When it comes to climate change, farmers are victims and perpetrators simultaneously. The current drought exacerbates the question of how farmers behave when it comes to climate protection. One thing is clear: they, too, have to go along with it. When fertilizing, for example, large amounts of gases can be avoided, which can be harmful to the environment.
The problem in agriculture is the so-called process-related emissions: the cow burps methane while digesting and nitrous oxide, which is harmful to the climate, rises from artificial fertilizers and manure without it being possible to prevent it.
The agriculture ministers of the 20 economically strongest countries in the world gave the answers in the final declaration of their meeting at the end of July. The G20 ministers agree that agriculture can help solve the climate crisis. They promise: “We will promote sustainable agriculture and the fight against climate change, involve farmers in developing sustainable agricultural systems, and revitalize sustainable traditional agriculture.”
In the fight against climate change, the concerned organizations, authorities, NGOs, and farmers must play an essential and innovative role by adopting techniques that help solve the climate crisis. The article talks about techniques that farmers can adopt to play their part.
Table of Contents
1. Restoration of Degraded Pastures
Pasture degradation happens when the pasture suffers a drop in productivity; that is when its support capacity no longer meets the needs of the animals. The consequences are seen in the loss of weight of dairy cows and a drop in milk production.
In the areas of grazing livestock, out of the total area of natural forage lands (about 60 million hectares), 58% are subject to weak digression, 25% – medium, and 17% – strong.
The provision of livestock with pasture fodder does not exceed 20-40%. The main reason for the degradation of these lands is pasture digression, accompanied by a decrease in the species diversity of vegetation, protective cover, and a sharp reduction in soil fertility.
In these conditions, one of the most critical problems is the restoration of natural pastures, which aims to develop livestock and improve the ecological state of large areas.
Therefore, for an objective assessment of the restoration and subsequent use of pastures, it is necessary to know not only the degree of degradation and the duration of the recovery period but also the long-term dynamics of species biodiversity, projective cover, the intensity of soil erosion and deflation and the productivity of pastures, depending on the climate and pasture load.
In increasing the biological productivity of pastures, organic fertilizers are of great importance. Manure contains almost all elements of the mineral nutrition of plants. Liquid manure from livestock complexes began to be widely used To increase the biological productivity of cultivated pastures.
However, manure can be contaminated with pathogenic microbes and parasites. Therefore, veterinary workers must strictly control the processes of disinfection of manure before it is introduced into the soil.
2. Crop, Livestock, and Forest Integration
As a pioneer of Crop-livestock-forest integration, Brazil is the growing production strategy worldwide. It uses different production, agricultural, livestock, and forestry systems within the same area.
This integrated system seeks to optimize land use and raise productivity, as everything is produced in the same area. In addition to making better use of inputs, it diversifies production and generates more income and employment on its rural property.
In an environmentally correct way, all of this with low emission of gases that cause the greenhouse effect. Crop-livestock systems are alternatives for recovering degraded pastures and annual agriculture, improving straw production, and improving the soil’s chemical, physical, and biological properties.
This system also makes it possible to use equipment more efficiently and increase employment and income. The adoption of crop-livestock integration provides reciprocal benefits. Such as reducing the use of agrochemicals due to the breaking of cycles of pests, diseases, and weeds.
In addition to the rotation in the production of grains with pastures, plant residues are transformed into organic matter. And the use of legumes promotes nutrient recycling and increases nitrogen content in the system.
The integration of trees in the middle of crops or pastures is an alternative to the intensive production of crops and pastures in monocultures. Positive effects across components include environmental adequacy and economic viability. Thus, it produces in the same area grains, meat or milk, and wood and non-wood products throughout the year.
3. Agroforestry Systems
Agroforests integrate trees and crops in an intentionally designed system. Each plant has its own purpose in this type of system – species are selected not to compete but to collaborate.
The diversity of agricultural plants and trees allows the system to produce all year round, which is very important for the family farmer. He will have income regardless of the season. Agroforestry systems are similar to crop-forest integration but tend to be more complex and involve a more numerous and diverse number of species.
Agroforestry produces adaptation benefits for the local climate, including reducing the impact of five types of extreme events (droughts, heat waves, cold waves, heavy rain, and natural disasters). It improves the quality of the forest, soil, and water, attracts pollinators, and improves biodiversity.
Sustainably planted trees offer both environmental benefits – such as the capture of greenhouse gases and soil protection – and the possibility of economic gain through selling wood and non-timber forest products (such as nuts and fruits).
In addition to being a good investment, reforestation for economic purposes, including native species, provides positive effects for adaptation in all factors, with one exception: the risk of forest fires increases. Densely planted trees can cause fire to spread quickly.
Restoration and reforestation can be essential tools for worldwide rural producers. The New Forest Code determines that the producers must cover a portion of all rural properties with natural vegetation.
Estimates show that 21 million hectares are degraded or deforested in private areas and need to be restored. A nation can restore a vital part of this liability with native species for economic purposes. Planting native species for wood or non-timber forest products can become an essential source of income for small farmers.
5. Soil Biology Activation
Well-managed organic soil contains high populations of bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes. Actinomycetes are long slender, fungal-like bacteria that help in degrading organic matter, which fungi and bacteria generally do not degrade.
There is information on bacterial populations with more than 100 million to 1 billion individuals per gram of dry soil that help break down residues and increase the availability of nutrients for plants.
The presence of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonizes the roots of many crops. It is critical since they increase water use efficiency, benefiting crops under water stress conditions.
These biological interactions give the soil a self-structuring property, expressed at different scales, ranging from microbial films to the macro-galleries of earthworms. The contribution of these is multiple:
- Incorporation of litter into the soil
- Protection of plants against certain pests
- Selective activation of microbial activity
- Creation of a structure favorable to soil life (microorganism incubators)
In short, the biological activation of certain groups aims to energize the whole system and improve its functioning and primary production. The activation of soil biology can be carried out through organic amendments in which farmers can use products to improve the biological activity of soils.
These products are composed of minerals whose forms and concentrations favor the development of the biological activity of the soil. Bio-organic fertilization can also assist in activating soil biology as it provides the degraded soil with significant biomass of earthworms and organic fertilization.
Data from 94 experiments with various sorghum associations with pigeon pea demonstrated that the monoculture of pigeon pea would fail one out of five times. Sorghum would fail once out of eight, while polyculture failed one out of 36 times.
Polycultures exhibit greater stability in yields and lower production declines than monocultures under drought conditions. The main characteristic of polyculture is the species diversity involved in the agricultural process.
While different kinds o species are used for planting, all the nutrients present in the soil are adequately utilized, especially if suitable specimens provide a particular canopy. One of the environmental benefits of polyculture is soil erosion reduction since the plants act as a motivator for rain while the leaves that fall due to plant residues serve to enrich this environment.
Polyculture sites tend to use better available resources such as water, soil, and flight, as long as appropriate species sets are used. It usually motivates the increase of local biodiversity, increasing the number of species throughout the system.
All this also induces suitable habitats for the growth and development of the natural enemies of specific crop pests, so the species’ incidence of pests and diseases is much lower.
With this, it is probable to carry out a natural or biological control on the need to implement chemicals. Hence, the products obtained from this type of harvest are much more nutritious and healthy.
Agroecology promotes an agricultural model that encourages farmers to adopt practices inspired by the natural balance of ecosystems. In a natural ecosystem, energy flows constantly circulate: plants absorb energy as a form of light, which transform it into chemical energy in the form of organic matter.
This chemical energy circulates between organisms through food chains. It is recycled in the soil by decomposing microorganisms and helps plants grow.
Agroecology is based on respect for the environment while providing an economic model for farms that allows them to achieve satisfactory performance, ensure food security for populations and achieve better energy efficiency. It does not exclude, quite the contrary, the production of renewable energies.
Today, the rise of renewable energies is inspired by natural ecosystems. Such as photovoltaics by capturing sunlight like plants and anaerobic digestion by recycling organic matter like food chains. They demonstrate that these new “green” energy production methods can find their place in ethical agroecological practices.
The portion of agriculture in the production of renewable energies is estimated at 20% by ADEME. Agricultural land thus concentrates 13% of the photovoltaic park, 26% of biogas production, and 83% of the wind farm. The existing sector in agroecology are:
I. Biogas production
Biogas is created when renewable raw materials from agriculture, animal products, or residues from the food and agro-industry are broken down by bacteria. It is then converted into electricity in a block-type thermal power station and fed into the local energy network.
If biogas is processed and cleaned, the resulting biomethane can be fed directly into the natural gas network. In addition, the fermentation of liquid manure to biomass produces digestate that can be returned to the plants and the soil as a valuable fertilizer. It helps the farmers:
- To generate additional stable income through diversified outlets, in particular, the sale of electricity or biomethane,
- To cover their heat needs by heating their livestock buildings,
- To save on the purchase of mineral fertilizers by spreading digestate.
II. Photovoltaic Sector
The photovoltaic sector is easily integrated into farms thanks to the installation of photovoltaic panels on the flat roofs of farm buildings which represent gripping surfaces, making it possible to optimize the capture of light energy.
In addition, the photovoltaic sector allows the farmer to diversify his income by selling electricity or renting his roof surfaces to companies producing photovoltaic electricity, which pay him rent. The farmer can also choose to self-consume the electricity produced, which reduces his energy costs in heating buildings.
8. Effective Water Management System
Water is vital for agricultural production and food security, and it is the lifeblood of ecosystems. Therefore, agriculture is one of the areas in which more work can be done to obtain better results and achieve greater water efficiency.
From the choice of the crop, going through each of the production process steps, systems and integration used, the capacity for analysis, prediction, and technologies, all this is part of the impact on the water footprint generated by food production.
One of the vital determinants of agricultural production is the hydric status of the crop; thus, irrigation will be a crucial factor in taking into account climate change. Choosing the most appropriate irrigation schedule at all times and controlling the water status are crucial to obtaining the final quantity and quality of the product.
In recent years, some technologies have undergone significant advancement and made it easy to manage water, treatments, and cultivation with high levels of efficiency. Methodologies based on geographic information tools, remote sensing, and analysis of information provided by sensors are necessary to maintain a balance between production and quality and achieve maximum income.
The use of technologies (remote sensing, soil and crop monitoring, plot automation) can allow highly efficient management, and at the same time, it is economically profitable. The visual platform integrates production systems, sensors, and fertigation systems, with graphic and visual access to the data.
They have efficiency indicators and alerts calculated from the data, achieving a better understanding of the collected data and allowing an exhaustive analysis to be carried out for improving efficiency and decision making.
In short, transform the data into valuable information to manage a scarce and fundamental good for the development and evolution of socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable agriculture.
9. Use of Biopesticide
Currently, up to 35% of crop losses are due to pests, so overcoming this problem would be a big step toward increasing the global food supply.
Synthetic pesticides have been used extensively in pest control since the 1930s. However, these are associated with many different environmental problems, ecology, and health – from skin irritation to damage to the nervous system to fertility problems and even death in rare cases.
The promising solution is the use of biopesticides that have lower toxicity that quickly breaks down in the environment. These biopesticides contain insecticides and fungicides that don’t negatively impact human health or the environment.
Biopesticides are plant health products that have been developed from natural ingredients. Therefore, they do not contain any substances that could be harmful to farmers or end consumers. In the short term, the effectiveness of biopesticides can be slightly less than that of synthetic pesticides, as the strong shock effect does not occur.
However, in the medium to long term duration, the benefits to agricultural productivity are enormous. In contrast to synthetic pesticides, bio-pesticides prevent soil damage, beneficial insects are respected, and the pests’ resistance is weakened.
The biopesticide granules do not generate dust, which reduces the risk that the farmer will inhale them during handling. They have a unique self-dissolving mechanism that ensures the product doesn’t clump or fall during use, which keeps irrigation equipment in good condition.
10. Preserving biodiversity
Intact and functional ecosystems are living spaces for people, animals, and plants and form the biological basis of existence for humanity.
Ecosystems provide food, building materials, energy sources, active ingredients for pharmaceuticals, etc. They regulate the climate, lead to humus formation in the soil, and are essential for nutrient cycles and clean drinking water.
Therefore, preserving biodiversity is essential for nutrition and the economic, social, and cultural development of current and future generations. Biological diversity is necessary for conserving the environment and achieving productive and sustainable agriculture.
By implementing sustainable practices, such as an Integrated Pest Management plan, using agricultural technologies that increase production in a smaller area, and using scientific innovations to protect resources, farmers can reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint and contribute to biodiversity conservation. There is no doubt that agriculture, mainly through land-use change, impacts biodiversity.
In its 2019 report on State of Global Biodiversity in Food and Agriculture, the Food and Agriculture Organization stated that “Demographic changes, urbanization, markets, trade, and consumer preferences influence food systems, often with negative consequences for [biodiversity] the ecosystem services it provides. However, these drivers also open up opportunities to make food systems sustainable, for example, by developing markets for friendly products.”
Good agricultural practices encompass various strategies to grow healthy crops sustainably. Practices can include integrated pest or weed management.
Conservation tillage practices are designed to maintain soil structure, accumulate organic matter, reduce erosion, retain water, and sequester carbon. It is enabled by tools such as genetically modified crops and herbicides.
Maintaining natural habitats or creating semi-natural non-agricultural is a strategy adopted by farmers, especially on less productive farms. Higher-yielding crop varieties, improved crop protection products, and digital agricultural tools increase production.
Crop diversity with breeding programs to develop new varieties with, for example, drought tolerance or resistance to insect pests. It builds resilience to climate change and enables practices like crop rotation.
Product management efforts, coupled with technology such as seed treatment and application of crop protection products, help use fewer resources, reducing the impact on the environment. Agriculture and the protection of biodiversity are intertwined. Innovations and a renewed focus on sustainability will continue to support your growth for the benefit of all.
It is essential that society, including farms and cooperatives, incorporate climate change risk management into their planning processes. Part of this is associated with identifying current vulnerability to the impacts of weather events. Including innovations and new technologies, farmers can fight climate change and contribute to environmental conservation and protection within certain limits.
(Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)