Opinion

Are farmers able to improve their resilience to climate change without increasing global emissions?

Mariam A.T.J. Kadzamira

Climate-smart innovations are the answer for farmers in the ACP

For farmers in most ACP countries – whose lower adaptive capacities and over-reliance on rain-fed farming have seen them hit severely by the impacts of climate change – building resilience is of the utmost importance. In the face of a changing climate – with ever-increasing extreme climatic events – farmers want to adopt farming systems and technologies that can enable them to absorb the stresses imposed by climate change and thus maintain the functionality of their agro-based livelihoods.

One of the most technically efficient ways to improve farm productivity and resilience is through the intensive addition of nutrients to the soil, through the application of chemical fertilisers. Chemical fertiliser use is an integral part of conventional farming in highly productive farming systems. However, the overuse of chemical fertilisers has contributed significantly to global emissions from the agricultural sector. Additionally, for many resource-constrained farmers, the decision of whether to use chemical fertilisers is not an option on the table in their quest to build resilience due to their lack of affordability and availability.

The adoption of high-tech green technologies such as drones and automated sprayers – which can build resilience against climate change while emitting lower levels of GHGs – is also not a feasible option for farmers in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). This is also due to costliness and poor availability, as well as the lack of support services and lack of a conducive policy environment to incentivise farmers to adopt such technologies – as is the case for agriculture in some developed countries, such as those under the OECD.

The emergence of smart technology

For farmers in ACP countries, the best option is climate smartness – this is the key to enabling farmers to build their resilience while reducing their contributions to global GHG emissions. This can be achieved through the adoption and adaptation of yield-enhancing techniques and management practices that are climate-smart. For example, drought tolerant seeds have been proven to improve yields in the face of erratic rainfall. The use of such seeds, coupled with different soil management options that minimise soil disturbance and the use of green energy- powered farm machinery, make it possible for farmers to build their resilience while keeping their emissions low.

For the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies to work, there is need for local solutions that are cost-effective and tailored to local contexts. A good example is the case of irrigation technologies that have been developed by the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (FISD) in Malawi. FISD develops irrigation and electrical systems and services that are capable of running high-flow water pumps that are solar powered. These irrigation solutions are suitable for different farm enterprises, ranging from small farms to larger-scale farming entities. This includes a ‘plug and play’ small-scale solar irrigation pumping kit, which is affordable for smallholder farmer cooperatives, as well as large-scale solar powered irrigation systems that have water pumps of 7.5 kW. With the latter able to pump up to 500,000 l of water a day, it is possible for farmers to produce commercially throughout the year (in the face of droughts and dry spells and erratic rainfall), while keeping emissions low.

FISD is only one case of many successful, locally anchored ventures working to develop low-cost green technologies that contribute less to global emissions, while enhancing farmers’ efforts to build their resilience. The key therefore is to ensure that farmers are aware of the existence of such technologies; to help farmers to be organised so that they can access these technologies; and to work with policymakers to lobby for financial investment in the agricultural sector, through the development and implementation of appropriate mechanisms and policies, which take into account local contexts and farmers’ needs.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.