Farmers experiment with old and new to adapt to climate change

by Chris Arsenault | @chrisarsenaul | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 16 October 2014 10:35 GMT

A boy carries a basket of corn as he walks over corn kept for drying, outside a mosque, at Mathwar village, 36 km (22 miles) northwest of Jammu, India, Nov. 8, 2012. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

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From GM crops to demonstration gardens, farmers are seeking ways to keep up production amid weather shifts

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Setting up demonstration gardens for small farmers, reviving neglected traditional foods and getting more organic matter into the soil are just some of the ways agriculturalists are adapting to climate change - but there is no one-size-fits all solution.

"The effects of climate change are quite different depending on the area," Leslie Lipper, senior environmental economist for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told a panel discussion co-sponsored by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of World Food Day on Oct. 16.

"We are seeing big increases in risk and uncertainty for farmers," she added.

For Santiago del Solar Dorrego, an Argentinian farmer, climate change has made rainfall patterns more erratic. To respond to weather shifts, he and other farmers are planting corn later, in December rather than October.

He believes genetically modified (GM) seeds have helped farmers in his area reduce pesticide use, improve yields and save money.

But Kannaiyan Subramaniam, an Indian farming activist, said growers in his country have had bad experiences with GM crops.

"Farmers are going towards (GM) maize, as determined by the market and the multinationals," Subramaniam said. When rainfall levels are high, they get good yields from GM maize, but it has led to monocultures that don't adapt well to changing conditions, he added.

"We used to have different crops, including sesame and mustard seed - even with one or two periods of rain, you can harvest sesame," he said. But maize isn't as resilient to a lack of water, he noted.

CHURCHES

Charles Ogang, president of the Ugandan National Farmers' Federation, has used local churches to help educate small-scale growers about the risks of climate change.

"Climate change has had severe effects on our production," Ogang said. "Over 80 percent of Uganda's farmers are smallholders, with limited information on the best practices on agriculture."

To get farmers the facts they need to respond to global warming, Ogang helped create demonstration gardens where growers can learn firsthand about new techniques, crop rotation and composting.

Gordon Bacon, chief executive of Pulse Canada, an industry group, agreed that crop rotation is crucial for adaptation.

"We used to grow just wheat at my farm. Now you are seeing farmers grow oil seeds, pulses and wheat - some of those crops are more drought-tolerant," Bacon said. "We can’t stop change, we have to adapt to it."

(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; editing by Megan Rowling)

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