CHICAGO — The impacts of climate change on agriculture are for the most part uncertain because they affect every area of the world in vastly different ways. Farmers depend on typical weather patterns and seasons, and when these change, they have to adapt to change what they grow and when. Here’s a look into what farmers in three countries are doing to accommodate the changing earth.
1. Sri Lanka
Weather patterns are changing in Sri Lanka and making it more and more difficult for farmers to grow their normal crops. Usually, Sri Lanka has scorching hot summers, followed by a monsoon that arrives in May, easing the heat. But this year, predictions from government officials have warned that the rain may not be heavy enough to head off the drought. If El Niño gains strength during monsoon season, rains could be below average in many parts of South Asia this year. It’s hard for Sri Lankan farmers to plan ahead, because they don’t know what’s going to happen during this rainy season. But the Department of Agriculture in the country is recommending a reduction of around 30 percent in areas where rice paddies are planted. It wants farmers to plant other crops like onions and potatoes that don’t require large amounts of water, but it’s hard for farmers to break agricultural habits and timing that have existed for years. The Sri Lankan government has introduced price controls to stabilize rising rice prices, but key cash crops like tea, coconut and rubber will also suffer damages if the country is faced with insufficient rain. More than 2 million Sri Lankans depend on the revenue from the tea industry. Today, for the first time in history, tea plantations have been forced to use water brought in by tankers.
70 percent of Pakistan’s land is arid and the rainfall there is not enough to grow crops without irrigation. Farmers are starting to turn to organic farming because it requires smaller cash investment, produces good yields and is more adaptable to climate change. Indigenous seeds used in organic farming are more resilient to unpredictable weather than hybrid seeds. They also help increase soil fertility. Today, 33 percent of farmers in Pakistan are practicing organic farming, and that number is expected to keep increasing. The Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, a government organization, provides training, bio-fertilizers and organic seeds to organic farmers in the country. The organization focuses on the farms in arid areas. Organic farming has boosted exports of rice, dried and fresh fruit, cotton and vegetables. This method helps farmers save money on costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Malian farmers usually begin sowing their fields in late June or early July, which typically falls at the beginning of the rainy season. This year, however, they were in for a surprise – the rains came early at the beginning of May. This caused farmers to scramble to get ready, and most are confused about when they should start growing their crops. Ever since a succession of droughts in the 1980s, the rainy season in Mali has become more unpredictable. Last year, rains didn’t start until July. To adapt to the changing weather timeline, some Malian farmers have started using a traditional agricultural technique of sowing seeds without first ploughing the soil. This encourages crops to grow quickly and allows the farmers to avoid erratic weather changes.
Costs and benefits of global climate change are not equal around the world. With increasing temperature in tropical and arid areas, farms and forestry production will see decreases. Yet, with increasing temperatures in arctic and mountainous areas, suitable land will become available for farming and forestry. The key, however, is for farmers to remain aware of the changes and be flexible with what, where and when they grow.
– Rachel Reed