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Ecological Agriculture is Climate Resilient

November 28, 2011

Originally published by Third World Network


By Lim Li Ching (Third World Network) and Doreen Stabinsky (College of the Atlantic, USA)


From the Introduction

Agriculture is the most important sector in many developing countries and is central to the survival of millions of people. Most agriculture production in these countries involves small land holdings, mainly producing for self-consumption. Women are the key agricultural producers and providers. Hence agriculture is critical for food and livelihood security, and for the approximately 500 million smallholder households, totaling 1.5 billion people, living on smallholdings of two hectares of land or less (De Schutter, 2008). Smallholdings account for 85 percent of the world’s farms.

However, climate change threatens the livelihoods and food security of billions of the planet’s poor and vulnerable, as it poses a serious threat to agricultural production. Agriculture, in the dominant conventional and industrial models that are practiced today, is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

At the same time as they pose a huge climate threat, industrial agricultural systems are highly vulnerable to climate change. The industrial model and the crop varieties designed to work well within it depend on energy- and water-intensive irrigation as well as other fossil fuel-intensive inputs such as mechanized harvesting, fertilizers and pesticides. Highly vulnerable to reductions in the availability of fuel and water, and in the long-term economically unsound, the model will not survive (Vandermeer et al., 2009). Nothing less than a system change is needed in the face of the climate change threat. 

A focus on the climate challenge to ecosystems and livelihoods is therefore needed, particularly as the adaptation needs of developing countries are paramount. As such, we should heed the call of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development1 (IAASTD, 2009) to the international community and national governments to systematically redirect agricultural knowledge, science and technology towards sustainable, biodiversitybased ecological agriculture and the underlying agroecological sciences. 

This is because the ecological model of agricultural production, which is based on principles that create healthy soils and cultivate biological diversity and which prioritizes farmers and traditional knowledge, is climate resilient as well as productive. Ecological agriculture practices are the bases for the adaptation efforts so urgently needed by developing country farmers, who will suffer disproportionately more from the effects of climate change. Many answers lie in farmers’ fields and farmer knowledge, for example, how to create healthy soils that store more water under drought conditions and how to grow a diversity of crops to create the resilience needed to face increased unpredictability in weather patterns. 


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