Local Action Critical to Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

May 27th, 2012 | By | Category: Adaptation, Agriculture, Ecosystem Functions, Events, News, UNFCCC

Conservation.org: How the UNFCCC will address agriculture — an issue not only critical to our food security, but the future of life on our planet — hangs in the balance. After two weeks of negotiations here in Bonn, country delegates were unable to resolve their differences and decided to take the issue up again at the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP 18) in Doha later this year.

Currently, 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Countries have been trying to decide on measures to enhance emissions reduction for several years. Progress was made last year when they decided to take the issue up on more technological grounds, giving them the opportunity to address not only agriculture’s mitigation potential, but also the need to help farmers adapt their practices in the face of climate change impacts. These impacts include increased frequency of droughts and flooding, and rising temperatures that are damaging the watersheds and other ecosystem services that sustainable agriculture depends on.

Earlier this week, I participated in a side event on the opportunities for supporting mitigation, adaptation and social goals in relation to agriculture in the climate change negotiations. Back home in Colombia, I work on many different elements of adaptation; figuring out how to support farmers in a changing climate is an essential piece of the puzzle. At the event, I discussed two CI efforts: my work with partners in Colombia in the Chingaza Massif highland ecosystems, and work that Conservation South Africa is doing in Namaqualand.

Through the Integrated National Adaptation Project in Colombia, we are working with local farmers to:

  1. Promote agroforestry, soil erosion control, home gardens and farm management plans to increase local agriculture resilience;
  2. Raise community awareness about the need to adapt in the face of changing temperatures  and water availability;
  3. Use new technologies like rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and wastewater treatment and recycling to increase resilience; and
  4. Restore important high-altitude grassland systems that collect and filter massive amounts of water later used for agriculture and other human needs.

A continent away, South Africa’s Succulent Karoo is a semi-arid biodiversity hotspot that is particularly vulnerable to water scarcity, which will only to be exacerbated by climate change. Conservation South Africa is working to:

  1. Reduce climate change impacts and vulnerability by restoring wetlands and grazing lands within catchment areas;
  2. Implement sustainable livestock management actions, including removing invasive alien plant species;
  3. Reduce soil-damaging techniques by working with small-scale and commercial farmers through a stewardship approach; and

Engage with local communities and government authorities to develop policies and plans that support an ecosystem-based approach to adaptation and sustainable development.

In order to effectively reduce vulnerability to and impacts of climate change, it is critical that adaptation actions are implemented at the farm level. The main goal should be not only to ensure food security, but also to maintain rural landscapes in order to guarantee provision of ecosystem services and the well-being of local populations. This holistic approach will help to reduce secondary impacts that come when a land is too degraded to support its people, such as decreased standards of living for small farmers and migration.

Adaptation and mitigation efforts must be implemented in an integrated manner. In addition to developing indicators to measure climate change resilience at the farm level, other supporting measures have to be taken into account, such as participative research, capacity-building, land-use planning and institutional development — especially at the local level. National policies must consider small-scale agriculture, especially in areas that provide services such as water provision and regulation. For example, development in watersheds needs to take into consideration the importance of the watershed’s services for farmers downstream. Interlinkages between rural and urban areas are critical in effective agricultural adaptation and have to be considered.

Despite the current impasse in the negotiations, I am hopeful that discussions under the UNFCCC will continue to evolve. They should include the need to support local farmers while taking into account the larger systems that the farmers rely upon. This approach will ensure that farmers’ actions reduce agriculture’s impact on our global climate, and that the farmers in turn are more resilient to climate impacts.

Angela Andrade Perez is the environmental policy coordinator and manager of the Integrated National Adaptation Project (INAP) at CI-Colombia.

Angela Andrade Perez is currently attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Bonn Germany. Today she blogs about a side event on agriculture and climate change — an event presented by CI, Humane Society International, Woods Hole Research Center, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Monitoring Group and  the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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