Costa Rican Farmers Use Sustainable Agriculture to Adapt to Climate Change

 Current agricultural land management strategies in tropical regions will likely not be appropriate or stable under the effects of changing temperatures and precipitation levels brought on by climate change. To satisfy economic and socio-ecological demands, landholders will need to change their practices in order to adapt to the conditions of a changing climate. In many cases, systematic-farm level changes which promote long-term farm sustainability, such as local seed banks and integrating trees into farm systems are potentially effective climate change adaptation strategies. A popular sustainable practice examined by the researchers is the integration of forests with agricultural land (agroforestry) to increase yield of fruits and nuts, provide livestock fodder, and clean the water and air. The use of trees on farms accelerates the connectivity between wild and agricultural ecosystems for both economic and ecological gains. Smith and Oelbermann (2010) evaluated the awareness of climate change of a rural Costa Rican agricultural village and analyzed which sustainable agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> practices already in place could also serve as climate change adaptation measures. .—Asa Smith Kamer
Smith, C., Oelbermann, M., 2010. Climate Change Perception and Adaptation in a Remote Costa Rican Agricultural Community. The Open Agriculture Journal 4, 72–79.

The conversion of forest<!–[if supportFields]>XE “forest”<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> and grassland<!–[if supportFields]> XE “grassland” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> into agricultural land is one of the most significant sources of GHG emissions. In Costa Rica this occurs most significantly when native forests are converted into either livestock grazing<!–[if supportFields]> XE “grazing” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> area or plantation farming of coffee or other cash crops. While small farmers do not have as large an individual impact as larger types of agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, they do make decisions which have an effect on GHG output. When trees are felled or conserved, or replanted to be integrated into an agricultural system, there is both a local and regional environmental effect on erosion<!–[if supportFields]> XE “erosion” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, soil health, wildlife habitat, and water quality. As land changes from forest into agriculture, not only is there a global externality of GHGs but there is also a degradation of soil quality and marginalization of productivity as agriculture is implemented. Unless sustainable agriculture practices aimed at alleviating these consequences are implemented, there will be a continued decrease in food productivity, a significant social vulnerability, as well as continued environmental damage. Those practices may also be tools to adapting to climate change.
Smith and Oelbermann chose the village of Durika, Costa Rica, to examine the local knowledge of farm level responses to climate change. The village is located on former plantations which badly degraded the soil by removing all trees, overplowing, and overusing agricultural chemicals. Establishing a village on that site necessitated incorporation of sustainable techniques to rejuvenate lost soil productivity, reverse erosion<!–[if supportFields]> XE “erosion” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, and improve water quality. The residents have already been exposed to information regarding sustainable practices from scientists and NGO’s who have sought to use the success of sustainable practices there as a model for the many other Costa Rican villages suffering the effects of overgrazing, abandoned plantations, and deforestation<!–[if supportFields]> XE “deforestation” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>.
The authors picked a random sampling of residents from the village to questions about their agricultural practices, knowledge of climate change, and opinions of the village’s adaptive capacity to climate change. The participants were asked about their observations about the climate change that has already affected their area and how they predicted it will continue, the type of adaptation strategies being implemented and their results, and their beliefs on Durika’s ability to continue to adapt. According to the respondents, increased temperatures and decreased precipitation have not yet caused significant damage to productivity. However, the livestock-predator species of snake ferdelance was reported to be increasingly active in farm areas, which was a cause of concern.
Some respondents believed that based on current patterns the increased severity of change will be a threat to their farms. Also, changes in wildlife and plant dispersal patterns were expected by farmers to be a future catalyst of change for their livestock management practices. The respondents displayed a generally good understanding of climate change and are already beginning to instigate adaptation strategies. The respondent’s main concern was that adaptive measures to climate change must not hinder current livelihood or food production. The researchers believe that good local knowledge of climate change is an advantage in initiating necessary changes. Also reported was that already existing social networks such a government agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> extensions and non-governmental organizations were crucial resources in the village’s efforts to be aware of coming challenges and meet them with appropriate on-farm techniques. This finding was believed by the authors to be broadly generalizable to rural farmers. Villagers were also encouraged to share their successes with one and other so approaches can be continually improved.

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