World Environment Day

Malawian farmer
The focus for World Environment Day this year is mitigation of climate change, with the slogan ‘Your Planet Needs You.’ I would like to add to this that ‘We Need Our Planet.’

Whilst it is clearly important that we do all we can to mitigate climate change, I think we also need to think clearly about how we will best support farmers to adapt to some of the worst effects of climate change.

2.5 billion people in developing countries live in rural areas and depend on agriculture both to feed their family and for their livelihood. Now a billion of these people are facing life threatening situations of malnutrition as climate change destroys their crops and render local agricultural knowledge about when to sow and when to plant redundant.

And this situation is only set to get worse. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Fourth Assessment Report 2007) estimates, for example, that food crop yields in some African countries could decline by as much as 50% by 2020.

As I have suggested in a number of posts on this blog, the sustainable farming practices we are supporting poor farmers to employ really are reducing their vulnerability to poor rains. Composting and contour ridge marking, for example, increase the capacity of the soil to hold moisture. Meanwhile seed saving and crop diversification reduce farmer reliance on a single crop, essential given the fact that certain crops are less resistant to extreme weather conditions such as drought.

In fact maybe it’s time to think about the fact that, if we are to feed the world in the future, there are some vital lessons we need to learn ourselves from small scale subsistence farmers. As Tewolde B. G. Egziabher, Director General of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia said in a speech I posted earlier this week “African subsistence agriculture can become a reference point from which to base sustainable global food production, whilst ensuring it is compatible with the health of the entire biosphere.”

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