As the world heats up, time to get smart about agriculture

As the world heats up, time to get smart about agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture is an innovative approach that makes agriculture sectors more productive and sustainable with an enhanced ability for contributing towards climate change and adaptation.

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Last Updated : 28 April 2024, 21:01 IST
Last Updated : 28 April 2024, 21:01 IST

The world is seeing unprecedented changes to its climate, which will adversely affect all life on planet earth – mankind, animals and plants. The world population will soon increase to more than 8 billion. How can the world manage to ensure food security for all against adverse climatic changes, since these changes will most severely affect crop productivity?

The recent climate talks, branded as Conference of Parties–28 (COP-28), took place in Dubai, but there has been no consensus on phasing out or phasing down on fossil fuel production.

The year 2023 has been the hottest year in human memory. There have been aberrant climate changes – floods, heat waves, ice melt, including the Himalayan glacier melt, which will not only have vast adverse effects on humankind but also on crop productivity. It is against the background of this grim scenario that this article is compiled. 

What is weather and what is climate?

Most often, people mistake one for the other. Weather describes the state of the lower atmosphere of a place, with respect to temperature, precipitation (annual rainfall), wind direction, wind speed, humidity, cloudiness and atmospheric pressure etc., over a short period of time.

The short-term variations over minutes to days are indicated as weather of a location.

Climate, on the other hand, is defined as a statistical weather information that indicates the variation of the weather at a given place for a specific interval of time. Climate usually describes atmospheric changes over longer periods of time.

Climate and crop production

Crop growth depends on internal and external factors. The internal factors are genetic or hereditary of the plant species involved, which includes high-yielding capacity, resistance to lodging, tolerance to both biotic and abiotic stresses, such as drought, heat, salinity etc., and biotic stresses, such as attacks by plant pathogens and insects. Soil factors also come under abiotic stresses.  

The basic requirements of a crop are soil, climate and water (moisture). But these are inter-related. The impact of soil alone cannot be discussed in isolation of soil moisture (soil water).

For instance, it is the electric force at the surface of a clay particle (the primary component of soil), which is net negative, that attracts the positive charge (hydrogen) on a water molecule.

The hydrogen on the water molecule is attracted to the negatively charged clay particle and a water “chain” is built up in the soil. These interactions are influenced by climatic changes. 

Food security entails three important components. They are: one, availability; second, accessibility; and third, utilisation. The intricacies of the interlinking of these three key factors are crucial to have a clear understanding of climate on crop production. 

Climate resilient agriculture

The term ‘climate resilient agriculture’ refers to the incorporation of adaptation, mitigation and other agricultural practices to address the adverse impacts of climate change.

It includes the judicious management of natural resources through adoption of newer technologies and practices. Climate resilient agriculture practices can alter the current problems of climate change and sustain agricultural production, from the local to the global level, especially in a sustainable manner.

Climate-smart agriculture is an innovative approach that makes agriculture sectors more productive and sustainable with an enhanced ability for contributing towards climate change and adaptation.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome defined climate-smart agriculture as the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) by jointly addressing food security questions and challenges posed by climate change.

Agriculture that sustainably increases food productivity and resilience (to climate change) reduces and/or removes greenhouse gases (mitigatory effects), enhances achievement of a nation’s agricultural productivity and its food security and its developmental goals. 

The three fundamental principles of climate-smart agriculture are: i) a set of strategies adopted to increase crop yields under the variability of weather conditions; ii) a set of strategies adopted to make agricultural practices system-adapted to climate change; and
iii) mitigation strategies adopted to reduce the adverse impact of GHGs (greenhouse gases) and managing the risks of climate change. 

Climate-smart agriculture practices: Among the many, scientific management of soil resources is a key factor in climate-smart agriculture. 

Nutrient Buffer Power Concept: Nutrient factor controls more than 50% of a crop’s potential for productivity. Hence, supplying the nutrient to the soil, in the form of fertilisers, must not only be economically viable but also scientifically very precise.

It is in this context a revolutionary soil testing project — developed by this author and working in three continents, Europe, Africa and Asia, now globally known as ‘The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept’ — becomes relevant in the context of climate-smart agriculture.

The details of the technique are explained in the book “Intelligent Soil Management for Sustainable Agriculture – The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept”.

The concept has been used as a benchmark for a multi-million-dollar soil testing programme, funded by the US Agency for International Development in West Africa, being carried out by the Soils Department of Kansas State University, US. 

Climate-smart village: The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research Programme on Climate change, Agriculture and Food security (CCAFS) has developed the concept of ‘Climate-Smart Village’ (CSV) as a means for agricultural research and development in the context of climate change. 

Extension approach to climate-smart agriculture: Under CSA projects and programmes, services like the supply of inputs and technology transfer through extension methods/services are provided to the farmers.  

The inputs, such as improved seeds, by the input dealers at subsidised rates and seedlings of fruit trees and vegetable crops are provided by both private and governmental agencies to grow under general cultivation and/or polyhouse cultivation technology.

Similarly, other services, such as soil testing for bio-availability of soil nutrients, issue of soil health cards, construction of micro-irrigation projects and rain harvesting structures are made available to farmers. 

Crop Wild Relatives (CWRs): Many of the crop varieties developed during the green and post green revolution phase in India have now fallen prey to a host of both biotic and abiotic stresses, of which climate change is the most important one. There is an urgent need to transfer genes from the CWRs to cultivated varieties, which will enable them to withstand climate stress.

The details are discussed in the book authored by this writer titled Combating Global Warming – The Role of Crop Wild Relatives for Food Security, which was launched by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York on September 23, 2019.

(The author was Professor, National Science Foundation, The Royal Society, Belgium)  


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