Is sustainable agriculture the answer to climate change?
December 7, 2012 4 Comments
As the most recent set of climate change talks draw to a close, the focus is once again on the policies that could help in the resolution of this global issue. There has been little faith in the outcomes of these talks before, with targets continuously missed. The conference aims to secure a new treaty by 2015, replacing the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which has seen a range of success and failures. The current talks are being held in Doha, Qatar, which has the highest per capita carbon emissions and gets the majority of its income from the sale of fossil fuels.
Africa, the continent with the lowest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, is thought to be at greatest risk from climate change. Water stress is increasing which, in practise, means people have to walk further for water, and crops yields will suffer. New technologies are being developed to help Africa with this problem, but they simply cannot afford these innovations.
So the policies aren’t working, scientific innovation isn’t the answer- what else can be done?
As well as being affected by climate change, agriculture is also a contributor to it, through the release of greenhouse gases. The Worldwatch Institute have carried out research into the feasibility of using sustainable agriculture to mitigate climate change. Practices such as reducing artificial fertilisers in favour of animal manure and planting trees to take in carbon dioxide and reduce soil erosion will go some way to minimise the contribution of agriculture to climate change. But how far? The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN) suggests more sustainable agriculture could reduce the contribution by up to 88%. Worldwatch has produced a report which highlights 6 ways to make agriculture more sustainable. These are:
- Increase soil fertility- avoid unnecessary tilling and chemical usage.
- Agroforestry- trees sequester carbon and maintain organic matter and moisture in soil, as well as providing an ecosystem for pollinators.
- Cover crops- these decrease risk of drought by increasing soil fertility and moisture. The plants can then be ploughed into the soil, providing organic matter. Some may exude insecticidal chemicals to deter pests.
- Improve water conservation- recycling water in cities, catching rainwater and using drip irrigation instead of sprinklers.
- Biodiversity- grow diverse crops , to minimise the risk of entire crop failure. Locally adapted crops are more likely to provide good yields.
These practises will need to be adopted worldwide in order to have the impact hoped for. This relies on the promotion of these sustainable methods to everyone involved in agriculture, including both small holder and large, commercial farms.