Does climate change affect farmers?

20 February 2020
Does climate change affect farmers? - © Jacqui Taylor

Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger is Jacqui Taylor, an agricultural journalist and CEO of Agritourism Africa. She built an information hub highlighting tourism farm experiences across the country, thereby allowing (local and foreign) to incorporate visits to farms as part of their travel plans. 

The obvious answer is ‘yes, without a doubt’. How does this affect those of us who live in cities? Farming revolves around controlled food production. Food security has increased the quality of life of citizens around the world, but it has come at a cost which is unsustainable in the long term. Why?

Estimates for global population growth is approximately 9 Billion people by 2050. Legend has it, that food production will have to increase by 60% to ensure there is enough food to accommodate the increase in population growth.

So, what is sustainable agriculture? Sustainable agriculture is based on principles of not raping the land of its resources but giving back. Industrial farming methods do not necessarily follow this principle. The challenges that Industrial farming need to recognise are that unhealthy farming practices (no crop rotation, use of too many chemicals/fertilisers, inefficient use of water for irrigation purposes etc.) All have a major impact on climate change, ecosystem destruction, water scarcity and soil degradation. Modern farming techniques and technologies are used by farmers to meet the growing need for food, but at a cost.

Farmers need stable climatic conditions, for example, regular rainfall, seasonal temperature variation (not extremes) etc. South African farmers have experienced the devastating impact of climate change already. The increased severity of droughts will lead to increased desertification and a significant problem for livestock farmers. The rise in temperatures leads to a reduction in fertility and an increase in the animals’ vulnerability to disease.

So, without a doubt climate change does impact food security by reducing the availability of food.

What can we do as consumers to create a more sustainable future for our children? The obvious answer is to reduce the amount of food wastage, approximately one-third (33%) of all food is wasted. Currently agricultural production provides enough food to feed over 10 billion people, so the rate of agricultural production has increased faster than the increase in population growth. Why then are over a billion people starving? We do not need to produce more food; we need to address the inequality of access to food. All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.

The agricultural production system can become environmentally sustainable if food is not wasted. Are farmers to blame or consumers? Both, as consumers want to buy ‘perfect’ looking food, so the farmers are meeting the demand, however, farmers also are responsible for wasting food at the production level. The work that goes into producing ‘perfect’ products is not understood by consumers. Consumers must take responsibility for educating themselves to appreciate the value. Whether it is ‘farm to fork’ initiatives or accommodation facilities on farms, bridges need to be built if we (all humans) are to proactively address climate change. Fortunately, we have a number of forward-thinking farmers, like JB van den Berg, who have embraced precision, organic and no-till farming methods.

Agritourism is an initiative to help farmers and consumers to interact – consumers need to understand that food is only available because of the farmer. Farming is hard work and high risk. The link between Agritourism and the sustainability of the Rural Economy derives from the definition of this activity. Agritourism can only take place on a working farm, in other words, the main activity is farming and tourism is a by-product.

Agritourism encourages responsible environmental practices on farms, from waste to water to energy management. It is in the interest of farmers to keep their input costs as low as possible. Farmers understand sustainability. They understand climate change. With both, they are at the forefront of confronting change because they are directly affected by it.

People do not like change, but there is no alternative. A change in attitude towards the consumption of food must happen.

Extreme nature and weather events have been occurring because the average temperature around the world has gone up by 1% and in the Southern Hemisphere, several countries e.g. Australia, the increase is 2%.

Sean de Cleene from New Zealand is CEO of the Food Systems Initiative and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum: “I think if you’re a smallholder farmer in Southern Africa, or if you’re a farmer of any kind in Southern Africa, it wasn’t that many years ago where you could quite easily predict when the rains were coming and when the seasons were. The ability to do that has gone and so we have to be able to look at how we can mitigate against both of these and at the same time we have to also look at how we can adapt because the reality is here.

Southern Africa is Agricultural and clearly action is needed. The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Is Southern Africa sleepwalking into a climate catastrophe?” recently that was republished in the Daily Maverick. Mr. de Cleene suggested that positive action by Governments could include providing subsidies for regenerative farming practices, for example, farmers could trade on the carbon market and make additional income out of improving the quality of the soil. “Even farming areas can actually become a viable economic commodity in their own right while we need to deal with the issues around reducing carbon” Mr. de Cleene said as a suggestion on how farmers can view climate change in a positive manner in order to find a solution.

So, what difference can I make as an individual? If you add the committed individuals to create a group they become lobby agents to force change.

The age of easily accessible resources has gone forever. The damage has been done. Farmers are at the forefront of climate change and have seen their input costs, for example, electricity and water, increase significantly. Farming has become a risky business.

As consumers, we can make a difference by becoming more environmentally conscious while ensuring social inequalities are overcome. Sustainability means that all humans need to ensure that our processes, systems etc. endure but do not deplete, the planet. The responsibility lies with the individual, not governments, not the ‘green’ movement, or any associations.

Take responsibility now for your own actions – sustainability is that simple.


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