Tuesday, January 18

Farmers face ‘post-apocalyptic’ food crisis

For Australian rancher Jody Brown, the most chilling evidence of the drought is the silence. The trees stop, the chirping of the birds is gone. Lizards and emus are long gone, while kangaroo mothers, unable to hold their young, remove the cubs from their pouches, leaving them to die in the devastating heat.

“You just feel like you’re in some kind of a post-apocalyptic scene,” said Brown, 37, from his family’s ranch in west central Queensland. The constant dryness means that his herd of cattle has dwindled to around 400, down from 1,100 at its peak in 2002, and at times there have been no animals on earth. The native grasses, once green sustenance, have disintegrated into gray ash.

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The world is facing a new era of rapidly rising food prices that could push nearly 2 billion more people into hunger in the worst climate crisis.

Faced with dire predictions, farmers have begun to adapt. At Brown’s ranch in Australia, he is experimenting with regenerative farming practices that are better suited to drought. And around the world, farmers are swapping crops, changing seeds, increasing irrigation and even masking their cows in battle to both increase production and reduce their own emissions. Meanwhile, companies like Syngenta Group, the Swiss agrochemical giant, are developing new varieties of vegetables like cabbages that are more resistant to extreme weather.

“We have to adapt,” Brown said. She is exploring alternatives to traditional grazing methods that don’t put as much pressure on the land, such as grouping cattle into tighter, more compact groups and quickly rotating them through paddocks.

“Potentially, there were always better ways of doing things, but you just didn’t realize it because you weren’t under the pressure that climate change puts on you,” he said.

It’s a fight against the floods, drought, frost, and scorching heat that have plagued farms from Brazil to Canada to Vietnam, which scientists predict will only get worse in the coming decades.

Global crop yields could fall by around 30% due to climate change, while demand for food is expected to increase 50% in the coming decades, according to United Nations estimates. Fisheries and water supplies are also increasingly under threat, said Zitouni Ould-Dada, deputy director of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s climate change, biodiversity and environment office.

One of the biggest challenges for farmers is that there is currently no large-scale coordination or access to funds that would be critical to undertaking the kind of massive transformation that is needed.

“If you have to deal with millions of farmers around the world, you have to coordinate it, it’s a big question,” said Monika Zurek, senior researcher at the Institute for Environmental Change at the University of Oxford.

The UN FAO is calling on leaders attending the COP26 climate summit to commit to more global action to help farmers scale up solutions. The group is targeting annual investments of $ 40 to $ 50 billion through 2030 to fund things like innovation in digital agriculture.

Without widespread change, the result could be a higher spiral in food prices that will hit importing nations especially hard.

From Russia to India, here’s a close look at the actions farmers are taking in countries around the world.


Lucas Lancha Alves de Oliveira is making a drastic change on his farm in the countryside of São Paulo state. He is uprooting half of his coffee trees to plant corn and soybeans. It’s a bold move because trees are usually an investment meant to last for years, but Oliveira is forced to change course after coffee crops were hit first by drought and then by extreme frost, a combination toxic to sensitive trees.

“We have seven months without rain,” said Oliveira, who runs the Labareda Agropecuaria family business, focused on selling gourmet coffee. The drought was followed by a cold blast, which damaged 20% of the area. “Many trees that would produce a large quantity of beans were cooled in freezing conditions. The losses will be huge next year. ”

But the change won’t last forever. After next year’s harvest, Oliveira will gradually start replanting coffee trees, with an important change: the crops will be fully watered. It’s a huge upfront cost, but given the extreme drought he’s seen for several years, Oliveira is betting it’s worth the expense.

“From now on we will only plant irrigated coffee,” he said. –Tatiana Freitas placeholder image

South Africa

Francois Slabbert, a farmer from the Northern Cape, said the changing seasons are forcing grape growers to plant other crops like pecans. Where winters generally occur between mid-May and mid-August, it is now not up and running until about a month later, exposing grape growers to crop-damaging frosts.

While it takes up to 11 years for walnut trees to start producing walnuts, the harvest can be lucrative as around 95% of production in South Africa is exported, Slabbert said.

“It takes time and the change has a huge economic impact,” he said. “But when you’ve done it, when you’ve completed it, it’s good in terms of billing.”

Meanwhile, for Japhet Nhlenyama, a rancher in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, the drought has become so bad that it has left his cattle emaciated because there is no grass to feed on. You are considering giving up farming. In previous years, he received some help from the government, but he has not received any aid so far this year.

“My live cattle are knocked over by the wind and others are dead due to the drought and have nothing to eat,” Nhlenyama said. “We honestly don’t know what we are going to do to survive.” –Khuleko Siwele


Evgeniy Agoshkin has been in agriculture for 20 years, growing wheat and corn alongside other crops. Like many of the country’s farms, its fields had traditionally been in the Voronezh region of the country, south of Moscow. But prolonged drought for several years has led it to move about 750 kilometers (470 miles) northeast into the Ulyanovsk region. He bought 12,000 acres of land, following the advice of a friend who made a similar move. He still clings to some land in Voronezh and now flies between his two farms to manage the fields.

In Ulyanovsk and in some of the northern regions of Russia, “people have started planting grains, corn, sunflower seeds, which was generally not possible 20 years ago,” Agoshkin said. “Now everything is possible.” —Aine Quinn


With the drought gripping California, America’s largest agricultural state, Fritz Durst planted less than half the rice he normally grows, leaving two of his five fields fallow. You are not alone. Rice acreage across the state fell this year to the fewest since 1992, another drought year.

In a region where dryness has become the new normal, Durst is working to trap water. It has plugged the drainage pipes in the fields to contain the little amount of rain that falls. One day in October, for example, brought more than 5 inches of rain to his fields, slightly more than what fell in the entirety of 2020. Durst will also plant cover crops, which can help enrich the soils and prevent erosion. . Still, in a part of the country that varies from one extreme weather event to another, it is difficult for him to predict the next steps.

“I don’t try to look past a week,” Durst said. –Michael Hirtzer


The farm’s vineyard that the Samuel Masse family has run for more than 20 generations has been hit by heat waves and frost in recent seasons. This year’s grape yield fell 70% due to a spring cold snap, and unrelenting weather extremes mean it is no longer willing to bet on a single harvest, as the operation has done since World War I.

But Masses’ plans to plant 200 olive trees this fall have been postponed due to the rains and financial constraints from the farm’s frost losses, highlighting the challenges producers face in making such changes. The grove now could start next year, and you are also considering planting figs, pomegranates or almonds in the future.

“Now we don’t know what a normal year is because we always get something,” Masse said. “The problem now is how we make the change and how quickly we do it.” –Megan Durisin


Rice, one of the world’s main staples, is also a large emitter of methane, as its flooded fields block oxygen and allow bacteria to thrive. But farmers like Prasan Kumar Biswal in eastern India’s Odisha state are pioneering new methods. In the middle of his four acres, he carefully scatters the seedlings and alternates between wetting and drying the fields. The roots of the plant grow deeper and performance improves.

However, it is not easy to deviate from tradition. He still uses conventional flooding in some fields, and his cousin, Jagannath Biswal, only uses the practice in his. The old-fashioned way helps keep weeds at bay at a time when labor is too expensive to handle manually.

“Our ancestors have taught us about the flooding of the rice fields,” said Jagannath Biswal. “I have never tried growing rice with less water.” –Pratik Parija


On the island of Sifnos, George Narlis relies on historical methods to grow crops with increasingly scarce water. Rains are now rare after February and spring temperatures have become much warmer.

“This year, for the first time in my life, we didn’t have spring, we only had summer. Many flowers and trees died, apricots, ”he said.

To supply his small farm and restaurant, he has traveled the island collecting inherited watermelon and tomato seeds that thrive in the arid conditions. It is similar to the techniques your parents and grandparents used, when they only had access to a small well. – Aine quinn


Raffy Aromin, 43, from Cavite province, south of Manila, said lettuce and cabbage production has changed a lot in just the five years he’s been growing. The extreme heat of the afternoon in October means that the crops are beginning to wilt. As a solution, Aromin uses plastic that can protect against strong UV rays to cover its vegetables. It produces up to 200 kilograms a week, which it supplies to a local supermarket chain and estimates that plastic saves around 80% of its food crops.

“Filipino farmers are fighters,” he said, predicting that he will stay in agriculture for many more years.

“Our families depend on agriculture for a living. We have to try “. –Lopez said

© 2021 Bloomberg


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