Source: The Guardian, 20th January 2017
The article below has been written by Anika Moleswoth, a farmer, campaigner and researcher from Australia.
For those standing on the precipice of life the impacts of climate change are an ever present reality. The rural poor in Southeast Asia are some of the most vulnerable to climate extremes and seasonal vagaries. For these farmers, many who live at subsistence level and survive on less that $1US a day, life is a high-wire act with no safety net.
One stroke of bad luck – a drought, flood or pest outbreak – and they tumble further into hardship. Yet, here in Cambodia I work at an agricultural research centre with the most humbling and inspiring people. Not a day goes by that I don’t stand in awe at an under-resourced team committed to moving mountains despite the odds lined up against them.
It perhaps follows that those who stare so closely at the face of climate change talk only of pertinent matters. The health of their family and community, having enough food to feed them, the quality of their water sources and the condition of their natural environment.
In remote villages where farmers have never had the opportunity of formal education and remain largely cut off from the developed world, you will meet the most thoughtful, funny and stimulating people. What strikes me most forcibly however, is their descriptions of the new insects eating their crops that they had never seen before, or their knowledge of how the dry season is extending each year with exhausting heat sucking their soils dry. They know exactly how their climate – and their world – is changing.
Just over 6,000 kms away is my family’s farm. Located in far western NSW, Broken Hill is known for mining, good pub meals and drag queens. My family purchased our outback sheep station in the year 2000. The start of the decade long Millennium Drought. Tipped head first into volatility of agriculture, it was immediately apparent how interconnected individual components of a farming system are. As we all know, when the rain doesn’t come, less vegetation grows, livestock are sold at reduced weights, crop yields are not achieved, less money in the farmer’s pocket means off-farm employment is sought, and shops in rural towns close.
The far west is an ancient environment. A challenging environment. And an extremely fragile one. Acacias stunted and twisted by the harsh scorch of the desert offer the cool reprieve of shade to lonely sheep. I find this landscape hauntingly beautiful, and impossible not to fall in love with.
Yet, it is projected that this region will become hotter, drier and experience more frequent dust storms that choke and darken the sky. Species that evolved over millennia face uncertain futures, and the guardians of these precious habitats are concerned. The viability of farming in this region hangs on tenterhooks, and as someone who dreams of taking on the family farm one day – that’s terribly sobering for me.
Farmers live and work so closely with the environment. When they speak about the natural world – gnarled River Red gums on the creek bank or the wedgetail eagle sentry that perches near the front gate – it is with easy intimacy, as if talking about an old friend. Recent studies have found nine in 10 farmers are concerned about damage to the climate. They are experiencing rapid alteration to their land and regional weather patterns. Two-thirds of farmers say they have observed changes in rainfall patterns in their life-time or time of farming.
For a farmer, “the country” doesn’t denote just a particular geographical environment, but rather a cultural space alive and evolving, full of stories and memories. It provides sustenance for the mind and spirit, a living which supports families and the vibrancy of rural communities. However, behind a farmer’s stoicism one can glimpse endless sequences of fracture and repair. They dread the sombre hollow tone of a dry northerly wind in summer. There is a growing anxiety about bushfires in many parts of the country with predictions of higher temperatures and longer heatwaves. Eighty-two per cent of regional Australians are particularly concerned about droughts and floods and how these will effect crop production and food supply.
One of the defining challenges of our time is meeting the needs of a growing global population, amidst increasingly challenging climatic conditions whilst reducing our environmental footprint.
How can we feed everyone without harming the planet we are intending to sustain? It is by no means an easy task. And we cannot tackle the challenges of the 21st century and beyond with 20th century thinking and technology. We need to continually seek new information, a better understanding of how our world works, and improve our human interaction with it.
Continued research, development and extension is essential. Support and investment in agricultural and environmental sciences is pivotal. Farmers need new and innovative pathways to be identified and the support structures put in place to ensure they are made accessible and affordable, so they can be adopted on a large scale. This means good science and access to information, encouraging creative and critical perspectives to disrupt the status quo, financial backing and investment security.
With collaboration and coordination among policy makers, industry, consumers, farmers, researchers and supporting agencies we will be able to find and implement practical solutions to the threats climate change presents the agricultural industry.
We do not have the luxury of time for merry-go-round debate or the patience for political apathy. Farmers around the world – from subsistence rice farmers in Southeast Asia to arid outback sheep graziers in Australia – are feeling the heat.
Despite the diversity of this industry and medley of cultures and technologies shaped by unique environments, there is commonality in the challenges facing farmers exposed to climate change and plentiful opportunity that can be reaped if the right platforms are put in place. The other similarity I see between farmers around the world – is the glint in their eyes that they are not about to give up.
Source: The Guardian, 20th January 2017