Mitigating climate change through agriculture

Agriculture productivity and food security are at stake when communities become vulnerable to recurring changes in the climate. Short-term fluctuations in regional weather patterns with increases in the frequency and severity of El Niño events are also posing immediate and pressing challenges on the village substance lifestyle.

The subsistence and particularly the rural populace is the worst affected in such scenarios. There is much to be drawn from, from the experiences of the present climate challenge – the 2015 El Nino drought (and frost).

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Hisiu model farmer Florence Ovia checking her egg plant

PNG is yet to recover from El Nino, which has affected the entire country resulting in extreme food and water shortages. Relief supplies through food rations have been the most common and immediate remedy, which has been the focus of recent efforts by authorities and donor agencies.

As the drought is nation-wide, and the situation continues, more relief support is needed.

However rations are short-lived, as they run out within a short time span. Communities need to survive in both “during” and “post” drought periods, even when rains return and the first harvests are made.

Climate change (and drought) preparedness is paramount, in anticipation of such scenarios. This is the talk at global forums and government fronts.

The changing global climate and related stresses on agriculture and the environment present opportunities for communities to mitigate the situation. Mitigation through innovative agriculture stands to provide a sustainable solution by giving households greater prospects to adapt to climatic extremes.

While the larger populace battled the devastating drought and frost effects, a small number of families in various communities of PNG managed to access food and safe drinking water to keep them going during the drought. The amount and quality may not be much but lessons can be drawn from these experiences.

A fraction of the Murukanam community in Madang survived on drought tolerant cassava and yam, besides their Kalapua banana. The Hisiu people in Central enjoyed vegetables of many types through improved production practices f or food and cash.

The Derin community in Trans-Gogol was able to access safe drinking water through the use of the biosand filter technology. Although creeks and nearby water sources have dried out, some 20 households could purify any drain water into clean water which were healthy for consumption and household chores. The middlebush community in Tanna, Vanuatu, found more value with upland rice when all their food gardens and the environment were destroyed by Cyclone Pam and then by El Nino. A group of farmers in Buma, Solomon Islands, have had enough chicken during the drought too.

Families managed to survive with some level of food and water resources during the drought – say a little more than others in their communities.

This was a result of a mega project undertaken by NARI and its partners over the last five years under European Union support.

There were other positive feedback on soil and water management, animal husbandry, livestock feed development, food processing, and crop production in PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The imitative was about the generation, validation and dissemination of innovative agricultural technologies to mitigate climate change-imposed risks to food production and hence to food security, livelihoods and economic development. They were achieved by enabling smallholder farmers in high risk areas of these countries to adapt their farming systems to cope with extremes in precipitation (droughts & floods) and/or sea water inundation of agricultural land – both of which scenarios are attributable to climate change.

The action was addressed at local level by developing and making available to smallholders in high risk areas, new or adapted technology options (e.g. stress tolerant crops and water management for crops & livestock), to help counter climate-change imposed risks to food production within their localities.

A key element of the approach was that farmers were involved in field research from which they could learn and adopt best practices based on outputs on their own farms.

Contingency measures were promoted to enable rural communities to withstand and survive the ravages of frequent and prolonged drought events.

It has been a five-year work, which ends later this week with a closing workshop in Lae. Our neighbouring Western Pacific countries face extra-ordinary weather challenges and the experiences have been of much value to them.

Much lesson has been learnt. PNG will have to face the fact that climate change will inevitably bring changes to traditional farming practices and systems of food production overtime. PNG has reached a point that needs more thinking to better place its people and environment given the likely recurring of natural phenomenon with adverse effects.

As time goes by, Papua New Guineans must know how to deal with soil moisture deficits caused by prolonged dry spells and droughts; excess soil moisture due to extreme rainfalls; salinity as a result of rising seas levels and salt water intrusion in coastal communities and low lying islands and atolls; and increased frequency of frost occurrences in the high altitudes.

Research and development by NARI has resulted in much experiences which are available to governments and development partners to prepare more of the vulnerable communities.

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