CLIMATE CHANGE Agriculture
S OMMER S
STAPLE S/REUTER S
‘We can prevent the worst impacts of climate change. But we need the political will to make that happen’
ABOVE: farmer David Revill checks his flood-damaged runner bean crop in Severn Stoke, Worcestershire, in July 2007; BELOW RIGHT: corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field in Ferdinand, Indiana, in July 2012
the virus to persist for longer during winter and its main midge vector species to expand northwards. And sure enough, a 2011 study found concrete evidence that recent outbreaks of the disease across Europe were linked to climate change.
The disease was irst reported in the UK in 2007, and has killed 30 35 per cent of sheep locks that it has infected. ‘It wouldn’t have appeared on the shores of the UK if the temperature hadn’t warmed su iciently for the midge to survive,’ Jones says.
SALINITY THREAT In low-lying coastal areas, sea-level rise is beginning to have a signi icant impact on agricultural production. In Kiribati, a small Paci ic island nation, changes in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and storm surges are leading to salt contamination of freshwater resources and soil. Taro, once the most abundant crop on the islands is increasingly being killed by saline intrusion, as are coconut palms and fruit trees. According to a report by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services there has been an overall deterioration of health, with 60 per cent of children under the age of ten suﬀering from Vitamin A de iciencies and malnutrition.
In Bangladesh, rising sea levels in the Bay of Bengal are encroaching on the vast lat agricultural lands of the fertile Ganges Delta, resulting in increasing levels of soil salinity. A 2010 study found that salt-aﬀected areas in ten coastal districts of Bangladesh had increased by more than a quarter to more than 950,000 hectares between 1973 and 2009. In some districts, the salinity level had almost doubled.
There was also an increasing trend of salinity in a number of the local rivers, while waterlogged areas had also more than doubled, from 62,000 hectares in 1975 76 to 148,000 hectares in 2008 09. This was due to a combination of factors, including seasonal submergence and tidal surges.
Although a trend towards planting salt-tolerant varieties of rice is helping some farmers just about hold their own, many are facing disaster. A 2012 survey of 360 farming households in four villages in the delta found that 80 per cent of respondents experienced high salinity in their rice ields, compared to two per cent and 13 per cent ten and ive years ago respectively. The farmers reported that almost all salt-free and low-salinity farmland had turned into mediumor high-salinity farmland, which had a severe impact on agricultural productivity. Three quarters of respondents reported declining rice production, with more than 60 per cent saying that they faced a food crisis during at least some of the year.
LIVING IN HOPE So where’s the hope, if indeed there is any? The answers are often simple: mulching, composting, using forms of irrigation that can cope with limited water and planting drought-resistant crops.
Small-scale farmers in developing countries are already implementing these strategies, with the help of development NGOs. But the big changes need to come at an international level, says Oxfam’s head of economic justice, Hannah Stoddart. ‘It’s not all doom and gloom if we can mobilise political action and if we can kick the fossil-fuel habit in the North,’ she says. ‘We can prevent the worst impacts of climate change. It’s eminently possible. But we need the political will to make that happen.’
And how hopeful are you that this will happen, I ask. ‘I remain hopeful,’ she says. Are you perhaps crossing your ingers when you say this? She smiles and doesn’t deny it, but the future of agriculture is going to need more than hope if it’s to remain secure.
62 | March 2014