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How Small Farmers can Deal with Climate Change- Africa

The dwindling agrarian and small farming communities around the world have certainly not had it easy during the last 50 years or so.

The lure of urban life and salaried jobs along with the increasing corporatization of agriculture across the world which essentially made small, family farms unprofitable are just two of the many factors that have contributed to the vanishing of many small communities.
At the same time, small, rural places also are a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge held by people and communities who have resisted the onslaught of globalization, the homogenization of culture, and the imposition of Western norms and standards. When it comes to finding ways to confront the myriad of crises that our current civilization has created, most of us look to scientists, business gurus, and political leaders to offers solutions that will help us find a way out of the problems that are mounting. However, communities and individuals who have maintained a faithfulness to traditional livelihoods also have important insights into how we can live more sustainably and respond to the predicaments that have come with industrialized life.

For generations, farmers have passed along a deep seated wisdom that has come through centuries of observing their land and their places. Most rural and agrarian communities know when the rains will come, when the wind will blow the hardest, when the soil will be most prepared to offer a good yield of crops and will subsequently plan their livelihoods around these important pieces of knowledge.
When an elderly woman from some agrarian community looks into the evening sky and proclaims that tomorrow will be a rainy day, it´s not just a premonition, but rather an intuition that is almost instinctual; a knowledge that has come from the closeness and proximity to the land and the elements.
In recent years, however, that knowledge, and the livelihoods that depend on that knowledge, has slowly come under attack by global climate change. The cyclical patterns of rainy seasons and dry seasons; the severity of crop diseases, and a whole host of other new challenges have essentially made much of the traditional wisdom of small farmers impractical and obsolete.
The underlying cruelty in these changes isn´t just the fact that small farmers no longer have control over their agrarian livelihoods, but rather the fact that they had absolutely no control over this entire process. Overconsumption in the First World has led to the small farmers in the rest of the world not knowing when they should plant their corn, harvest their quinoa, or fertilize their rice fields.
While the boom of the fossil fuel age certainly allowed some people to benefit from the technological advances, those who didn´t benefit are not forced to suffer the worst of the consequences that have come with global climate change.
How Can Small Farmers Respond to the Challenges of Climate Change?
There are no simple answers to climate change. Though we may hope that changing a few light bulbs and purchasing energy saving appliances is all that it takes to limit the effects of the excess carbon in the air, we should resist the temptation of find comfort in naiveté. Similarly, small farmers around the world know that they need to find ways to respond to the changing weather and climate patterns if they are going to be able to maintain land-based livelihoods.
Traditional wisdom will continue to offer some guidance. For example, in the mountains of El Salvador, small farmers have traditionally rotated wheat and corn harvests, utilizing the wheat straw to protect the young corn plantings from extreme weather during their most vulnerable stage of development. While this was traditionally done as a way to protect the small corn seedlings from damage caused by hard rains (which usually came during the onset of the rainy season), this practice of mulching fields of young crops will also be a useful strategy to confront the prolonged periods of drought caused by the uncertainty and inconsistency of the beginning of the rainy season caused by climate change.
However useful traditional wisdom may be, the instability of our global climate will require small farmers to find new tools to confront climate change-caused challenges to their livelihoods.
Whereas elders in a community might have once been able to offer valid predictions of the weather for the coming week, today many small farmers might consider using weather apps to plan their agricultural activities. Free online weather apps, such as this one by Weather Bug, don´t only offer your traditional weekly weather forecast, but also offer tips for when the weather will be best for certain gardening or farming activities.
Additionally, this app also has a drought forecaster that is updated weekly so that farmers can look at how behind they are on rainfall during certain parts of the growing season. This will allow farmers to decide whether to plant more drought hardy crops or other, riskier crops that depend on more precipitation to offer greater yields. Furthermore, the Weather Bug app also has detailed information to help small farmers deal with insect and pest problems which might be intensified through climate change.
In Africa, small farmers have even used their cell phones to record to differences in rainfall and other weather extremities. This vital, on-the-ground information is subsequently shared with meteorology agencies, agricultural ministries, and other important actors on both the national and regional level so that strategies can be mapped out to help small farmers know when it might be best to carry out certain agricultural activities.
Farming has always been a risky livelihood and even the wisest of elders never could completely “weather-proof” their farming activities. With the onset of global climate change, however, the uncertainty of weather patterns and the subsequent increasing vulnerability of small farmers will require new tools to respond adequately to the challenges on hand. The increased access to technology such as cell phones should allow small farmers another tool to improve their resiliency and maintain their traditional, agrarian livelihoods. Tswana Elliot - AA


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