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.

Prospects for Farmers-lead Plant Breeding in the U.S.

Climate change will increase the needs of farmers to have crops which can withstand increasingly variable growing conditions. Conventionally, American farmers have enjoyed a cooperative relationship with breeding programs operated by large universities in agricultural areas. At their outset, these programs were designed to provide farmers with seeds that would be resilient to local conditions and meet market demands for crop quality. The authors of this paper argue that this relationship has become eroded by market forces which encourage the university programs to undertake research for large commercial agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> firms. The seed supply for the nation’s farmers has become increasingly controlled by a smaller number of production and distribution companies, so the university programs are being aimed at an ever smaller set of clients. In this way the bio-diversity of seeds is quickly decreasing, as is the infrastructure which has traditionally connected between seed companies, farmers and university breeders. It is argued by the authors that a strong network of communication and collaboration between these groups will be necessary to strengthen agricultural biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>..—Asa Smith Kamer
 Leland, G., 2010. Socioeconomic Obstacles to Establishing a Participatory Plant Breeding Program for Organic Growers in the United States. Sustainability 2, 73–91.

The focus of university breeding research on an increasingly small base of crops, bred for a few commercial characteristics, has greatly reduced the availability of breeding programs which focus on the needs of small farmers. Large seed companies and participating university breeders focus on a small number of profitable crops for the ideal climate and soil conditions in which they generally operate. Small growers often have much different needs, growing on smaller plots which do not have standardized conditions. Therefore, the small seed base produced for large, mechanized and chemically treated farm operations does not meet the needs of small growers who are selling directly to consumers and are more vulnerable to crop failure onset by dysfunctional seed.
 The trend toward industrial agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> is rapidly decreasing the biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> of crops worldwide. The need for increased agricultural biodiversity has been widely promoted by advocates for sustainable agricultural practices. However, models which successfully integrate a greater range of crops as an alternative to industrial mono-cultures have not become widespread. There are also differences of opinions on how to best design and implement breeding programs which return the benefits of agricultural biodiversity to farmers. Leland presents a case study on one method known as participatory plant breeding (PPB). PPB is a model in which farmers, as well as university breeders, are encouraged to breed locally adapted crops, which can then be distributed to farmers in similar geographic and climatic conditions by seed companies. By using a case study of a prototypical PPB program in one agricultural region of the United States, the author shows its potential utility and current limitations in place because of restrictive socio-economic conditions.
 The case study, named the Seed Project is located in the Northeastern United States. It was organized as a collaboration between farmers, university breeders and their staff, other university researchers, industry based breeders, USDA<!–[if supportFields]> XE “US Department of Agriculture (USDA)” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> personnel, and farmer’s representatives. The project brought together these various actors in the hopes of discovering ways of encouraging connectivity between them. In order to understand the current state of seed production and distribution, the researchers conducted extensive interviews, reviewed documents such as grant applications and material transfer agreements, and conducted participant observation at the project’s workshops, meetings, and field days. The project took over a year to begin because it relied on many personal relationships which took time to develop. When it did get off the ground, it quickly developed and distributed new vegetable varieties. The farmers were particularly interested in improved resistance of varieties to local diseases, just as predicted in the literature as a theoretical advantage of the PPB model.
 By bringing together these separate groups, the project illuminated important missing trade links which were missing and showed where lack of knowledge was preventing growth of PPB. The researchers found that continued growth of PPB was not restricted merely by breeding behaviors of researchers but by larger forces of genetic homogenization created by monopolistic agricultural companies. Although PPB is believed to be a possible method of reforming these socio-economic obstacles to agricultural biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]>XE “biodiversity”<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, this study showed some of the current challenges facing efforts toward that goal. Primarily, securing funding remained difficult for the program organizers exactly because of the program’s success. The researchers found that funding organizations which provided short term grants, such as the USDA<!–[if supportFields]> XE “US Department of Agriculture (USDA)” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, were unlikely to renew grants to the project once it showed three years of successful organizing. The authors pointed out that long term grants may be needed in order to more firmly establish regional PPB networks. The brevity of the project, three years, was found to be an obvious roadblock to networking, and represents a potential obstacle for similar projects in other areas. While the project’s official ending was somewhat of a letdown to many participants, the unofficial connections can remain in place as farmers and interested university breeders can collaborate with small seed companies to integrate greater diversity into local food systems.

On Farm Crop Conservation

Climate change represents a threat to the genetic security of the crop base of many farming regions. Plants which have been bred to exist in certain climatic conditions will face new ranges of temperature, precipitation, and disease prevalence. Farmers face the long term challenge of gradually changing conditions which will consistently threaten production and livelihood if not met with effective adaptation of genetic resources. Greater agricultural biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> instills resilience for farmers by giving them a wider set of potentially effective crops. The necessity of plant breeding to this end has been recognized and approached in two manners: ex-situ conservation; breeding centers and storage collections operated by governmental or academic institutions, or in-situ conservation; on-farm efforts to maintain genetic diversity both to satisfy the economic needs of the producer and the ecological need for biodiversity of the community and natural environment. Specifically, farmers saving their own seed, rather than buying it from afar, allows for a locally adapted network of productive genetic resources which are especially resilient to local disturbances. Sthapit et al. examined the necessity of in situ conservation systems as a measure to ensure food security, particularly respondent to climate change. The authors also make recommendations as to how to best implement programs which conserve agricultural biodiversity despite the pressure of social and market forces which threaten local seed conservation practices. .—Asa Smith Kamer
 Sthapit, B., Padulosi, S., Ma, B., 2010. Role of On-farm/In situ Conservation and Underutilized Crops in the Wake of Climate Change. Indian Journal of Plant Genetic Resources 23–34.

The range of plant diseases and pests will change substantially as temperatures change. This poses a direct threat to agricultural areas which do not feature a diverse range of crops. Areas with only one or several strains of the same crop are particularly threatened by pathogens which are not known to farmers. Without biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]>XE “biodiversity”<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, diseases which effect one crop can devastate production and livelihoods by damaging large acreages. Areas which have a great agricultural diversity will be much less damaged by any one disease. A large portfolio of genetics is a crucial resource for communities which rely primarily on agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> for their subsistence. Although many areas which are now adopting the farming practice of monocropping may not find maintenance of genetic diversity to be economically effective, it may become more attractive in changing climate conditions.
Sthapitet al. addressed the reasons why in-situ strategies for plant genetic conservation have not yet been able to have a significant effect despite being recognized by large agencies which seek to enhance food security. The authors’ research revealed that although there is a significant scientific effort to encourage genetic conservation, there is also a lack of knowledge of how best to implement farmer-initiated conservation measures. Most projects which already exist are ex-situ breeding facilities which do not provide access of findings or success to farmers. These facilities also have difficulty incorporating local informal farmer knowledge, often a region’s most significant source of agronomical information. These facilities are often isolated from the farming communities which could benefit the most from professional and well-funded efforts at biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]>XE “biodiversity”<![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> breeding.
The current institutional mindset does not favor farmer projects. It has been a challenge to identify economically sustainable incentives which encourage farmers to practice conservation breeding. It was found by the researchers that farmers who actively conserve biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> on site generally do so because it serves an immediate benefit to their livelihood. Considering the general increase in market forces being experienced by farmers of all scales worldwide, it is unlikely that practices which encourage agricultural biodiversity will continue unless they are economically competitive. The authors note that economic incentives from governments or information campaigns by non-governmental organizations could also potentially encourage these practices. Although successful models of this type of intervention do not yet exist, the authors point to them as an important future focus of research and funding.

Climate change is expected to increase extreme events such as floods, draughts and landslides. However, farmers will experience warming patterns most severely as a long term increase of uncertainty. By integrating a diverse range of crops, trees, livestock, and aquatic species farmers can build the capacity to produce a livelihood in a wider range of possible climates. Given the importance of encouraging local on-site biodiversity<!–[if supportFields]> XE “biodiversity” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> conservation, the authors give criteria for evaluating a community’s current and potential resources to ensure agricultural biodiversity: the specific community processes which purposely or inadvertently produce agricultural diversity, the specific local actors who maintain genetic diversity, and the factors which encourage farmers to continue or abandon traditionally effective methods of seed saving. These features contribute to the relative strengths or weaknesses of a community’s food security.

Climate Change and Asian Water Towers

Most of Asia’s population is fed with food grown from Himalayan meltwater. 1.4 billion people, over 20% of the world’s population, rely on these mountain water sources. Climate change is predicted to have severe affects on their water and food supply. Until this study, much of the research on climate and precipitation predictions under climate change scenarios has been either local yet anecdotal, or general to the continent without specificity to regional variations. This study aimed to identify the main river runoff<!–[if supportFields]> XE “runoff” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> areas fed by Himalayan water, and predict the effects of climate change on water availability in those areas, considering regional differences. The main components of river basins which will be altered by climate change are the importance of meltwater on downstream hydrology, the changing ice-covered landscapes (glaciers<!–[if supportFields]> XE “glaciers” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “glacier” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>), and the water supply from upstream basins which dictate food security. The authors focused on the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Brahmaputra” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, Yangtze, and Yellow river<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Yellow river” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> basins and food growing areas. The predicted effects of climate change will be quite different on each of these areas, according to the results.—Asa Smith Kamer
Immerzeel, W., Van Beek, L., Bierkens, M., 2010. Climate Change Will Affect the Asian Water Towers. Science 328, 1382–1385

Each region features many different types of glacier<!–[if supportFields]> XE “glacier” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> which each respond differently to climate changes. Immerzeel et al. aimed to use hydrology models which would not be affected by reservoirs or downstream extraction which can calculate the discharge into whole basins, rather than from only one type of glaciers<!–[if supportFields]> XE “glaciers” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. These models found that reduced meltwater would have the most significant effect on the Brahmaputra<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Brahmaputra” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> and Indus river<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Indus river” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> basins. Of the examined basins, these two rely most heavily on snow and glacier water. The other three, the Yangtzee, Ganges, and Yellow river<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Yellow river” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> valleys, each have less flow from meltwater for various reasons: relatively larger catchment areas, smaller glaciers, more of a reliance on water from monsoon<!–[if supportFields]> XE “monsoon” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> precipitation. In the Brahmaputra and Indus river valley 40% of downstream water is meltwater, whereas in the other river valleys the contribution of glacial melt is much less significant.
Each of these regions uses upstream dams and reservoirs in order to regulate water availability for agriculture<!–[if supportFields]> XE “agriculture” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>. Any changes of water flow into these holding systems will have significant effects on the downstream populations that rely on local food sources. The data found that although smaller glaciers<!–[if supportFields]> XE “glaciers” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “glacier” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> will mean less available water in all of the 5 river regions, the decrease of meltwater will be somewhat, though not totally, mitigated by increased upstream rainfall which is predicted in climate change scenarios. In the case of the Yellow river<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Yellow river” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, river flow is actually predicted to increase. The authors also mentioned though, that these cumulative results should be treated with skepticism because the current climatology and precipitation modelling techniques are unrefined and so far unproven. Regardless of these uncertainties the Brahmaputra<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Brahmaputra” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> and Indus river<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Indus river” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> valleys show the most vulnerability with predicted consistent decrease of water availability.
The authors connected the predicted future water amounts with measures of food production potential such as water available for irrigation, crop yields, caloric value of crops, and the amount of energy people require from their diets. With these data they were able to predict how many fewer people would be able to be supported in each region as agricultural water supply decreases. They found that compared to current trends predicted future food production will decrease significantly (most significantly in the Brahmaputra<!–[if supportFields]> XE “Brahmaputra” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> and Indus areas because of high populations and strong reliance on meltwater for irrigation).
The authors found in this study that the Himalayan glaciers<!–[if supportFields]> XE “glaciers” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]> XE “glacier” <![endif]–><!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>, Asia’s “Water Towers”, are sensitive to climate change, and that their melting will have significant effects on downstream human populations. They also found however, that these changes will vary greatly by region, and may not be as severe as previous research has suggested.

Brazialian GHG Production

On November 4th, 2009 Brazilian officials announced that the country was enacting voluntary Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals of 36.1-38.9% less than projected 2020 levels. Although the government claimed it would not accept any mandatory international emissions levels, it did inventory anthropogenic GHG emissions according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which designates five categories of Energy, Industrial Process, Agriculture, Land Use Change and Forestry, and Waste. The authors of this paper (Cerri et al. 2010) analysed governmental and non-governmental reports on the GHG emissions from each of these sectors within Brazil in order to find where the most significant emissions were and thus where the most potential for reductions exists. Their research found that four main sources were responsible for 90% of the countries GHG output: Forest and Grassland Conversion (i.e. deforestation), Fossil Fuel Combustion, Enteric Fermentation (methane released from cattle dung and flatulance) and Agriculture Soils (soil carbon lost in tillage, erosion and land degradation). These areas were examined by the authors and the potential GHG savings of each were calculated.–Asa Kamer
            
Cerri, Carlos., Bernoux, Martial., Maia, Stoecio., Cerri, Carlos., 2010. Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Options in Brazil for Land-use Change, Livestock and Agriculture. Scientia Agricola 67.

Cerri et al. addressed the GHG emissions of Brazil by focusing on the mitigation potential in each of the most emitting sectors to either sink more carbon or emit less. Business as usual scenarios were projected and mitigation strategies were extrapolated to measure the potential savings of various mitigation strategies by 2020. Their accounting strategy used two formulas to measure mitigation options. The first followed the 1996 Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories given by the International Panel on Climate Change. The second was a tool to evaluate carbon balance impacts of forestry and agriculture management on GHG emissions developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Both metrics were used to evaluate the GHG implications of the changing dynamics of forestry, agriculture and energy in Brazil.
    The most significant contributer to climate change in Brazil is deforestation. The Amazon rainforest is a vast natural carbon sink. Rainforest ecosystems sequester more carbon naturally than almost any other kind. In calculating Brazil’s contribution to climate change the preservation of this forest represents the largest mitigation potential. In 2007 the Brazilian government adopted a policy which sets the goal of decreasing the rate of deforestation by 30% every set of three years. The current rate is 12,185 square kilometers per year and but considering this government goal the rate by 2020 could be less than half of the current pace. From a GHG management perspective the forests are a crucial carbon sequestration oppurtunity. Although many Brazilian forests are under heavy threat the replanting of forests is also a consideration for GHG management.  
    In Brazil the enteric fermentation from cattle is the third largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and the largest to methane gas emmissions. Brazil accounts for a quarter of the developing world’s milk production and one fifth of it’s meat production so mitigation of cattle based emissions will have relatively large impacts. There are a variety of means to reduce this source of GHG: breeding to select for breeds which emit less methane, improving productivity of meat and milk productivity so less cattle are required for the same amount of product, manure management which focuses on correctly using waste as an organic fertilizer so as to sink carbon back into the soil rather than have it be released gaseously, and the use of digestors which capture the methane from cattle and convert it into a usable fuel.
    Tillage of Brazilian fields releases significant GHG. Rather than remain in the soil, carbon is released when the topsoil is turned over yearly to add fertilizer, shape beds and remove weeds. The alternative to this practice is to convert land into a no till system which allows the soil to hold more water and increase it’s stability against erosion. Tilling integrates air into deeper layers of soil stimulating microbial activity, this results in the increases decomposition of organic material which releases greater amounts of carbon from the soil. In this way previously tilled fields which have been depleted of carbon over years represent a vast potential carbon sink. There are currently 28 HA of no till land in production in Brazil and the government climate mitigation efforts aim for 40 HA of no till land by 2020.
    In addition to these main sources of agricultural and forestry GHG mitigation, the paper also covered several other methods which, while not as significant individually, could also add up to large GHG reduction if all enacted effectively. These include reducing methane released from decomposing matter in flooded rice fields through better water management and increasing the sustainable production and use of bio-ethanol and biodiesel.
    The authors estimated that increasing carbon sinks represent 19-39% of mitigation potential and reducing emissions represents 61-81%. Since the authors accounted for the increased use of bio fuel crops as a GHG savings for both the agriculture and energy sectors, their estimates for the mitigation potential of Brazil were even higher than that of the government.

Livestock Biodiversity an Important Measure of Climate Change Adaptation

Research on climate change mitigation within agriculture often highlights methods of GHG reduction which simultaneously act to increase climate change adaptability. Livestock production is a sector in which possibilities for these dual-purpose systematic transformations are robust. Livestock production is global, but within the spectrum of how the 33 types of livestock which are kept worldwide are many degrees of reliance on natural resources, dependence on external inputs, use of expensive technological equipment, and types of knowledge systems used to breed livestock. The authors identify two main styles of livestock production which coexist globally: concentrated, livestock rearing facilities which focus on the yield of only one product (milk, eggs, etc.) and rural forage-based systems which require low external input, use animals for many products (in cows for example, meat, milk, fabric, fertilizer, work as well as value to the ‘cultural landscape’), and maintain genetic wealth through indigenous knowledge systems. The focus of the paper was to evaluate these two type of livestock management practices in light of the requirement to adapt and possibly mitigate the effects of climate change. Specifically the authors examined the potential of genetic diversity to play a role in the ability of livestock systems to remain resilient despite the substantial and long-term consequences of climate change.—Asa Kamer
Hoffman, Irene 2010. Climate change and the characterization, breeding and conservation of animal genetic resources. Animal Genetics 41, 32-46.

Hoffman researched the ‘growing dichotomy’ between commercial operations and small-scale pastoralists who live on the land. Since genetic diversity is considered to be an important measure of agricultural systems facing systematic shocks such as climate change, the genetic characteristics of these two types of production were examined. The commercial model is genetically narrow featuring a small number of globally distributed breeds which have been researched and distributed to many developed countries because of one productive trait. Regions which have built industrial livestock systems are the ones which have suffered the greatest loss of breed diversity in the past century. These systems are not able to quickly adjust to sensitivities from new temperature, precipitation, or disease conditions caused by climate change because they generally rely on only one breed which is specifically adapted to the existing set of conditions. The author discusses how livestock physiology and nutrition changes when temperatures rise above the animals’ adaptive range, significantly decreasing their ability to produce milk and/or meat. In the context of climate change more research is required to elaborate on this paper’s prediction that current concentrated feeding operations may face severe challenges as their animals live in different conditions. On the other hand hot arid climates in many parts of the world provide limited natural resources and only support agricultural systems like low input pastoralism. Thus, many of the world’s locally kept and bred livestock breeds already live in the types of climates which could be created or exacerbated by climate change. The people who raise local, small herd, forage livestock are generally economically and ecologically marginalized.
Since livestock bred by local people and methods will be more suited to the local environment than those imported from other countries, local herds will likely support the adaptation to climate change for rural peoples much more effectively than foreign breeds in concentrated operations. According to the author it is more important that countries develop their own genetic livestock pools than simply import them for economic reasons, however, the author suggests that should climate change make certain local livestock populations unsuited for new conditions, exchange of breeds among regions which share similar environments could be necessary. Thus climate change will increase the necessity for genetic exchange of livestock among countries. Since many of the world’s local breeds are uncharacteristic, that is not cataloged and registered internationally for their traits, it is difficult for outsiders to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of local breeds, making their potential for exchange with international livestock breeding programs poor. In order to integrate pastoral populations and rare local livestock breeds with global climate change adaptation measures, it is important to characterize local breeds and prioritize agricultural biodiversity as a key measure of climate change adaptation. 

Does Crop-Livestock Integration Mean Resilience to African Farmers?

The decision of African farmers to plant only crops, raise only livestock or operate a mixed system which incorporates both, will be largely affected by a changing climate. However, the specific climate changes, i.e. increased or decreased precipitation, as well as intensity and abruptness of climate patterns will determine the severity and necessity of adaptation to new methods for farmers all across the continent. Niggol Seo (2010) studied the association between temperature and precipitation with farmers choice of methods concerning specialization or diversification of on-farm practices. Using surveys of around 9000 farms from ten countries, the research indicated that a hotter, drier climate will result in many more integrated farms. The expected profitability of an integrated farm as a method for farm resilience does, however, depend on the climate model applied. The research found that by 2060 integrated farms will be much more common and profitable in Africa. —Asa Kamer
Seo, S., 2010. Is an integrated farm more resilient against climate change? A micro-econometric analysis of portfolio diversification in African agriculture. Food Policy 35, 32–40.


The data for this study was taken from a 2002–2003 growing year collection produced by the GEF/World Bank project on climate change. Countries were selected so that each region of Africa would be represented and data collection took place clustered in villages in order to make survey taking more affordable. The countries were Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ghana representing West Africa, Cameroon for Central Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia for East Africa, South Africa and Zamibia for southern Africa, and Egypt for Northern Africa. These data reflected decisions already made by farmers regarding their farm management choices in response to varying environmental factors of the preceding years. The data collectors attempted to understand how African farmers react when forced to continue profitability despite lower yields as temperature and precipitation change threaten previously profitable methods. The data on these previously executed decisions by farmers was then extrapolated to explain what farmers will do under circumstances predicted by climate change models. Of those surveyed, 7% specialized in livestock while 40% specialized in crops, making about half of the respondents specialized, and half integrated. The profitability of integrated farms was higher per hectare than it was for specialized farms, considering own food at market cost and labor costs only for hired laborers. Livestock only farms and mixed farms tended to be in hotter and drier regions, while milder areas with more precipitation featured many more crop only farmers. Areas which had access to heavy springtime stream flow tended to be crop farmers because of the available water at planting time and the potential to store water for the hotter summer, whereas farmers in regions which get more summer rains tended to have livestock only  because local irrigation is less viable for planting. In addition to lands of high water flow, specialized farms tended to be in areas with electricity.
    Distinct ecological and agricultural regions are diverse and plentiful in Africa. The farmers surveyed live in landscapes from high mountains to flat plains, and the resulting crop and livestock used can be quite different. Accordingly, the way that farmers adapt to climate change will also show a diversity of strategies. However the research did show that across the board, the switch to integrated farms will be profitable into the future. An increase in temperature of one degree C is expected to raise the number of integrated farms and lessen the number of either kind of specialized farm. An increase in precipitation of any amount correlates with an increase of the number of farms with any crops, be they mixed or specialized.
    The research found that any significant and abrupt change in climate would be greatly harmful to African farmers, causing a possible 75% reduction in productivity. However, even under extreme climate changes, diverse farms are estimated to fare better than specialized ones. Given the predicted longterm and consistent nature of the changing climate, farmers will likely have to continue adapting their practices to new temperatures and precipitation levels. Farms which remain livestock or crop only will continue to face mounting ecological pressure to integrate as time goes on and the climate continues to change. The paper suggests that aid and government programs attempting to help farmers in the process of climate adaptation should do so with an eye toward the regional differences in ecology and policy. They also suggest that their data on adaptation was created assuming the current practice of communal land for grazing and planting, and that aid projects which alter those land use patterns would also alter the predicted results of this research.

Climate Change and Agricultural Water Scarcity

The effects of climate change coupled with increased Municipal and Industrial (M&I) demand for water will lead to worldwide changes in the availability of water for use in agriculture. However, the exact effects and intensity of climate change remain to be seen and the way a changing climate affects water availability will vary greatly depending on the region. Also, taking into account the environmental flow requirements (EFR) of a region, the amount of water designated to remain in the ecosystem rather than for human use, Strzepek et al. modeled the future ramifications for agricultural water availability. The research pointed to certain hotspots, areas such as Africa, India, China and the western United States where the combined effects of a drier climate and increased human demand for urban lifestyles, industrial production, and energy production, all of which indicate increased usage. In these locations water scarcity is predicted to put acute pressure on agricultural productivity. — Asa Kamer

Strzepek, K., Boehlert, B., 2010. Competition for Water for the Food System. Philisophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Sciences 365, 2927–2940.

Strzepek et al. identified potentially stressed agricultural regions by focusing on specific geopolitical regions and estimating likely water demands based on trends of increasing or decreasing industrial water need. The increase of both urban populations as well as the increase of a nation’s GDP correlate with dramatically increased water usage per capita, so countries which are developing larger cities and industrial economies are likely to require more water in the future. Subsurface water, the most common source for agricultural irrigation, will be placed under increasingly heavy demand as non-agricultural needs grow, thus decreased supply was considered in modeling future availability.
     In order to incorporate the effects of a changing climate on already threatened agricultural water sources, the modeling methodology used three distinct climate scenarios to predict future supply; a stable unchanging climate, a generally wetter climate and a generally drier climate. In any of the scenarios, threatened areas are identified, however which areas are most challenged depends on the scenario. For instance, in Europe under the drier scenario agriculture water supply is threatened whereas in the wetter scenario it is not. Some areas, like Brazil and the U.K. are not likely to face climate change-based agricultural water shortage under either scenario.
    The researchers identified a region’s likelihood for water shortage by considering how much water is currently available for agriculture, and then factored the likely increased demands from industry and urban use. Many ‘developing’ countries face a specifically difficult water management challenge. Industrial development requires increasingly large water inputs, especially as a coolant for power plants. The intensive water use of these processes diverts water away from agricultural availability. Urban residents use significantly more water. This is the result, in many developing countries, of  a change from limited central sources such as a town pump, well or water truck to plumbing directly into the house. This allows for the potential of overuse in a local area as individuals use more than what is sustainable for the region as a whole. This trend also appears on a larger scale, as transnational borders dissect rivers and watersheds. In these stations certain administrative regions can overuse, creating scarcity downstream. Here, the researchers identified a shortage of appropriate agricultural water management, globally, as a cause of consistent local misuse and constructed need.
    The other demand for water are Environmental Flow Requirements. These are the calculated need for flowing water in an ecosystem which is institutionally maintained in order to secure ecosystem services. The EFR of a given areas varies greatly depending on the type of ecosystem. For example Oceanian water ways require 54 percent of water, while those in the Nile river basin require 23 percent. These values are calculated to satisfy only minimum ecological requirements.