Climate: agriculture will not only have to adapt, it will also have to change

Repeated heat waves and droughts, catastrophic floods: everywhere in the world, disasters linked to climate change are hitting farmers hard, who have no choice but to adapt.

In Bangladesh, farmers suffering from rising seas create floating vegetable gardens and sow salt-tolerant rice. In India, for lack of water, farmers abandon rice in favor of millet and legumes. In the United States, many farmers are forced to modify their irrigation. In France, sorghum, a hot climate plant requiring little water, is now grown in Ile-de-France, while in several regions, farmers are opting for varieties of cereals and grape varieties that are more resistant to heat.

Three times more agricultural losses in 50 years

Will these local adaptations be enough when real upheavals await the agricultural world? In recent years, the disruption of precipitation cycles, droughts and more frequent violent events (storms, floods, intense heat waves) have already caused widespread destruction of crops (rice in Bangladesh, maize in the American Midwest …). In Europe, crop losses due to droughts and heat waves have tripled in fifty years.

In the years to come, these hazards will increase, as will the chronic lack of water and rising temperatures. Subsistence crops (beans, cassava, groundnuts, maize, sesame, sweet potato, wheat, etc.) of small farmers in eight sub-Saharan African countries could then decline by 80% by 2050, estimates the International Fund for Agricultural Development ( Fida), which calls for diversifying varieties by favoring the least demanding (millet, sorghum, etc.). In the United States and Mexico, water stress, which already affects a good part of the farms, will reduce harvests, in particular of corn, whose world production is expected to decline, warns NASA.

Climate change will lead to a geographic redistribution of crops

The decline in certain productions will affect supply. Already, last May, India, whose agriculture is very exposed to climatic hazards, had to stop its wheat exports, because an early heat wave compromised part of the harvest. The same month, Malaysia stopped exporting its poultry, decimated by the high heat.

Finally, climate change will lead to a geographic redistribution of crops. Mediterranean varieties are already going back to northern Europe – Denmark and Great Britain produce wine, northern Germany apricots and nectarines – while Italy grows tropical fruits (mango, papaya. ..).

An opportunity for some… but losses for others: coffee could develop in China or the United States, while it should decline in Brazil, Indonesia and Colombia. And if cultivable areas will appear in the northern regions, part of North Africa and the Middle East will certainly become barren.

Reduce methane emissions

The historic era of warming that we are living in therefore opens a period of uncertainty for agriculture. Adjusting the varieties will be essential, but not sufficient, because beyond a certain level of rise in temperature and lack of water, this adaptation will undoubtedly reach its limits.

In reality, the agricultural world will also have to question itself. Will it be able to continue to follow a model that bears some responsibility for the degradation of the state of the planet, when it depletes the soil, dramatically reduces biodiversity (pesticides), participates in deforestation, over-consumes and pollutes reserves? water sources (Agriculture monopolizes 92% of the water consumed in the world) and itself contributes to global warming?

Agricultural activity was, along with logging and other land uses, the source of 23% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2007 to 2016, recalls the Group. intergovernmental experts on climate change (IPCC). It releases two gases with a higher warming power than CO2 : nitrous oxide, from nitrogenous fertilizers and manure, as well as methane.

Dsecond climate modifying factor after CO2, and responsible for a quarter of global warming, 40% of global methane emissions come from agriculture and livestock. This is why the IPCC recommends a sharp reduction in the cattle herd, their main source.

Resilient agrosystems

Changing to reduce emissions and adopt more sustainable practices is an even more essential issue for agriculture as it is the first to suffer from global warming. What some farmers have now understood: from Spain to India, from Canada to several African countries, a certain number are converting to agroecology in its various forms (regenerative agriculture, permaculture, agroforestry, zero-budget agriculture…). These practices make it possible both to adapt to climate change and to slow it down.

Cultivating without destroying, producing in intelligent interaction with the environment, reducing GHG emissions and capturing more carbon: these are the challenges of agriculture in the 21st century.e century

Thus, planting trees and hedges protect crops from heat and soil from erosion, and facilitate the infiltration of rain. Crop diversification and rotation mitigate the effects of climatic hazards and improve soil quality. The same applies to the reduction (or even the elimination) of ploughing, the generalization of plant cover, the use of green manures and local seeds, the collection of rain, while associating certain plants repels pests whose numbers are likely to increase.

These virtuous models respect nature and let it act. And their results are convincing: they restore the soil, improve biodiversity and preserve groundwater. They therefore create agricultural ecosystems at lower temperatures, resilient to extreme events and capable of storing CO2. It is not surprising that the IPCC pleads for the expansion of these agrosystems.

Cultivating without destroying, producing in intelligent interaction with the environment, reducing GHG emissions and capturing more carbon: these are the challenges of agriculture in the 21st century.e century. But failing to take this turn quickly, climate change will hit it more severely over the years, probably calling into question its ability to provide food for 9.7 billion people in 2050.

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