Opinion

The future farmer: Where are they headed?

Brian Harding

The future is bright for farms that take a climate-smart approach

The idea of the future farmer is all about context. But, as the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2013) highlights, all farmers will be living in a warmer world where extreme weather events will be the norm and not the exception as they are today. A warmer world will require a whole different set of interventions and skills that are currently not widespread and will affect everybody working on food production.

One issue that farmers of the future won’t encounter is climate change denial. It will be well recognised that climate change is happening and was caused by the rapid escalation of fossil fuel use and poor land management in the mid-20th century until the mid-21st century. This should result in a renewable energy revolution that leads to multiple on-farm options for energy production. This should also include circular economy principles, a new way to look at the economy that enhances the value of nature, optimises resource yields and supports more effective management of external markets and climate shocks.

The future farm may be very large or very small, but at the heart of farmers’ decisions will be a need for a more regenerative use of materials and land. In fact, there will be incentives from both the public and private sector to enhance food production, but in the cleanest and healthiest ways possible, which is enhanced by an understanding that resilience to climate shocks and stresses needs to be built into the business of farming. For example, a new company launched in 2014, F3 Life has improved land management by increasing lending to smallholders via climate-smart credit systems, and monitoring the implementation of climate-smart farming and land-management practices, and the use of climate-smart credit scores to measure the environmental impact of farming practices.

Innovations like those introduced by F3 Life are arriving fast as we look for new approaches that could be the basis for much of the agricultural lending into the future. The company I co-founded, Climate Yetu (meaning Our Climate), is currently helping the private sector in Kenya understand the risks that climate change poses to their profit margins and how, by facilitating dialogue around this topic, greater preparedness is possible including along value chains within the agriculture sector.

The future farmer will benefit from new innovations, including drone technology; up-to-date information on environmental, climatic and soil conditions; and access to multiple financing options. Farmers will have strong links to urban food markets, be able to utilise technology to control issues on the farm (for example irrigation) when not on-site, and be recognised as key players in national and local economies. Issues that continually undermine farming such as persistent under-investment will need to be addressed, especially in Africa. Public financial resources will increasingly be directed towards modernising farming as the challenges in feeding a global population of 10 billion people begin to be seen as a great market opportunity.

And if you were to ask me why this blog post seems very optimistic, it is because the horror of a future where the farmer is under-resourced, unqualified, unsupported and is not resilient to yearly climate shocks and multiyear stresses, is a story that I simply do not want to contemplate!

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.