The recent Climate Conference in Paris has shown that climate change has grown into an issue that is taken seriously on a global scale. Nations seem to be increasingly willing to work towards a more sustainable, climate neutral future, and awareness amongst the people has grown significantly. Countries such as Germany have greatly invested in the development of solar panels, recycling efforts are taken, and a great amount of innovative initiatives are carried out to store excessive rainfall during heavy storms. Even though such measures are efficient and must be carried out, they appear to have one thing in common: their need for resources. These kinds of measures simply cannot be afforded by Third World countries, which are most vulnerable to the issues of climate change due to their reliance on agriculture. Therefore, in this blog, I would like to draw attention to the effort called conservation agriculture, or go smart farming. It is an agricultural technique that was introduced in Africa in 1999, and since then has proven to be very cost-effective while increasing food security for a great share of people. Not only has this led to a remarkable success in, for example, Zambia; it also shows that successful and influential solutions do not necessarily have to be costly.
A country like Zambia greatly relies on agriculture and has seen its precipitation patterns change over time. Extremely long periods of draught followed by extreme rainfall often leads to runoff, thereby leaving the agricultural soil robbed from its nutrients and fertility. However, conservation agriculture is a technique that allows Africans to conserve a great amount of the nutrients that are inside the ground, using three concepts. Firstly, the African farmers aim to disturb the soil the least possible, thereby leaving nutrients in the ground and allowing natural tillers, like earthworms, to stay in the ground of the farm land. Furthermore, they are encouraged to remain their soil covered by left-overs of the plants previously grown. This protects the soil both from the sun and from runoff when heavy rains occur, while at the same time it gives back nutrients to the soil. The third concept is to intercrop grains with nutrient rich legumes and, eventually, trees, that ensure there will be enough nutrients stored in the ground. In the long run, this increase in nutrients and vegetation creates a more stable environment for crops to grow in, even during longer periods of draught. The clip below will provide you with a short explanation if needed.
Of course, conservation agriculture will not be the end of Africa’s issues regarding food security. However, it has shown to be profitable in a substantial amount of cases, and thus could be an answer for smallholder farmers to grow their crops in a sustainable way. In my opinion, better regional analyses and an increase in educational efforts could already do a lot for countries struggling with their food supply. Only then, conservation agriculture could proof to be useful, and will allow people to work with nature while at the same time limiting the effects of climate change. After all, the increased vegetation will allow more CO2 to be captured both by the vegetation and the soil.
As of today, I believe the climate change debate is so focused on the future that we seem to forget there are so many people out there that are already suffering from the detrimental effects of the issue. I am not saying that we should not worry and take care of our future, which is great. However, more effective windmills or solar panels are not going to help the people already in need: it is these little agricultural adjustments that could greatly change the lives of many people, not just in the first world, but in the third world as well. It is the remarkable cooperation between the farmers, the conservation farmer units and the Ministry of agriculture in Zambia that has allowed conservation farming to spread to the extent it did thus far. However, as the Western World has been one of the main polluters, I do believe that we should take more responsibility for the climate issues experienced elsewhere, and help countries or organizations to further spread initiatives such as those of Zambia. That would truly be a way to reach a sustainable future!