Farmers know trees help with climate change; Do nations?

Women farmers in Southeast Asia

Women farmers in Southeast Asia

By Robert Finlayson

The residents of Cam My commune in Central Vietnam describe their locality as “a pan of fire in the hot season and a sink of water in the wet season”, owing to its highly unpredictable weather. This type of weather pattern—with heavy monsoon rains alternating with extended drought periods— would ordinarily spell disaster for farmers. But a recent study by scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre found that smallholders used trees on farms to shield themselves from the upheavals this temperamental weather might otherwise bring to their livelihoods.

The study, published in the journal Climate Change, reports that farmers in Cam My grow a diversified range of annual and tree crops as one of the best safeguards against weather extremes. “Rice vegetables, and other annual crops that rely on regular rainfall were likely to be the most vulnerable to variable weather,” said Meine van Noordwijk, co-author of the study and chief science advisor for the Centre. “But trees that produced fruit, nuts and berries were much more resilient and also provided other benefits such as income, timber, fodder for livestock, medicines and, of course, fresh air and soil protection. The farmers we studied had a mix of these types of systems.”

The scientists worked with the farmers to learn more about their knowledge of the weather and what they did to adjust to it. According to van Noordwijk, understanding the strategies farmers use to cope with climate variability is an essential first step for dealing with the expected increased climate variability in the future. With weather patterns becoming more and more erratic, farmers around the world are finding it increasingly difficult to know when, and what, to plant, risking shortfalls in yields of food for their own use or for sale, and serious consequences to their livelihoods.  Climate change effects on farming are worrisome for the farmers themselves, but are also a concern for national governments trying to ensure the production of enough of food for their citizens.

van Noordwijk says governments should take a cue from the farmers of Cam My, whose local knowledge points to the ability of diversified agroforestry systems to reduce the risk of unpredictable weather patterns harming food supplies and ruining livelihoods. “This study will help prove to governments that understanding local ways can help plan national climate-adaptation responses, especially in developing countries, where the majority of populations are still poor farmers,” he states.

Related links:

Link to journal article: Multipurpose agroforestry as a climate change resiliency option for farmers: an example of local adaptation in Vietnam by Quan Nguyen, Minh Ha Hoang, Ingrid Öborn and Meine van Noordwijk

Improving the ability of farmers, ecosystems and governments to cope with climate change

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