Six Agricultural Innovations Combating Climate Change

Farmers around the world are at the front lines of climate change. They are directly affected by more frequent and severe droughts, rising temperatures, variable rainfall, and emerging pests and crop diseases. In low-and middle income countries, where farming is the main source of income for some of the poorest and more vulnerable people, agriculture must urgently adapt to new climate-induced stresses.

With agriculture on the agenda at this week’s UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland, we highlight some encouraging innovations for improving resilience and productivity for agriculture under climate change. These examples from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) show the advantages of joint action by farmers, researchers, governments, not-for-profits and businesses.

1. Climate-proof maize

Nakayi Matongera, a maize breeder with Zimbabwe's Crop Breeding Institute, compares different maize varieties during trials for heat-tolerant maize. Using advanced climate models, researchers were able to foresee the need for maize varieties that could withstand both drought and heat – heat tolerance had not previously been a trait in African maize breeding programs. These new varieties are a lifesaver for the poorest farmers, who depend on reliable rainfall to sustain their crops, and have been in high demand by farmers.

Read more: Drought and heat tolerant maize tackles climate change in southern Africa; Zimbabwe gets a head start on climate-proof maize; CIMMYT drought tolerant maize: A key innovation for millions of farmers, says FAO

2. Climate information services for farmers

Farmers in coastal Bangladesh map their farming systems and identify climate-sensitive activities that benefit from climate information and advisories. As climate change upsets traditional rainfall patterns, farmers need better information on which varieties to grow, when to plant and when to harvest. By tailoring climate forecasts to farmers’ seasonal needs, and disseminating the information through mobile phones and rural radio, meterological agencies can help farmers protect themselves from climate shocks and changes. This project is a cooperation with the Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) project and builds on similar successful initiatives in Africa.

Read more: Researchers set new climate services strategy in Bangladesh; Climate Services for Resilient Development

3. A united front against deadly crop pests and diseases

The small but deadly Fall Armyworm attacks a maize plant in Nigeria. Until recently, the Fall Armyworm has been a familiar foe in the Americas, but has now begun wreaking havoc on staple crops in more than 30 African countries, compromising food and nutrition for millions of people and threating the income of farmers. A changing climate creates favourable conditions for new pests and diseases, and hastens the movement of pests to new geographies. CIMMYT is part of a global coalition that has mobilised an emergency response to Fall Armyworm, tapping into decades of experience managing pests and diseases.

More information: International research-for-development coalition against fall armyworm, the not-so-nice, very hungry caterpillar; Fall armyworm devastates crops in sub-Saharan Africa: A quick and coordinated regional response is required

4. Responding to disaster

In 2016, Ethiopia faced the worst drought in 50 years, which triggered a shortage of maize and wheat seed for sowing. The response brought together Ethiopian organizations, seed producers and CIMMYT who jointly delivered over 3,400 tons of high quality seed to farmers. The maize and wheat varieties were chosen for their ability to withstand drought and common crop diseases. The coordinated emergency response helped rebuild the food security and livelihoods of more than 271,000 rural households. Equally important, the improved seeds and strengthened seed systems will help farmers to address future climate shocks.

Read more: Emergency seed fuels quick farm recovery in drought-affected Ethiopia; Click here for the full report on the emergency seed relief initiative.

5. Better farming practices

In Mexico, where rains supply water to 79 percent of farms lacking irrigation systems, drought has become the main weather factor affecting productivity. A 2017 survey found that 75 percent of farms had suffered crop and livestock losses due to climate-related events. In partnership with Mexico’s Agriculture Department (SAGARPA), CIMMYT has directly responded to this challenge by developing 58 high-yielding maize hybrids for rain-fed conditions through the MasAgro project. Twelve of these hybrids also have enhanced tolerance to water stress. In combination with sustainable farming practices such as conservation agriculture, drought tolerant maize is helping thousands of Mexican famers build resilient production systems and adapt to climate change.

Read more: MasAgro Maize

6. Climate-smart villages

A farmer in Karnal, Haryana, India uses a GreenSeeker to gauge the health of his crops. This hand-held tool allows him to judge the optimum amount of fertilizer for crops, so he can apply less fertiliser without compromising yields. GreenSeeker is just one of many tools that help farmers adopt practices that improve productivity and resilience while also reducing emissions. In Karnal, farmers have joined forces with researchers and local organisations to take action on climate change.

Through ‘Climate-Smart Villages’, they are testing climate change adaptation and mitigation approaches to understand which combination of interventions can improve resilience, productivity and incomes at the village level. In Haryana, researchers are experimenting with ‘layering’ various approaches to help adapt and build resilience. The climate-smart village concept is led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security and implemented by CGIAR centers and partners in 20 countries. The Karnal CSV is implemented by CIMMYT, and is testing tools that improve soils while restoring carbon stocks.

Read more: Climate-Smart Villages; “Layering” climate smart rice-wheat farming practices in India boosts benefits; Tech-savvy women in Haryana implement precision fertilizer application

Photo credits: Johnson Siamachira/CIMMYT; Tim Krupnik/CIMMYT; Christian Thierfelder/CIMMYT; E. Quilligan/CIMMYT; Peter Lowe/CIMMYT; Prashanth Vishwanathan/CCAFS

CIMMYT - the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center - is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies.

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