Impact of Climate-Smart Agriculture on the Environment

From personal experience, I have discovered that usually, when discussions around climate change surface, people easily get disinterested or indifferent about the subject. I've also come to realise that the cause of the indifference is that they don't see how it affects them. What triggers a response from people is to see the practicality of the theory in question. Not just climate change in this context now, but Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) as well. In our last article, we got to understand what CSA is all about and the goals it seeks to achieve. But how practical is this CSA we talk about? As much as it's a very broad scheme in terms of application, the essence of this brief is to show you a glimpse of the picture. 

Speaking of practical applications, I have many fond primary school memories of my childhood in this regard. I liked to learn about all the subjects, but you see those ones that had practicals, I particularly enjoyed them. Creative Arts practicals of Paper Maché or moulding a lizard or pot with clay were fun. PHE sports every Thursday morning was something I always looked forward to. Home Economics practical was usually a cooking festival of cultural delicacies. I'm not primary-school-shaming now, but I mean, primary school that didn't do any of these, is that one a primary school? 

Of all the practicals I engaged in as a pupil, one stood out as very special to me and that was the Agricultural Science practical. We were to plant anything, so I took a tin, put some humus soil in it and planted a bean. After a few days of watering and putting it under the sunlight, green leaves and a shoot began to emerge out of the soil. It was like magic to me. I began to feel like an accomplished farmer. I mean, why can't I just plant hundreds of bean peas in my house, harvest and sell them? Thank goodness I didn't go to my mum's store to plant all the beans she had, I might not be here to tell the story today. 

But as I grew up, I realised that farming was much more than just planting a bean in a tin of milk. It's not as simple as planting, watering, and expecting yield automatically in 3 or 7 months. It doesn't work that way in real life, as many environmental factors affect the growth and yield of crops. And in a bid to battle these factors, farmers only end up destroying the environment the more. One of such factors is soil salinity. 

Soil salinity is the increasing accumulation of salts in the soil, and it occurs as a result of climate change. The Earth has seen a drastic rise in sea levels in recent years and this phenomenon leads to the flow of salty water from the sea into fresh water and ground water sources, and land. When the water evaporates from the affected lands, they are left with deposits of salt, which hinders the growth of crops. The problem of soil salinity is becoming a worldwide one very quickly, but it is suffered the most in arid and semi-arid regions like the Middle East. 

Taro crops destroyed by encroaching saltwater at Lukunoch Atoll, Chuuk State, Micronesia. USDA Forest Service/John Quidachay
Credit: The Conversation

This is because rainfall that will dilute the concentration of the salt in the soil is scarce, and the groundwater has become predominantly saline as well. Research has inferred that in the last twenty years across 75 countries in arid areas and the Middle East region, 2,000 hectares of irrigated land got degraded everyday. Presently, over 932 million hectares of farmlands are affected by soil salinity. 

To solve this problem of soil salinity, CSA had to come in. A collaboration between the IAEA and FAO saw to the implementation of CSA in 10 countries affected by soil degradation due to salinity. 

Experimental field of a salt-tolerant rice variety in Bangladesh. IRRI, CC BY-NC-SA

This implementation led to the betterment of soil quality, water availability and crop produce. Since the adoption of CSA, these nations have successfully grown crops in saline environment without being affected by it. The techniques used are nuclear and isotopic methods that protect the environment and increase crop yield, and subsequently, farmers' income. 

Remember we're talking about practical issues farmers face with respect to their environment which threaten their production and livelihood. Another of such is the problem of pests and bad soil quality. Let's leave the Middle East and take a look at another location. Thank goodness we all have a private jet called imagination. So, let's take a quick flight to Costa Rica, shall we? 

Did you know that Costa Rica is the leading producer of the Pineapple fruit in the world? The country has vast expanses of farmlands on which Pineapples are planted and harvested. To maintain the production and supply of the fruit, farmers had to deal with pests and improve soil quality. That is to say, they used a substantial amount of pesticides and fertilizers to a lavish degree. The use of these chemicals over time consequently resulted in an increase in the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the pollution of ground water from which potable water is obtained, and surface water where aquatic creatures inhabit. This became a problem for many years in Costa Rica until the intervention of CSA. 

Pineapple farm in Costa Rica
Credit: Laura Gil Martínez / IAEA

With the goal of CSA in mind, Costa Rican experts from Centro de Investigacion en Contaminacion Ambiental (CICA), with the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the IAEA, developed eco-friendly nuclear technology which farmers began to utilize to improve production yield. They implemented the use of a carbonaceous material made from natural residues called biochar, which effectively boosts soil fertility and reduces the adverse effects of fertilizers on the environment. In effect, farmers began to have more produce, the stability and consistency of the farm yield was guaranteed and the environment was duly taken care of. A win-win for man and the environment, that's what CSA brings to the table. 

Finally, let's bring it home. Our dear country Nigeria has suffered from a rampage of flood in the last few months. In many areas, this was as a result of the release of water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, and in other areas, the determined cause of the flood was increased and incessant rainfall, which is as a result of climate change. In addition to the unfortunate loss of lives and property in the affected regions, agricultural farmlands have also been greatly affected. 

According to The Nation, in Nasarawa State alone, over $15 million worth of rice crops have been washed away, with the flood submerging 4,500 hectares of farmland in Rukubi Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. The economic consequences of this are felt up to the national level, following reports that about 25% of the country’s rice needs was lost in one fell swoop in Nasarawa.

As a result of the flood, many farmers have run into huge losses, a lot of farm workers that had jobs at the farm as their only source of livelihood have also been laid off. There is scarcity of food in the market and the little available is quite expensive. Do you still think climate change is an oyinbo problem? Gone are the the days when we used to say it was at our doorstep. Now, it's inside our house already and it's no longer a new guest or visitor.

If Nigeria will completely mitigate the risk of flooding to conserve food security, Climate-smart Agriculture has to be implemented, as it predicts all possible climate risks before the farm is set up, and proffers measures to either adapt to them or mitigate them.

As I round off this brief, it goes without saying that climate change remains a massive threat to agriculture and food security. Climate-Smart Agriculture is the way forward towards sustaining food availability and promoting climate justice. Join us again next week as we put a conclusion on our train of thoughts centered around Climate-Smart Agriculture. In the meantime, how about you become a CSA ambassador? Talk to a farmer you know about Climate-Smart Agriculture today.

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