Climate change and agriculture – a twofold relationship
The relationship between climate change and agriculture is twofold: agriculture contributes to climate change in several ways, and climate change adversely affects the agriculture sector in various ways.
Rapid and uncertain changes in rainfall patterns and higher temperatures can also result in geographical shifts of crops and cropping patterns through changes in seasonal extremes, as certain species can no longer be cultivated in certain regions. Although in the short term the introduction of new crops might represent an opportunity in certain regions or countries, the longerterm impacts of climate change are expected to lead to an overall decrease in production (IPCC, 2014).
According to the IPCC, the three main causes of the increase in greenhouse gases (GHG) observed over the past 250 years have been fossil fuels, land use and agriculture. It is generally agreed that about 24 per cent of CO2 emissions are produced by agricultural sources, mainly deforestation, land conversion and ploughing, the use of fossil fuel-based fertilisers and the burning of biomass (IPCC, 2014). Most of the methane (CH4) in the atmosphere comes from domestic ruminants, forest fires, wetland rice cultivation and waste products, while conventional tillage, manure deposited on pasture, synthetic fertiliser application and the decomposition of agriculture waste account for 70 per cent of nitrous oxide (N2O).
Moreover, about 70 per cent of the economic potential for the mitigation of climate change lies in developing countries, where the agricultural sector is often a significant source of GHG emissions but also a major source of employment (UNFCCC 2009). GHG mitigation activities in agriculture have co-benefits for, and offer synergies with, other policy objectives such as food and energy security, rural development and poverty alleviation goals.
The agricultural sector is also affected by other climaterelated forces such as the shift to biofuels and changes in plantation crops. Food price volatility may increase due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets, although second- and third-generation biofuels do not pose the same risks.
Since 2010, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been promoting climate-smart agriculture as an approach to address the challenges of food security and climate change. It has three objectives: (1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity to support equitable increases in farm incomes, food security and development; (2) adapting and building resilience within agricultural and food security systems to climate change at multiple levels; and (3) reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (including crops, livestock and fisheries). It seeks to offer a framework to deal with these three objectives at different scales (farm to landscape), levels (local to global) and time horizons (short and long), taking into account national and local specificities and priorities. However, implementation is a challenge due to lack of tools and experience and to the highly location-specific, knowledge-intensive nature of the possible options.
As many of the climate-smart options are sustainable agricultural practices that Helvetas has promoted for several decades, we are well placed to contribute to this agenda in a very practical manner. For example, Helvetas supports small rice farmers in improving their farming practices and productivity as well as offering them market access by establishing direct long-term partnership with important buyers, with whom we jointly invest in appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures.