Agri­cul­ture vic­tim of and so­lu­tion to cli­mate change

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Diplo­matic wran­gling this week will make the head­lines in the fight against cli­mate change, but ex­perts say a big­ger but largely un­seen bat­tle is set to un­fold on the world’s farms. Agri­cul­ture holds the dou­ble dis­tinc­tion of be­ing highly vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change but also of­fer­ing a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem, they say. In a report ahead of the Novem­ber 7-18 UN cli­mate talks in Mar­rakesh, the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) had a blunt warn­ing about the risks to the food sup­ply from drought, flood, soil de­ple­tion, de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and ris­ing de­mand.

“There is no doubt cli­mate change af­fects food se­cu­rity,” the agency’s chief, Jose Graziano da Silva, said. “What cli­mate change does is to bring back un­cer­tain­ties from the time we were all hunter gath­er­ers. We can­not as­sure any more that we will have the har­vest we have planted.” Crop volatil­ity has been felt acutely this year, partly through El Nino-a weather phe­nom­e­non whose im­pact is seen by many sci­en­tists as a re­flec­tion of what fu­ture cli­mate change may look like. Har­vests fell sharply in the bread bas­kets of Latin Amer­ica, North Africa and Europe, hit by ex­cep­tional drought or floods.

Over the com­ing dozen years or so, ac­cord­ing to last month’s FAO report, farm­ers in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries will be the ones who bear the brunt of ris­ing tem­per­a­tures. Be­yond 2030, though, “neg­a­tive pres­sures on food pro­duc­tion will be in­creas­ingly felt ev­ery­where”. At the same time, agri­cul­ture is a mas­sive con­trib­u­tor of green­house gases, help­ing to stoke the plan­e­tary warm­ing that in turn af­fects the cli­mate sys­tem. Farm­ing ac­counts for at least a quar­ter of world green­house gas emis­sions, ac­cord­ing to the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD). By it­self, it con­trib­utes 17 per­cent of the warm­ing ef­fect, es­pe­cially through emis­sions of meth­ane-a stronger heat-trap­per than car­bon diox­ide-which comes from an­i­mal farm­ing and rice pad­dies. De­for­esta­tion and con­ver­sion of vir­gin land to the plough are also pow­er­ful fac­tors in the emis­sions to­tal.

Ideas abound for fix­ing the prob­lem, al­though mus­ter­ing the fi­nance to do it re­mains a tricky ques­tion. The com­pelling vi­sion is of a world where agri­cul­ture makes smarter use of less re­sources, pro­vid­ing more food with less car­bon pol­lu­tion. Much of the think­ing fo­cuses on help­ing small­holder farm­ers, es­pe­cially in Africa, with sus­tain­able tech­niques. Crop ro­ta­tion, drought-re­sis­tant seeds and re­stricted use of water are among the op­tions and low tilling of soil, es­pe­cially in win­ter, is fa­vored. Agri­cul­tural sci­en­tists are also big cham­pi­ons of the hum­ble legume-a plant that in­cludes peas, lentils and cap­tures ni­tro­gen from the air and fixes it in the soil, pro­vid­ing a nat­u­ral fer­til­izer. Se­bastien Abis, a re­searcher at the In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional and Strate­gic Re­la­tions (IRIS), a Paris think­tank, points to a world pop­u­la­tion that is ex­pected to reach 9.7 bil­lion in 2050, com­pared to 3.7 mil­lion in 1970. De­mand for meat, a big con­trib­u­tor to car­bon emis­sions, is also ex­pected to surge.

That makes it “dan­ger­ous” for peo­ple to think there can be a letup in food pro­duc­tion, said Abis. Hans Her­ren, an award-win­ning Swiss devel­op­ment ex­pert who is pres­i­dent of the Mil­len­nium In­sti­tute, a Wash­ing­ton­based NGO, is a lit­tle more san­guine. He be­lieves the quest should be on pro­vid­ing bet­ter calo­ries rather than more of them. Slash­ing waste and en­cour­ag­ing ef­fi­ciency are the key. “To­day the planet pro­vides twice as much food than it needs — 4,600 calo­ries per per­son per day, whereas we only need 2,300 calo­ries,” Her­ren said in an in­ter­view with AFP. —AFP

KAR­NAL, In­dia: An In­dian farmer Ish­war Singh looks on as stub­ble burns in his fields at Kar­nal, some 140kms north of New Delhi. While there are mul­ti­ple fac­tors be­hind New Delhi’s sta­tus as the world’s most pol­luted cap­i­tal, much of the lat­est bout of smog has been blamed on the il­le­gal but wide­spread prac­tice among farm­ers of burn­ing crop stub­ble.—AFP pho­tos

KAR­NAL, In­dia: Smoke drifts from a burn­ing stub­ble field at Kar­nal.

PARIS: Agri­cul­ture holds the dou­ble dis­tinc­tion of be­ing highly vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change but also of­fer­ing a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem, ex­perts say. —AP

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