How farmers can help to fight climate change

A farmer on his organic farm in Murang'a County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

As the clamour for fossil fuels divestment intensifies, agriculture is getting more recognition as a serious conspirator and at the same time a solution to the climate change problem.

During the December 2023 climate talks in Dubai, there came a chance to review what agriculture takes from humanity and Mother Earth, even as it feeds, clothes, and employs millions globally.

It is obvious that the very agricultural practices that sustain us also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation that cause climate disasters that have, among other losses and damages, led to deadly hunger.

According to the UN, at least 783 million people could be facing acute hunger globally, with the worst affected being in the Global South. In Africa, such hunger situations are rarely a result of war, but adverse effects of drought, or floods that destroy crops and kill livestock. Some deadly diseases affecting humans, crops, and livestock are caused by invasive insects and pests that have been forced into new habitats by changing climatic conditions, which agriculture contributes to.

In the battle against climate change, agriculture is both a culprit and a solution. Yet, unlike in the case of fossil fuels, we cannot say “stop agriculture” or “no more farming” or “shut the farms”. Instead, within the fields and pastures lies a huge potential to curb climate change and create a sustainable future. The consensus document adopted during the UAE meeting suggested climate-resilient and conscious food production, supply, and distribution globally. At least 159 parties to the Paris Agreement agreed to adopt the “Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action”.

The panacea to agriculture’s contribution to the climate crisis must be sustainable since an increase in global warming will hamper the achievement of the so needed sector’s benefits. This means changing certain norms among small-and large-scale farmers. In many instances, people practice monoculture, which enhances biodiversity loss and increases vulnerability to pests and diseases. When yields dwindle, they resort to prayers.

By integrating diverse crops, promoting natural pest control, and minimising the use of chemical farm inputs, agroecology can foster resilient ecosystems. Crop rotation and organic farming enhance soil health and decrease reliance on chemicals. Others are cover cropping, agroforestry, and rotational grazing. Healthy soils capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide. Transitioning to these practices therefore not only mitigates climate change but also promotes resilient and productive agricultural ecosystems that can improve food security.

Some smart farming techniques, powered by artificial intelligence, optimise resource usage, minimise waste and also reduce emissions. Smart irrigation systems regulate water usage, preventing water scarcity and reducing energy use in agriculture. Using drones, sensors, and data analytics enables farmers to optimise resource use. Precision farming facilitates targeted application of fertilisers and pesticides, reducing runoff and limiting the release of harmful substances into the environment.

The agriculture sector is equally a candidate for renewable energy integration. Using solar-powered irrigation systems or wind turbines on farmland can significantly reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint. Since some of these techniques are too expensive for the average farmer in the Global South, policy frameworks come in handy. African governments must incentivise and support sustainable agricultural practices through subsidies, research funding, and regulatory measures that promote eco-friendly methods.

-The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected]

 

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