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Smallholder Farmers Can Help Meet Climate Challenges

  • Kim Lewis

A new report released at the UN-Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, argues that smallholder farmers are more than climate victims – they are part of the solution.

“The Smallholder Advantage” by the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) identifies smallholder farmers as a vital part of the solution to global warming. Investing in such areas as providing access to weather information, technology transfer and disaster preparedness are key to sustaining the livelihoods of smallholder women and men.

“Climate change plays out predominately in increased uncertainty for smallholder farmers,” said Gernot Laganda, a senior adaptation specialist for the IFAD delegation at the conference. “There are more extreme weather events which occur in more irregular intervals and at scales very often that are different from what they have known in the past. There are more creeping stresses such as salinity in soil, salinity in ground water, erosion or new types of pest infestations.”

At the same time, Laganda said within the extreme circumstances there are opportunities for farmers. Laganda said some crops can be grown at higher altitudes.“… bananas in Nepal, for example, in places where there are more problems with maize or rice farming, or cocoa in places where coffee is becoming more difficult to grow because of the heat stress in Nicaragua or Bolivia.”

Two main strategies can help mitigate the effects of climate change. The current international effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions is a key issue that is on the table at the climate conference.

“But a second and more applicable strategy for many smallholder farmers now is climate change adaptation,” Laganda said. “In the portfolio of my organization, IFAD, we have a number of projects that work on climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness.”

These projects focus on areas such as flash flood early warning systems, and better weather forecasting for farmers. These solutions must be area and region specific to address particular threats and risks in particular places.

Smallholder farmers must be more engaged in decision-making and policy-making processes through social organization, said Laganda. Groups such as IFAD work inside communities, engaging farmers at the local level.

“The better these community groups are organized-- and the better access they have to information, to technology, to financing --the better their voices will be heard in national and international and international negotiations,” he said.