Climate Change Effects on Agriculture in Arochukwu

by Caroline Vurlumis

The increasing amount of greenhouse gas emissions significantly impacts agricultural production. As the climate changes, farming seasons become ambiguous, there is rainfall change, extreme weather, and increasing disease; all of these factors can lead to crop failure. By 2100 it is predicted that Nigeria may lose up to 4% of its Gross Domestic Product in agriculture. In order to assess climate change and adaptive measures on crop production in the Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State Nigeria, Foster (2013) took a random sampling of 120 farmers. He gave each participant a survey, collecting data on socio-economic status, awareness of climate change, effects of climate change on agricultural products and adaptation. Foster hypothesized that there would be “no significant relationship between the socio-economic characteristics of the farmers and climatic factors affecting crop output.” His study found that climate change had a positive impact on most food crops and a negative effect on agroforestry practices. Additionally, farming experience, education and size of the farm had a positive relationship to crop output while age and rainfall had a negative relationship to output. Continue reading

Amazonian Bacterial Communities after Ecosystem Conversion

by Caroline Vurlumis

The Amazon rainforest is the most extensive tropical forest worldwide containing the largest amount of plant and animal diversity. For years there has been deforestation to create agriculture and cattle pasture which greatly harms biodiversity and causes homogenization in bacterial communities. Rodrigues et al. (2013) tested the impacts of soil microbial biodiversity when land is converted from forest to agriculture. Using transects from forest and pasture, the authors took soil samples of each to test local (alpha) diversity and differentiation (beta) diversity by concentrations of taxonomy and phylogeny. The results showed an increase in alpha diversity and decrease in beta diversity indicating a significant difference in bacterial communities when conversion occurs. There was significant loss in endemic species diversity and an increase of homogenization in the soil which poses a higher risk for net loss of biodiversity in the future. As a result of this study the authors argue that microbial biodiversity loss should be strongly considered when engaging in land conversion due to its important role in tropical ecosystems. Continue reading

Iowa: Farmer Thoughts on Climate Change

by Caroline Vurlumis

Agriculture is being threatened by climate change and yet feeds this threat by emitting greenhouse gases itself. In Iowa, the site of some of the most productive land in the world, a survey investigated farmer perceptions of climate change and their response to altering farming practices. The two major research questions Arbuckle et al. (2013) investigated were: 1. Do farmers support adaptation and mitigation actions and 2. Do beliefs and concerns about climate change influence those attitudes? The surveys supported the authors’ hypothesis that farmer’s level of concern about how climate change would impact their livelihoods was correlated with mitigation strategies. Farmers who did not believe climate change was human-caused or was not a problem were more likely not to support mitigation. Continue reading

Who Loses from Climate Change Effects on Agriculture? Who Wins?

by Caroline Vurlumis

Anthropogenic climate change may lead to more extreme weather events and will impact human health and the economy. One of the most important effects of climate change however is its impact on agriculture and the human population. Using ecological niche modeling (ENM), a technique to relate species presence to environmental factors, Beck (2013) sought to model suitability of agriculture in different regions based on soil conditions and climate. He applied this general and simple model for agriculture across the Old World (defined as Asia, Africa and Europe) and the Australia/Pacific region to create model scenarios of agriculture for the year 2050 and determined which countries would win or lose from climate change in the agricultural sector; different regions vary considerably in agricultural suitability which cannot simply be determined by a country’s wealth. Beck’s model predicted that parts of Europe, Africa and southern and eastern Asia will have a negative impact while north-eastern Europe and the Tibetan plateau will benefit. Continue reading

Kansas: Why Farmers Grow Biofuel Crops

Agriculture has been criticized for its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), but there has not been sufficient research investigating how agriculture can be beneficial in a future with climate change. One beneficial solution is biofuel cultivation, which according to the 2009 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) would significantly reduce GHG emissions (White and Selfa, 2013). As one of the most productive agricultural states, Kansas was chosen by White and Selfa as a valuable case study to investigate factors that influence the farmer decision-making process regarding innovations. Prior to the case study, White and Selfa conducted a literature review on previous studies done nationally and internationally. From the data they developed a conceptual model of key elements involved in farmer decisions. With this model in mind White and Selfa conducted their own study in Kansas by interviewing 16 key informants with expertise in agriculture and environmental issues and 17 farmers. The study concluded that farmers were influential in adopting a new idea such as biofuel cultivation by local environmental conditions, communication through existing social relations, the assurance of farmers continual independence, a contribution to a greater societal good, and whether change was more economically advantageous than previous practices. –Caroline Vurlumis

White, S., Selfa, T., 2013. Shifting Lands: Exploring Kansas Farmers Decision-Making in an Era of Climate Change and Biofuels Production. Environmental Management 51.2, 379-391

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Before initiating their own case study, White and Selfa conducted a literature review to learn about farmer behavior. In Sweden several farmers were asked about their opinion on growing energy crops and it was discovered that policies need to consider a farmer’s personal values and attitudes towards bioenergy crops rather than assuming decisions are purely based on economic grounds. In a 2007 Tennessee study, farmers with higher education and income were much more likely to grow switch grass as biofuel. On the other hand, the lack of infrastructure for biomass processing and inadequate policies prevented biofuel crops in one study in the U.K. In studies in Iowa and Kentucky there were concerns about crop profits and equipment prices. This literature review highlighted common themes that influence farmer decision-making and willingness to grow biofuel crops. From this information White and Selfa were able to create a conceptual model for understanding land use decisions made by farmers based on decision setting, natural environment, the farmer himself, and advantage of new practices.
In April and July of 2010 the authors conducted a series of interviews in Kansas to further examine factors that influence farmer decision-making (especially involving biofuel cultivation). Their research was done in two phases; the first phase involved 16 interviews with key informants with expertise in agriculture and environmental issues such as: state agencies, ethanol production facilities and non-profit groups. The second phase consisted of 17 interviews with a diverse group of farmers from 10 different counties in Kansas. All participants were asked questions within their field of knowledge concerning the impacts of environmental issues on farming and decisions, policy influences and farmer decision-making all in regards to biofuels.

In their analysis, White and Selva found many similarities with their existing conceptual model. When making a decision, farmers expressed concerns with the natural environment. They wanted to assure a continual healthy environmental but in general their perception of environment health was fairly positive. In addition, local influences and local conflict over federal policy, the information available to them, and whether a new practice was profitable and more advantageous than previous practices were very important components in their decision-making process. Any efforts to incentivize and subsidize new practices through policy would most likely clash with farmer values. In this study, the authors found out that climate change was not a salient concern amongst Kansas farmers. They were much more concerned with annual weather patterns rather than long term climate models. Weather is already so extreme in Kansas that farmers do not associate changing weather with climate change. There is ongoing research on this project in Kansas which will provide more data on the ideas in this study. The question of whether Kansas will be a beneficial biofuels generator is still unknown. Continued research is needed at the local, state and national level in order to seriously consider implementing biofuel cultivation

Investigating Approaches to Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture

As the global human population grows exponentially every year, the need for food not only increases, but also the demand for all sorts of other resources. Since the majority of agricultural practices are damaging to many of these, there needs to be a solution to increase food yields without adversely affecting the other resources as well. Garnett et al.(2013) identify four principles of one such approach: sustainable intensification (SI). These principles facilitate an increase in food production while minimalizing environmental damage. The authors point out the importance of using different approaches and implementing and analyzing them in their appropriate context and location. Additionally, the importance of political goals is addressed. Five areas of policy are explored surrounding SI that involve maximum efficiency and benefits while minimizing cost and damages. Nevertheless, it is concluded that SI is a field in progress and is only one piece of a wider solution towards food security and sustainability. In order to explore SI more closely, policy, efficiency, resilience, consumption, and reduction aspects need to be taken into equal consideration. –Caroline Vurlumis

                  Garnett, T., et al. 2013. Sustainable intensification in agriculture: premises and policies. Science 341.6141: 33-34.

                  Garnett et al. investigated SI in a broader perspective in order to investigate how and when SI is best implemented. They first explored production goals and identified that food production needs to be affordable and available but the demand for resource-intensive food needs to be reduced. A need for higher production and yield is inevitable due to policy failures and other detrimental factors, so sustainable measures need to be achieved. There is the problematic factor that conversion of land leads to a higher release of greenhouse gases (GHGs). On the other hand, using land for lower yields release fewer GHGs but require more land. Overall, Garnett et al. concluded that the food system requires a new design. Since SI presents a goal, not a defined methodology, different approaches need to be implemented and explored in the appropriate surroundings and context. 
                  Another major component to consider surrounding SI is politics. Land use and biodiversity policies need to incorporate the impacts of agriculture and need for conservation as well as assuring high yields. Different methods can be used but the best solution can only be determined in a defined context. A successful SI requires land share efficiency and a balance between yield and environmental benefits.
Other dynamics that cannot be ignored when exploring SI are animal welfare and human nutrition. A wider ethical lens should be considering in viewing SI affairs. There is a limitation to meeting livestock demand so the authors believe that demands need to be reduced and that the most promising approach is to improve crop nutrient value through methods such as genetic modification.
In addition to genetic modification there exist other new technologies that must be implemented for SI success. Technology and financial instruments can be used to improve resilience in the market and extend services to new areas (especially in rural areas) to incentivize SI. Most developing countries and low-income communities lack the funds to maximize yields. SI needs to have an agenda that not only aids poor communities but also improves economic growth while avoiding negative impacts. Overall SI is a new developing system and is only a part of the solution to improve food production and security. The food system needs a radical change but Garnett et al. stress that the SI issues at hand must be looked at in relation to policy, resilience, efficiency and consumption.