FAO in Sri Lanka

Changing with the weather - Promoting climate-smart agriculture in the Maldives

©FAO/Mohamed Afeef

Climate change is affecting the lives of people, mostly farmers who rely on the weather for agriculture. Millions of low-income smallholder producers across the globe are the most exposed to droughts, floods and other extreme weather events. Smallholder farmers in Maldives are no exception. Equipping farmers with knowledge and methods to increase the productivity of their crops, livestock and fisheries in the face of adverse climatic conditions is essential to improve food security.

Through a Joint United Nations programme titled “Low Emission Carbon Resilient Development Project (LECReD),” the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provided technical support and extension services to farmers in the Laamu atoll in Maldives on sustainable and climate smart agriculture practices. Awareness creation campaigns were also conducted in schools and among Community Based Organizations (CBOs) implementing agriculture related projects.

Mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change

The monsoon season brings with it significant hardships for the farmer communities, especially in the larger agricultural islands in the Laamu atoll such as Gan and Fonadhoo where close to 80 percent of the total farmland is susceptible to flooding. During the monsoon period in May 2016, around 98 percent of farmland were destroyed. Additionally, strong winds and downpours caused an emergence and rapid multiplication of diseases resulting in an increase in the use of pesticides by farmers. Alarmingly, farmers from the islands of Isdhoo and Kalaidhoo use a mixture of around three to twelve different types of pesticides on a regular basis, coupled with an excessive amount of fertilizer to avoid damage caused by pests and disease.

Therefore, through the LECReD Project, 542 smallholder family farmers from 7 islands were sensitized on climate change and its impacts on food security, and adapting climate resilient agriculture practices such as rainwater harvesting, storage and drip irrigation. The technical support group meetings, held prior to the onset of the monsoon season, helped farmers to develop crop calendars, innovative methods to minimize damage to crops during strong winds, and planting on protected raised beds to avoid flood damage. Having observed some of the damages to the crops during the training period, farmers were convinced that the issues and devastation during heavy rainfall could be averted if climate-smart agriculture techniques were followed. Excessive pesticide use was discouraged and the use of good agricultural practices (GAP) were promoted at individual farmer level. Farmers were also assisted to curb the spread of the coconut hispid beetle affecting coconut plantations in the Laamu atoll through the dissemination of information on the disease and control strategy.

FAO in partnership with the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture in the Maldives installed drip irrigation systems in selected farms in the Kalaidhoo island which is home to 393 registered farmers whose main livelihood is agriculture. The drip irrigation systems that were installed in the fields of 10 selected farmers serve as demonstration sites to transfer knowledge on efficient management of irrigation water. With water applied close to the plants, drip irrigation can not only reduce water use but also provide a favourable high moisture level in the soil in which plants can flourish.

Collective action

Adapting to climate change requires an enabling environment and support for agricultural producers. Providing technical assistance complemented with safety nets such as insurances, improving accessibility to farm inputs like good quality seeds and fertilizer, and creating awareness on climate smart agronomic practices makes farmers resilient to increasingly unpredictable weather patterns that can often be a demotivator.

Multi-sector dialogues and Laamu Working Group Meetings were held to bring together a wide range of stakeholders from state institutions, Atoll council, private sector, civil society and community based organizations (CBO). Consisting of representatives from island councils of all 12 islands of the Laamu Atoll, Women’s Development Committees, and other key stakeholders the Laamu Working Group (LWG), brought to the fore the concerns of the  farmer community. The LWG was actively involved in the farmer training, extension support and establishing the no-regret small grant project such as the installation of drip irrigation systems in the Kalaidhoo island.

The Multi-sector dialogues facilitated an exchange of ideas for local level development plans, and incorporating more strategic and evidence-based instruments, which are climate smart and able to mobilize public and private investment. These local development plans are a great way to support and sustainably address food security and climate change; soil erosion and ground water contamination; the safe use of chemical pesticides; waste management and compost production; and pest and disease control in the Laamu atoll.