The Vicious Cycle of Climate Change and Agriculture
2016 was a tragic year. The death of the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla Harambe and the Orlando gay club shooting were indeed unfortunate events. But it was the devastating Louisiana floods of 2016 that opened our eyes to the imminent dangers of climate change. Considered to be one of the worst disasters in American history, the Louisiana floods not only led to property destruction but also caused the Louisiana agriculture industry to face losses worth $277 million.
The adverse effects of climate change on crop produce and agriculture was apparent to me. And the more I researched about it, the more I got convinced that we are stuck in the vicious cycle of climate change and agriculture. Before I explain my statement, let’s quickly see how climate change is affecting the agricultural industry.
Climate Change’s Wrath on Agriculture
Sunlight, abundance of water, soil nutrients, normal local weather and optimum temperatures for vegetation growth are the most basic requirements for producing high yield crops. But every time an extreme natural disaster, like a drought or a flood, strikes, it directly affects the crop produce. These extreme environmental conditions have become common occurrences in the last few years, and climate change is to be blamed for it. The following graphical representation shows the steep drop of corn yields in the U.S. during extreme weather conditions in the past 5 decades.
Image Credit: https://cityofphiladelphia.github.io/climatechangeisreal/sites/production/files/2016-08/uscornyields-large.jpg
Every time a drought or a flood ruins a crop produce, it creates a phenomenon called food shock, where the poor yields of grains, wheat and other crops are sold at exorbitant prices, making the majority of the population fight for it. Back in 2010, Russia faced the worst drought in 40 years, ruining the majority of its crop produce. This led to a huge decline in the export of wheat that caused unrest and violence in African countries as people fought over food.
Apart from the direct ill effects of extreme weather conditions on agriculture, even an increase in temperature and a rise in CO2 levels may create a positive or negative impact on crop produce. Higher temperatures are considered to be good for faster growth of crops but it in turn decreases its yield. With 2016 named as the hottest year, rise in temperatures across the world is making crops grow faster without giving enough time for seeds to grow and mature completely. This reduces crop yields. Also, increase in CO2 levels may positively affect crop produce but it may also lead to growth of weed plants and fungi that can severely restrict the yield and can cause health hazards. Till date, there have been numerous instances of higher temperatures and increased CO2 concentration causing negative effects on crop yield.
Not just crops, climate change has had a negative impact on animal husbandry and fishing industries as well. Scientific research on global warming highlight that extreme weather conditions and increased temperatures affect the health of livestock as it leads to an outbreak of a plethora of diseases. Climate change affects the produce of fodder and green pastures on which the farm animals feed.
How Agriculture Causes Climate Change
While the impact of climate change on agriculture can be witnessed clearly, it might surprise many that human activities in farming and animal husbandry in turn contributes to climate change. Industrial farming, which is widely prevalent in almost all developed countries, is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In order to produce high yields of crops while tackling unpredictable weather conditions, there has been increased use of fertilizers and pesticides that release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, etc., in the atmosphere. Farming industries are highly dependent on tractors and other equipments that run on fuel. They utilize electricity for irrigation as well as drying and cooling of crops. They also utilize a lot of natural resources in packaging and shipping of the crops to different parts of the world. All these agricultural activities that we consider necessary to mitigate the threat of climate change to our food produce is in turn contributing heavily to climate change.
According to statistics, industrial farming is responsible for almost 20-25% of U.S.’s carbon footprint. Thus, a vicious cycle has been created where climate change negatively impacts agriculture, and industrial farming, in an attempt to negate the effects of global warming on crop produce, is contributing more towards climate change.
The Solution: Organic Farming
While we can’t curb all agricultural activities, a few changes in the way we do farming will help in breaking this vicious cycle of climate change and agriculture. By adopting green farming or organic farming, we can use natural fertilizers like compost, green manure, etc., that are organic and don’t contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. Techniques like crop rotation and companion planting helps in increasing soil nutrients that will lead to an increase in crop yield. Organic farming is growing in popularity and might be the road forward to tackle the effects of climate change on agriculture without contributing more to climate change.