs nearly 60 000 fishers and indirectly supports more than 500 000 people. The FAO project “Building Climate Change Resilience in the Fisheries Sector” especially focuses on the communities living on the shores of Malawi’s heavily overfished Lake Malombe.
This Global Environment Facility (GEF)-supported project helps communities to make fish-farming less vulnerable to climate change through the promotion of deep pond technology. Deeper ponds are less at risk of drying out in times of drought, while the higher walls help to prevent fish escaping in floods. Fast-growing fish are also promoted so that they can be harvested before shallower ponds dry out.
4 – Climate-smart livestock rearing in Ecuador
In Ecuador, cattle production is one of the mainstays of the country’s economy and social and economic structure. But its environmental impacts are causing concern, with emissions from livestock farming a major source of GHG.
Under a climate-smart livestock project funded by the GEF, FAO has worked with technicians from Ecuador’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to help promote climate-smart livestock management techniques among the country’s farmers. These practices include better management of pastures and manure, paddock irrigation, fodder banks and rotational grazing, as well as improved techniques for milking and ensuring animals’ health.
So far under the project, more than 1 000 farmers have adopted new, more climate-smart ways of livestock management. Not only has that helped bring GHG emissions down by more than 26 percent, but it has also helped them improve productivity and earn 17 percent more income.
Reversing biodiversity loss, reducing GHG emissions, enhancing agricultural adaptation and strengthening farmers’ resilience are essential both to addressing climate change and combating poverty and hunger. FAO is working to deploy innovative solutions to these challenges by promoting greener and more climate-resilient ways of producing our food and reinventing agri-food systems to be more inclusive and sustainable.
In November 2021, FAO is raising awareness on this and promoting a “green and climate resilient agriculture” debate at COP26 in collaboration with key partners including the United States, China, the GCF and GEF. Green and climate-resilient agriculture is an important part of the solutions to providing nutritious food while preserving healthy ecosystems for future generations.