Climate resilience in agriculture: How can agricultural systems adapt to climate change?
Figure 1: A drought shows impressive crackles in a potatoe field
Climate change goes along with the multiplication of extreme heat episodes, flooding and seasonal deregulation that increase pressure on agricultural systems. In absence of adaptive measures, global food production could be severely affected. What can be done to limit the impact of climate change on our agricultural production?
What will be the impact of climate change on agricultural systems?
Increase the risks
The past seven years are the seven warmest on record, according to the provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report. But global warming is not the only parameter that will affect the crops development cycle: the effects of climate change include more severe storms, increased drought, extreme heat episode, flooding and risk of pest spreading. Just in 2021 the Indian Ministry of Agriculture declared over 5 million hectares of crop lost in the country due to heavy rains.
As a direct consequence of the climate crisis, productivity at global level will be impacted. A study assessing the impact of temperature increase on major crops yield stated that “without CO2 fertilization, effective adaptation, and genetic improvement, each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6.0%, rice by 3.2%, maize by 7.4%, and soybean by 3.1%.”. Considering that wheat, rice, maize, and soybean provide two-thirds of human caloric intake, this yield loss seriously endangers food security at global scale.
Affect farmers revenues
Climatic events are root causes of global food price fluctuations as they lead to crop failure and reduced global food supply. It has been estimated that climate change could reduce agricultural income by 15-25% (The Economic Time). The high volatility on agricultural prices combined with a lack of insurance coverage put farmers at risk, and especially smallholder farmers.
Who will be affected?
Heterogeneous geographical impact
The following map shows the projected impact on crop yield in 2050, considering a 3°C rise in global temperatures. Countries in the Southern hemisphere are more at risk, considering the multiplication of drought and episodes of extreme heat.
Figure 1: Projected Impacts on Crop Yields in a 3°C Warmer World Source: WRI 2013.
Differentiation depending on crops and exploitation types
Corn and wheat are vulnerable crops to climate change, however some resilient crops present natural strength against climatic stress. Quinoa for example can withstand high levels of salinity and drought. However, climate vulnerability is linked with the farmer’s capacity to adapt, change its crop type and cultivation methods, build adapted infrastructure, and an efficient water management system. Therefore, farmers with low financial and technical resources are the most vulnerable and need urgent and targeted support to build climate resilient systems.
How can we build a climate resilient agriculture?
In a report published in 2021, the FAO presents 7 areas of climate resilient practices:
Cropping systems (ex: agroforestry against drought)
Livestocks systems (ex: rotational grazing against land degradation)
Forest systems (ex: change of species and genetic management to face climate evolutions)
Fisheries, aquaculture and international waters (ex: mangrove restoration against coastal erosion)
Biodiversity (ex: create buffer zones)
Climate resilience practices along food value chains (ex: adapted food storages against extreme heat)
Governance on climate change mitigation and adaptation (ex: environmental taxation and carbon credits mechanisms)
Strategies and technologies for climate change adaptation exist and initiatives from NGOs, research institutes and innovative farmers continue to bloom and strengthen our capacity to face climate challenges in agriculture. However, their implementation needs a strong integrated response with financial and technical support from public and private organizations.
FAO, Climate resilient practices, https://www.fao.org/3/cb3991en/cb3991en.pdf
CUESA, 10 Ways Farmers Can Fight Climate Change, https://cuesa.org/article/10-ways-farmers-can-fight-climate-change
Down to earth, Climate resilient agriculture systems: The way ahead, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/agriculture/climate-resilient-agriculture-systems-the-way-ahead-75385
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Introduction to climate resilience in agriculture,https://www.sare.org/publications/climate-risk-management-and-resilience-on-farms-and-ranches/introduction-7/
World economic forum, Climate Change and Risks to Food Security
World bank, Climate Smart Agriculture, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/climate-smart-agriculture
Climate change and agriculture in South Asia: adaptation options in smallholder production systems, Jeetendra Prakash Aryal, Tek B. Sapkota, Ritika Khurana, Arun Khatri-Chhetri, Dil Bahadur Rahut & M. L. Jat
Arora, N.K. Impact of climate change on agriculture production and its sustainable solutions. Environmental Sustainability 2, 95–96 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42398-019-00078-w
OECD, Agriculture and Climate Change: Towards Sustainable, Productive and Climate-Friendly Agricultural Systems, https://www.oecd.org/agriculture/ministerial/background/notes/4_background_note.pdf
Chuang Zhao et Al., Temperature increase reduces global yields of major crops in four independent estimates, https://www.pnas.org/content/114/35/9326/tab-article-info