Andrew Ireland | Palladium - Feb 14 2019
Why Farmers Aren't Focused on Reducing Emissions: A Response to the Gates Letter

Peru Cocoa Alliance

Palladium’s Andrew Ireland responds to the Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter, exploring the ways that the world’s farmers – and our supply of food – can face the effects of climate change now.

In their annual letter released this week, Bill and Melinda Gates identify agriculture as one of the five “grand challenges” of climate change. The Gates rightly state that the world must find ways to mitigate the impact agriculture is having, while acknowledging the priorities of farmers in low-income countries who are already facing the climate crisis’ effects.

Farmers Need Our Help Now

Agriculture is the foundation of the economy in many of the countries that will be hardest hit by the effects of climate change, including droughts, floods, fires, and biodiversity losses. As the Gates note, reducing emissions from these activities will be key to solving the climate challenge, especially as these countries and their economies continue to grow. But with 70% of the world’s food grown on small farms, farmers will need help to prioritise emissions reductions while continuing to produce food for themselves and their communities.

Malawi’s Resilient Villages

In Malawi, farmers face the common challenge of increasing droughts and less frequent but more intensive rain events. “Resilient Villages” are communities that apply techniques such as crop rotation, reduced tillage, drip irrigation, composting, and agroforestry that help diversify incomes and preserve yields against climate shocks. They are constructing rain swales and planting bamboo to improve water management and reduce erosion, both of which will increase existing yields while reducing climate vulnerability.

These climate-smart approaches can be layered with other yield-boosting interventions like crop storage bags, improved seeds, and legume inoculant to form a comprehensive approach to strengthening Malawi’s ability to adapt to and withstand climate shocks.

Short of a focus on reducing emissions, these Villages are setting the stage for addressing the agricultural “grand challenge” in Malawi by preventing deforestation and building the soil’s ability to capture and hold carbon from the atmosphere.

Peru’s Improved Agriculture Techniques

In Peru, climate change models forecast increased droughts and warmer temperatures, which will expand the range of pests and reduce the ability of crops to resist them. Cacao farmers need improved farming techniques to help prevent the worst of these impacts from occurring.

By connecting farmers with markets for improved cacao varieties, fertilizers, machinery, irrigation tools, and pest control methods, we can tailor the exact mix to each area’s needs and farmer preferences, which includes demonstrating the benefits to farmers first-hand and teaching them how to apply the techniques to their own land. These farmers will be able to continue producing high-quality cacao acceptable to international buyers while maintaining the integrity of their land and forests over the long term.

Regardless of the emissions reductions the world achieves in the coming years, the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world. Building the resilience of smallholder farmers and strengthening their agricultural systems to withstand these effects will be essential to reducing poverty and improving the wellbeing of to the millions of the world’s small-holder farmers, as well as the increasing billions who rely on them for food and nourishment around the globe.

Palladium manages the implementation of USAID’s Feed the Future Agriculture Diversification project in Malawi and USAID’s Peru Cocoa Alliance. Contact Erin Endean for more information.