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Climate Friendly Agriculture Systems

By Wanzala Bahati Justus Journalist - Kenya |

Climate friendly agricultural systems are key to fighting global warming and ensuring adequate food for humanity.

In a session discussing the importance of agriculture in fighting climate change at the on going Copenhagen Climate change talks, James Harkness, the president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said that agriculture as a sector can reduce its emissions and act as a major sink to green house gasses already in the atmosphere.

Adaptive and Mitigative Agricultural Systems

Experts attribute the use of nitrogen fertilizers for crops like maize to increasing emissions. The manure derived from the dung of livestock such as cows also emits tons of methane during its decomposition. Carbon dioxide is emitted by farm machinery as well, due to the use of fossil fuels.

"The future of agriculture needs to be resilient against climate change."
"With this carbon sequestration (low release of carbon into the atmosphere) and shift to low –input agricultural systems (less use of fertilizers), we can actually improve the resiliency of our soils, water systems and environment in a changing climate, while reducing our dependence upon fossil fuels," said Harkness as he called for enhancement of support for agricultural systems that are both adaptive and mitigative against climate change.

A bulk of farmers in poor nations of Asia and Africa are small scale farmers. Harkness faulted the approach of agriculture research institutions in these countries emphasizing that there is need to focus on indigenous technologies.

 "Traditional and local knowledge should be supported in poor countries instead of inappropriate technologies  developed and funded by the West being forced on farmers in the global south," he explained.

He added that research and farmer education should aim at optimizing sustainable agricultural production and reduction of green house gas emissions, and he decried the lesser role played by poor countries in the Global Research Alliance on Agriculture and Green House Gas Emissions.

Dr. Urs Niggli, the director of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture said that organic farming is effective in managing and conserving biodervisty as well as in curbing pollution and can easily be practiced by small-scale farmers. He said research done by his institute indicated that organic farming can reduce global green house gas emissions by almost five percent.

"Currently, there is an initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Department of Environment and Natural Resources, supported by leading organic research institutes to establish a new alliance of organic research institutes," Niggli told (IOL).

"The initiative is called Organic Research Centre Alliance, (ORCA) and focuses on cooperation between research institutes in Africa, Asia and Latin America to intensify on-farm research on developing organic agro-ecological systems."

He said the initiative   involves working with farmers on their farms and addressing how to solve specific problems they are facing.

"I see a huge potential in that kind of research and it can be organized in a kind of snow-ball system as all these on-farm activities attract a lot of farmers and motivate them to do experiments on their farms as well," he said.

Enough Food?

 "Traditional and local knowledge should be supported in poor countries instead of inappropriate technologies  developed and funded by the West..."
Skeptics of organic farming voice concern over its ability to produce enough food to feed hunger stricken populations in poor nations.

Niggli who is also a World Board Member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) said yields from organic farming can be increased through research initiatives that put functions of ecosystems at their core.

He firmly believes that rural poor communities can be empowered to practice sustainable farming and at the same time produce enough food.

"The big chance of climate change - if we can talk about chances - is that the world leaders, the governments and international organizations and the public finally become aware of the multi-functionality of agriculture," he said.

"Agriculture must deliver food, but as co-benefits it also improves soil fertility, increases biodiversity in agricultural and semi/natural systems and habitats."

Farmers he said can learn sustainable farming methods and sell food and other improved ecosystem services to the public.

"I see here especially, a new added-value strategy for farmers in developing countries, and the international protocols on climate change have to lay the ground that sustainable but nonetheless productive farmers like organic farmers can profit from these opportunities," he told IOL.

In a press release issued in Nairobi last Monday, Dr. Akin Adesina, the vice president of Policy and Partnership Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), called upon International and African policymakers and scientists to move urgently to help Africa’s smallholder farmers increase their productivity while also adapting to and helping to mitigate climate change. 

Adesina noted that given appropriate tools and support, smallholder farmers could farm carbon along with their crops by planting trees or tilling land less frequently to keep more carbon dioxide in the ground thus preventing it from ascending into the atmosphere and contributing to the greenhouse effect.

 "By employing agricultural practices that boost productivity while rebuilding the soil and incorporating agro-forestry, Africa’s farmers will turn their fields into giant carbon reservoirs, so-called carbon sinks," said Adesina

He went on to say that "this will help mitigate climate change."

According to the World Agroforesty Centre (WAC), growing of trees in a billion hectares of farmland, (by intercropping them with crops) has a potential of preventing 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere.

Adesina noted that in the on going Copenhagen talks, Africa must insist on a global carbon market which fully accounts for the environmental benefits of sound agricultural practices of smallholder farmers.

According to Adesina, African farmers need access to the technologies that will enable them to grow more food and do so sustainably. His views are in tandem with those of Harkness who said, "The future of agriculture needs to be resilient against climate change."

Wanzala Bahati Justus is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Your emails will be forwarded to him by contacting the editor at [email protected].


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