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From around the world, lessons in 'climate smart' agriculture

New FAO website offer examples of how farming can prepare for a warmer world, reduce emissions

Photo: ©FAO/Florita Botts
A farmer uses slurry fertilizer, a by-product of biogas production, on a rice field in Shuangliu Sichuan province, China.

4 November 2010, Rome - Farmers around the world are adopting new ways of producing food that both help cope with climate change and reduce farming's greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new FAO website on 'climate-smart' agriculture published today.

Burkina Faso's Yatenga province is being reclaimed through the use of an improved version of traditional "planting pits" known as zaï - now lands which were once barely productive are achieving yields five times greater than before.

In northern Cameroon, traditional varieties of millet, sorghum and maize had low resistance to water scarcity and production there typically suffered in the face of lowered rainfalls and droughts. Starting in 2006, Cameroon's national agriculture research institute developed improved varieties of these crops, and with support from FAO established farmer seed enterprises and got them into farmers' fields, where today they are producing good yields in spite of unfavourable conditions.

In Mozambique, smallholder farmers are getting paid for sequestering carbon through the adoption of various agrofoestry practices and reducing deforestation and degradation of forest lands.

Farmers in Vietnam are being encouraged to use special "digesters" that transform farm waste into biogas used for daily cooking and lighting needs and also create nutrient-rich slurry for fertilizing fields.

And on Bohol Island, in the Philippines, improved infrastructure has helped improve water management and stabilized rice production, while rice farming techniques that use less water were introduced, stretching local supplies still further - and reducing production of greenhouse gases in the paddies.

"A shift to climate-smart agriculture helps advance several important goals: doing so will not only help shield farmers from the adverse effects of climate change and offer a way to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester atmospheric carbon, but can also improve farm yields and household incomes," said Alexander Mueller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources.

The rice example

The rice sector provides an example of how agriculture can adapt to meet the challenges of climate change.

Rice farming is one of the foundations of world food security - it produces a staple grain that is consumed by some three billion people every single day.

At the same time, however, rice farming is also the second largest emitter of the greenhouse gas (GHG) methane.

Methane is produced naturally in the warm, waterlogged soils of rice paddies. Research has shown that these emissions occur mainly when paddy ground is fully waterlogged - so changing the length of time they are flooded, draining them mid-season, or irrigating only intermittently can decrease methane emissions.

Similarly, while adding organic fertilizers like manure to water-filled paddies stimulates methane production, using them when paddies are drained dampens emissions.

Also, applying ammonium sulphate supplements can promote soil microbial activity and reduce methanagens, the earth-dwelling microorganisms that produce methane as a metabolic by-product.

According to the FAO report which forms the basis for the new website on climate smart agriculture, even as the rice sector needs to reduce its emissions, rice production also faces multiple challenges due to climate change.

Irregular rainfall, drier spells during wet seasons which can damage young plants, drought and floods are already affecting rice yields and have sparked outbreaks of pests and diseases, it says.

Rising temperatures, especially night temperatures, have already impacted on rice yields, causing losses of 10-20 percent of harvests in some locations in Asia over the last 25 years, new research shows (read more).

Many governments and farmers are already taking action to reduce vulnerability to climate change, providing valuable lessons for future adaptation strategies, FAO notes.

Embankments have been built to protect farms from floods, and new drought and submergence tolerant varieties of rice are being produced and used.

Farmers are diversifying production, growing other cereals, vegetables, and rearing fish and animals, thereby increasing their incomes, improving household nutrition, and making their farms more resilient to shocks.

The development of advanced modelling techniques and efforts to map the effect of climate change on rice-growing regions are helping reduce communities' vulnerability, as are efforts to increase the availability of and improve access to crop insurance.

FAO will continue to update the website on climate smart agriculture to highlight additional examples and case studies as well as lessons learned from around the world.