Over the years, climate change has been disruptive to farmers, interfering with planting seasons, driving post-harvest losses up and causing livestock deaths and diseases as prolonged droughts and excess rainfall heavily toll on the many regions, especially those in Africa.
During cold and rainy seasons for instance, livestock diseases such the Rift Valley fever, bluetongue and African horse sickness are common due to climate change, according to animal health experts. These were some of the topics that formed discussions at the recent Cop25 summit in Madrid, Spain.
Since 1992, delegations of world leaders, researchers and farmers’ representatives from over 180 countries have been meeting every year for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) to discuss strategies of tackling climate change.
The negotiations are usually tough and lengthy, running past midnight at times as parties’ debate over different contentious issues.
This year, a number of issues remained contentious, with one of them being whether or not farmers should continue rearing livestock.
Some scientists and environmental activists argued that beef and dairy production is responsible for the rising greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming. According to the scientists, changing diets by focusing on less meat is crucial to solving climate crisis.
Reyes Tirado, a scientist at Greenpeace International, noted that production and consumption of dairy and beef accounts for 14.5 per cent of global carbon emissions, which is equal to all direct emissions from the transport sectors – cars, trains and aeroplanes combined.
An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change and land released during the COP25 identified agriculture as responsible for 23 per cent of greenhouse gas emission, with the meat industry being the highest emitter of the sector.
Besides carbon dioxide, farming generates large quantities of methane and nitrous oxide from fertilisers and waste soils.
ADOPTED NEW FARMING TECHNOLOGIES
Methane is largely belched out by ruminants and accounts for more than a third of the total emissions from agriculture. Cattle raised on pasture created by clearing woodland are particularly emission intensive, researchers say.
While the report pointed out that high pressure from food production was leading into land degradation and climate change, it called for proper land maintenance noting that soil with well-maintained quality is critical in sucking up carbon from the air.
Farmers disputed the blame on the meat and dairy industry, saying that the data needs to consider the role of farming into reducing carbon emission.
Theo De Jager, the president of World Farmers Organisation, said that ongoing debate about food systems does not look at the whole picture, for instance, the effort farmers are putting in maintaining the soil quality in their daily job.
De Jager said that while the debate around how to better mitigate or adapt to climate change on the farm needs to be science-led, there is need to overcome the disconnect between farmers, scientists and governments to help farmers make their plans.
He noted that farmers needed soft loans and insurance to enable them effectively implement climate-smart agriculture.
Right policies and legislation will make it much easier for farmers to adapt to and mitigate against climate change, he says.
The South African farmer who grows avocados, macadamias, lychees and mangoes in Limpopo province says that he has experienced the effects of climate change first-hand. While he grows the fruits, his main income, however, comes from tree farming.
“We’ve just planted trees to be harvested in 2035. By then, the variety we plant may no longer be the best for the area due to changing weather patterns,” he explains.
The farmer has adopted new farming techniques like not burning residues left behind by harvested timber to reduce carbon emission.
“Instead, I make space for new trees in the spaces in-between, this way the nutrients in the soil are preserved and moisture is locked in. Burning residues would release harmful, black carbon into the atmosphere,” he explained.