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Climate Change and Farming: A Thorough Overview

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BY: Dr Nazir A. Pala

Climate change effects are defined as sequences of environmental, social, and economic threats expected to alter lives of vulnerable communities with adverse impacts on their livelihood. In the 21st century, the threat of climate change (CC) is one of the greatest challenges to livelihood in developing countries. This can potentially reverse developmental gains, such as those focused on achieving the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). Communities mostly dependent on forest resources, like the farming community and majority of underprivileged sections of the society, would face high risk. India, with its 400 million rural poor living in thousands of villages, is particularly vulnerable to climate change. This changing climate event is likely to damage all resources including forest, agriculture, water, human, and cattle population. Data available from internationallypublished reports argue that climate change could result in 2-11% GDP loss globally by 2020, and about 6-30% by 2050. This could cost us an estimated of 100-460 billion USD.

 Even now, we don’t have a proper understanding of climate change affecting the nation or its impact on ecosystems, biodiversity, agriculture, and livelihood. However, some sectors have started taking mitigation initiatives. Few of the successful on-farm traditional technologies and available knowledge adopted worldwide to combat climate change effects include agroforestry, farm operations, local traditional measures, crop diversification, local knowledge and change in lifestyle.

Agroforestry and Farm Operations

Agroforestry is ecologically sustainable and economically appealing to strategies of adaptation and mitigation pertaining to climate change. It involves an intensive, integrated, intentional and interactive environment for annual and perennials crops, apart from having livestock components in the same unit of land. Globally, it has been tagged as a major climate change adaptation strategy for forest communities and one of the best land-use systems for carbon conservation. Vulnerable communities, across the world, have adopted these systems to combat climate change as they are sources of biophysical, economic and social support. Available literature suggests that agroforestry systems are in practice in countries, like Nigeria for forest conservation, and in Guinea and Sudan to reduce the impact of aridity. In watershed management, moderate water flows to protect streams from drying up has been another feature of agroforestry. Development of forests, diminishing moisture and nutrient deficiencies by increasing the fallow period of cultivation is also practised. Different coping options like pre-moonsoon, dry-seeding, crop rotation, short-duration crop varieties and use of organic products are also popular. Agroforestry, and indigenous farming methods of global farming communities integrated with animals can generate income, food production and security for small-scale farmers.

Local Traditional Knowledge

In a country like India with such a large underprivileged farming population, technological adaptation is remote. Hence in this context, it is wise to study communities who have perceived and adopted on-farm traditional approaches to combat effects of climate change to some extent. On the other hand, it is really unfortunate that indigenous and traditional forest and farming communities are rarely considered or discussed in policy making. How these individuals respond to mitigate climate change is under-researched. Hence, it becomes imperative to involve the experience of these communities and include them in decision making along with experts. Local inhabitants react to and interpret climate change events based on their traditional knowledge. Their methods are more creative than those adopted from other places. This traditional adaptation does not only provide better location-specific insights but also helps generate additional information relevant to policy and sustainable development.

Crop Diversification 

Changing the time of farm operations like rushing or delaying planting or seeding is an adaptive response to changes in rainfall patterns. Changing of planting dates by using rainfall as an irrigation practice to improve farm productivity and enable diversification is yet another option. To help establishments, locally fabricated drip irrigation is practised for supplying water to newly transplanted seedlings. In some vulnerable African countries, multiple and mixed crop-livestock farming, cereal-legume intercropping, zero tillage, shading and shelter/ mulching, soil conservation, seed treatment, and making ridge across farms are the most common adaptation strategies to cope with changing climate. Utilization of marginal lands by planting trees and grasses, i.e. crop diversification, in farming practices for forest protection has been adopted in Nepal. Wood cooking stoves have been seen effective for time and cost in some African countries. Taking note, farmers now manipulate the sowing date, reduce fertilizer application, select alternate crops, and drought-tolerant varieties to combat climate change in some parts of India. Adapting to climate change, people living around Himalayas have started crop varieties requiring less irrigation.

Lifestyle Changes

 Changes in lifestyle and use of common sense could be one of the best remedies to mitigate climate change. This includes recycling as much as possible, switching off lights when not in use, observing earth hour, using low energy light bulbs, urban plantation, etc. In the past decade or so, installing loft insulation, practising backyard agriculture, and reducing use of fossil fuels to help combat climate change have been some success stories in mitigation measures. Reduction in overall expenditure also had a positive effect.

Institutional interventions to provide site-specific capacity building facilities that include training, on-field demonstration, financial support, and suitable policy cover, from regional or national governments and dependent stakeholders, is the need of the hour.

  • The author is Assistant Professor and Junior Scientist, Division of Silviculture and Agroforestry, Faculty of Forestry, SKUAST-Kashmir and can be reached at nazirpaul@gmail.com



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