Climate change has emerged as one of the most critical problems of our times. Its disrupting impacts on farming and related activities is already being felt by farmers, pastorals and others in the form of highly erratic weather, extremes of weather and rise in the intensity and frequency of various disasters.
Hence two big questions arise—How can farmers make an important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and secondly how can they adapt well to climate change to minimize damage and distress?
It is extremely important to plan the response to climate change in such a way that this is well-integrated with improved welfare and livelihoods of farmers. This needs to be emphasized as some big business interests are trying to emerge as false leaders of climate change and trying to impose a highly distorted agenda of farm sector response to climate change to advance their own interests.
Let us see how some of the more obvious steps needed in the context of meeting the challenge of climate change are the same as what is needed for enhancing the welfare of farmers.
Firstly, it is increasingly realized that the kind of farming which is needed for checking climate change is the one which can be done only on the basis of small farmers. To check climate change we need farming which can reduce fossil fuels greatly ( which means big reduction in chemical fertilizers, pesticides, excessive mechanization, diesel etc.) and enhance organic content of soil, in various ways but more particularly by adopting mixed cropping systems, integrating trees, animal husbandry, poultry etc. with farming. This is possible in farming systems based on skilled small farmers and devoting a lot of care and creativity to soil and crops. Hence ensuring livelihoods of small farmers becomes more important in times of climate change as with their care and creativity they can best cope with climate change, a role which cannot be performed by huge, highly mechanized, fossil fuel guzzling plantations of big players including agro-business giants.
Secondly, there is the related fact that enhancing and improving the organic content of soil is very important for checking climate change, while this is also very important for small and medium farmers to improve their yields ( without having to purchase expensive inputs) in sustainable, self-reliant ways and keeping costs at very low levels.
Thirdly, banning GM crops is very good for farmers due to high risks of GM technology for farming, environment and safe food. At the same time the highly centralized, big business dominated farming that GM technology brings is very difficult to reconcile with what is needed to check climate change as well as to adapt to climate change. A highly decentralized system in which farmers are self-reliant and can quickly respond to new situations is much better suited for responding to climate change. Hence a world free of GM crops is very useful for farmers and very useful also for responding to climate change.
Last but not the least, there are good possibilities that an international fund for responding to climate change ( checking climate change or adjusting to it, mitigation and adaptation ) can be created and this makes regular payments to those rural communities and farmers whose farming and related practices contribute significantly to checking climate change and reducing the distress caused by climate change.
Today we are at a critical stage in which it is very important to carefully consider all aspects of checking climate change and if we can carefully frame farming policy, in consultation with farmers, which can reduce climate change and enhance farmer welfare at the same time then this will be a very important achievement from which the entire world can learn.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Earth without Borders.