CEEweb’s recommendations on climate change – Agriculture

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By: CEEweb for Biodiversity, a network of 64 non-governmental organizations in the Central and Eastern European region. Our mission is the conservation of biodiversity through the promotion of sustainable development.

Editors note: This is part two of a 6 article series on policy recommendations on climate change, regarding some critically affected sectors. If you missed it, read the introduction on the the interrelation between climate change and biodiversity and the ecosystem-approach in adaptation to climate change

Ecosystem-based approach in agriculture

Agriculture is multifunctional: yield is just one piece of the agricultural system’s outputs. There are several other direct products such as fibres and compost, but also services such as maintaining soil biodiversity, water supply and carbon sequestration, many of which are critically important for long-term sustainability. There are several possibilities in agricultural management to enhance the efficiency of these services at marginal costs, provided that the right management techniques are recognized and implemented. Yet yield receives unbalanced big priority in today’s agriculture allowing intensive techniques to maximize production, while soil biodiversity is not considered to be a productive factor.

Intensive agriculture involves huge externalities in terms of its demand for energy and natural resources, which, besides its significant carbon emissions, makes farming vulnerable to future changes in supply of these resources. Beside their external costs, fertilization regimes negatively influence soil biodiversity and soil organic carbon (SOC) content, which is reflected in the soil’s decreased productivity and resilience against climate change. A clear signal of soil depletion can be seen globally, yet this signal is often hidden by using even more fertilizers to balance against the loss in the soil’s own organic fertility. Intensive agriculture in water stressed areas often results in unsustainable level of water extraction.

In CEEweb’s view, in order to adapt to climate change agricultural systems need to become more sustainable and balanced between the provision of food and many other goods and services at the same time. Techniques should be applied which enhance the soil’s natural productive capacity through increasing its SOC (examples for such techniques: integrating crop residues into the soil, reduced tillage, cover crops and crop rotation, mixed cultures, smaller field size with fields edges and hedgerows, and diversity of management). Enhanced SOC content increases carbon sequestration, water and nutrient retention and decreases the risk of erosion, therefore contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as to long-term food security.

A sustainable agricultural system is diverse also in terms of spatial structure as well as species and breeds of crops and animals. Structural diversity is resulting in a mosaic-like landscape, where cultivated lands alter with grazing lands and semi-natural habitats (e.g. forest patches, hedgerows, grassland stripes). This diversity is of key importance, making such systems – also called as integrated agricultural systems – much more resilient to extremes than monocultures, be it weather event, invasive alien species or pest outbreak.

Cultivating locally adapted breeds enhances crop diversity at regional scale, and represents the most resilient way of farming in the face of climate change, since they are the result of long-term selection and adapted to specific local circumstances, and furthermore, they can serve as basis for increasing genetic diversity, selecting resistant forms and creating new breeds. Traditional local breeds represent an invaluable part of our natural heritage.

Example: ex situ and on farm conservation of local crop breeds by the National Institute for Agrobotany, Tápiószele, Hungary

Intensification of agriculture has significantly decreased agricultural biodiversity in Hungary since the Second World War. Several species and breeds of cultivated as well as natural plants traditionally occurring in agricultural ecosystems have become rare or extinct, while large-scale farming has accelerated soil deterioration and soil compaction.

As a response to this and following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, genetic resources activities have been extended and updated according to the recommendations of Agenda 21, and a National Centre for Agrobiodiversity was organized within the framework of the already existing National Institute for Agrobotany. National Base Collection for seed-propagated crops and their wild relatives was established and the National Database for PGRFA (Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture) was compiled. The Institute for Agrobotany also acts as a Technical Co-ordination Centre and provides secretarial support for the Hungarian Genebank Council.

Besides maintaining central base collection for seed propagated as well as vegetatively propagated cultivated plants, the Institute supports on farm conservation of agrobiodiversity in three pilot regions: Szarvas, Nyírség and Zselic. Their long-term objective is to widen the on farm conservation programme to national level. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to link ex situ and in situ conservation activities through providing “back up” storage services and preserving random samples from consecutive years to assist monitoring of changes in genetic composition of local varieties planted under traditional conditions.

Source: the official webpage of the National Institute for Agrobotany, http://www.rcat.hu

Check back for the next critical area of climate change adaptation: Water

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CEEweb’s recommendations on climate change – Agriculture — 3 Comments

  1. While you are correct that there is more energy in solar and wind. The problem is concentrating it enough for it to be useful and storing it in sufficient amounts to overcome the variability inherent in these modes. It is not a question of more research, it is a matter of physics.If you consider the path of development in almost all technologies the law of diminishing returns applies. That is to say the big advances are made at the beginning and subsequent ones return less and less improvement. In the case of wind and solar (and more importantly storage) this is what has happened. The gap between what we can do now, and what we would need to power an advanced civilization is simply too great to overcome and given that we know just about all there is to know about the theories that underpin these things, it is clear that it is unlikely that there will be a discovery that will allow that gap to be bridged.Now that’s not to say it’s impossible, just very unlikely and we need a source of clean power now. Waiting and hoping for a breakthrough that may not come in the situation that we are in now is just not possible. However no one is giving up on research and nuclear or not there will be people looking into these technologies, especially storage one way or the other, and if some discovery is made, and it leads to a cost effective technology, it will replace nuclear. But keep in mind that we are talking about a major discovery at the fundamental level, and these very rarely come from lavishing money on research.Your remark about weapons has been true: certainly wind, in the form of sailing ships, benefited from development for military reasons, but note to that the most efficient wind driven ships were those developed to carry tea – a commercial application.

  2. Perhaps in country’s like Malaysia, a few more ditneifions need to be made. For example, what about protected tourism forests, which have small tourist facilities (trails, guardhouses, bridges, lodges, etc.)? Would these be counted as the 50% of forest which has been preserved? If so, then how much development does one do in a forest that makes it unpreserved’? Can such a rating be measured scientifically, using indicators like the amount of remaining biodiversity after development, foliage density, etc.? Then again, if construction of a forest guardhouse leaves all the trees unfelled, but if the animals have chosen to leave due to the proximity of humans to them, can it properly be considered a preserved forest? It is very noble and farsighted to come up with such limits, but they must have an accurate and reliable measuring system. Moreover, what happens in emergencies, when trees HAVE to be cut down? For example, forest fires sometimes require firefighters to cut down the area around a fire to prevent it from spreading. Would this be counted as a violation of the allocation? From this, I would like to propose an amendment, that 50% of our land be preserved as forest, but that we stop deforestation at 52- 53% to make sure that during exceptional emergencies, we do not accidentally break the rule. But to logically maintain the target, the traditional causes of deforestation must be controlled: agriculture (of all kinds) and overpopulation. Birth control and biotechnology, are therefore the two B’s to keep in mind when deciding what of our forests go, and how much remain. One thing’s for sure, to realistically set a 50% target, palm oil biofuel MUST be replaced with cellulosic ethanol. Thank you, Datuk.

    • Thank you for your comment. It would certainly be interesting to compare experiences in biodiversity and forest preservation from various regions, eg. Danube region and Southeast Asia. Actually there was a similar approach at one of our conferences a couple of years ago with a comparative study of the Congo river valley and catchment area and that of the Danube.
      Cheers,
      Enisa Imamovic,
      technical editor of Danubius