Smallholding farms support two billion people around the world yet they are among the most vulnerable to climate change.
Around the world there are something like 500 million farming smallholdings that support some two billion people. These smallholdings are not just essential for the farmers themselves and their families but also for society as a whole because the food and other agricultural products that they contribute to the country, some of which can be used as exports.
However, smallholders tend to farm the land that is most marginal – that is, the land that is least attractive because of geographical or climatic reasons. Smallholders may once have farmed the more attractive pieces of land but have been forced off that land by force, market forces or otherwise the power of the wealthy. As a result, not only have smallholders had to be more resourceful and wise when husbanding their land but they also have most to fear from climate change. This is because climate change will, in most cases, cause the land to degrade gradually: good land will slowly become poor land over a period of time that might allow farmers to adapt their practices to new conditions; poor land will become unusable much more quickly and the smallholders and their families will become refugees.
Already, the crop losses and deaths of livestock have increased significantly and at a pace too rapid for most smallholders to adapt. One of the main approaches to trying to deal with the problem is to enhance the resilience of the smallholders and their farming efforts to make them better able to adapt. To do this, it is vital to pay attention to what the farmers themselves have to say: throughout modern history, we have witnessed numerous attempts of scientists and bureaucrats descending on agricultural areas and, no matter how well-meaning they may be, inflict top-down, technocratic solutions that nearly always fail. This is because it is very often the farmers themselves who understand the very specific conditions applying on their land and, as recent research has indicated, they know the various interactions between plants and animals – and many of those plants and animals are unknown to science.
Any attempt to increase resilience must, therefore, start with full and proper consultation with the farmers and with other important stakeholders. It must also be the case that solutions are allowed to vary over the course of space and time: that is, what is likely to work on one patch of land may not work so well or even at all on another piece of land even a few kilometres away. Secondly, solutions will change with respect to the seasons and with the need to manage rotation of crops and animals over one or more cycles of time. Again, the farmers themselves will have an important input into understanding this – however, farmers alone will not have all the answers and science and technology should not be ignored simply for the sake of maintaining the traditions of the past.
For more details, see this page from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).