With earlier and longer planting seasons and groundwater supplies vanishing faster than they can be replenished as a result of climate change, farmers around the world need to adapt. To chart a path toward a future of food security, in September 2014 the United Nations launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. “The nexus between climate change and food security is undeniable,” Secretary of State John Kerry noted on World Food Day a few weeks later.
Farmers can adapt to climate change by adopting these smart practices:
- Plant several types of crops instead of just one or two. If one crop fails one season because of erratic rainfall, pests or disease, the farmer can count on others that may be more successful.
- Intercrop two or more types of plants in the same field. For instance, plant maize with soybeans, a forage crop like alfalfa, a root crop or tomatoes. This will maximize the use of land while suppressing weeds during the main crop’s young stage of growth.
- Rotate crops from growing season to growing season. This helps maintain soil health.
- Use improved varieties of seeds that yield more and resist stresses like low rainfall, disease and insects while cutting down on pesticides that compromise soil health and pollute nearby water sources.
- Adopt appropriate irrigation to allow for a full crop season and possibly more than one harvest season a year.
- Introduce legumes like peas and beans and woody trees to fields. These add protein, vitamins and minerals to livestock diets and take nitrogen from the air, converting it to a compound in the soil that improves fertility.
- Minimize tilling and leave last year’s residue on the ground after harvest. This protects the top two inches of soil from erosion while increasing soil carbon through decomposition.
- Take advantage of resources like satellite images to monitor weather patterns to make decisions about what to plant next season.
- Improve ventilation and shading for livestock to keep them productive.
- Move herds to new pasture areas to allow overgrazed areas to recover.
- Invest in improved storage and transportation systems to reduce food loss. Wasted food generates more than 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, according to the National Geographic Society.
- Collaborate with other farmers to establish a community seed bank so all local producers can acquire varieties adapted to local conditions.
- Purchase crop insurance as protection against devastating economic loss.
In addition to these smart practices, governments can devote more funding for research to help farms become more resilient to climate change.
Read about the U.N. Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture.