Farmers Create ingredients to reverse climate change

Farmers Create ingredients to reverse climate change

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Danielle Nierenberg
I am here at the 2018 General Assembly of the World Farmers’ Organization (WFO), an organization representing farmers and agribusinesses of all sizes.
This year’s theme is how farmers around the globe are coping with climate change. Last month, Food Tank asked our readers to share what innovations they find most exciting for fighting climate change on the farm. We have heard diverse stories from around the world of how farmers, scientists, and communities are working to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. For instance, Murali, a scientist from India, tells us about composting and vermicomposting to improve soil health for cultivating coconut, areca nut, and cocoa. Tegan, a rancher, and farmer from Australia is keeping an eye on a developing method for quickly storing carbon in soils by using specific strains of melanized endophytic fungi with crops—these fungi may deposit carbon into small clusters of soil, protecting it for long-term storage. And Vivian from Kenya tells us about villages in East Africa where community members are working with research institutions to develop and test climate change solutions.
Our readers also shared some of the challenges they are facing. Pete and Lori from the United States say that irregular seasons have forced them to shift production practices. And Jean from the Democratic Republic of Congo points out, “the bottleneck of matters is how to provide enough food that can solve malnutrition and allow a {young} population to generate income.”
And Food Tank received some constructive criticism from climate change leader and writer Paul Hawken, the author of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. He reminded us that framing this issue as a “battle” is not constructive—instead, we need to use different language to describe how we mitigate, adapt to, and reverse the impacts of climate change by viewing agriculture as the solution!
Food Tank asked its readers last month what innovations they find most exciting for dealing with climate change on the farm. In response, we heard diverse examples of the challenges farmers are facing and how they are adapting to and mitigating them.
One theme in readers’ responses is the importance of soil health and the potential for soil to store—or sequester—carbon. For instance, Murali, a scientist from India, tells us about composting and vermicomposting plant matter left over from cultivating coconut, areca nut, and cocoa (as coastal crops, “they are prone to face the impact of climate change significantly”). This approach, Murali says, “helps in returning the carbon to soil and improves water-holding capacity, microbiological activity, and nutrient mobilization of the soils.” Tegan, a rancher and farmer from Australia, adds, “I have been following a group of my fellow farmers and agri-scientists who are developing a biotech based on a fungus that has been shown to rapidly sequester carbon into soils long-term.” This technology, Tegan says, “will be a ‘double whammy’ for farmers, as not only is it drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and removing it from the carbon cycle, but it also improves soil fertility while it works.” Recent research indicates certain types of melanized endophytic fungi could potentially deposit carbon into small clusters of soil, thereby shielding it from being broken down by oxygen or microbes.
Other suggestions include practices like hoop houses and cover-cropping. Some readers suggest following the principles of approaches like agroecology, agroforestry, permaculture, and regenerative agriculture. Some also talk about how to manage resources like grazing pastures and water; water management strategies include collecting rainwater, using solar energy to power dripline irrigation systems, and planting trees along waterways. In some cases, farmers, scientists, and others are finding solutions together. For example, Vivian from Kenya tells us about climate-smart villages in East Africa, where community members are working with CGIAR centers—such as the International Livestock Research Institute, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, and the International Potato Center—to develop and test ways to weather the challenges of climate change.
Others spoke about how changes in weather patterns have affected their farm operations. Pete and Lori from the United States tell us how “more intense rains and the resulting root losses in maturing vegetables has resulted in aborted fruit on the plants and reduced production.” They have increased their use of strategies including covering their crops with fabric, using Passive Solar Greenhouses and protecting the plants using windbreaks. “A decade ago, we could plan for production with a seasonal regularity that changed little,” they say. “The last five years have enforced a flexible production model that varies from the seasonal regularity we knew.”
Making agriculture environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable is no easy task, as Jean from the Democratic Republic of Congo explains: “we are trying all cited solutions to combat climate change, including agroecology, agroforestry, and promoting the benefits of perennial grain crops. This work is done in participation with farmers using traditional and modern practices. But the bottleneck of matters is how to provide enough food that can solve malnutrition and allow a population to generate income.”
Farmers, scientists, and communities around the world are certainly facing numerous and diverse challenges. But as we’ve learned from our readers, agriculture can be a solution for climate change.
Danielle Nierenberg will feature climate change solutions from its readers in her keynote speech at the 2018 General Assembly of the World Farmers’ Organization (WFO) on May 30. The conference will focus on how farmers are coping with climate change around the globe.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture)

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