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Organic agriculture helps adaptation to climate change

Adaptation to climate change is a key issue for many developing countries, particularly as climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. Farmers will need to adapt their practices to deal with changing temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events.†

An FAO paper published in August 2006 explores the potential of organic agriculture in increasing resilience within the agroecosystem, thereby increasing its ability to continue functioning when faced with unexpected events such as climate change.

The paper concludes that, as a whole, organic agriculture builds adaptive capacity on farms. This is because it promotes agroecological resilience, biodiversity, healthy landscape management, and strong community knowledge processes. Improved soil quality and efficient water use also strengthen agroecosystems, while practices that enhance biodiversity allow farms to mimic natural ecological processes, which enables them to better respond to change.†

The scope of the paper is reproduced below. The full paper can be downloaded at ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/009/ah617e/ah617e.pdf

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BUILDING RESILIENCE FOR AN UNPREDICTABLE FUTURE: HOW ORGANIC AGRICULTURE CAN HELP FARMERS ADAPT TO CLIMATE CHANGE
by Sarah Borron

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, August 2006

SCOPE OF THIS PAPER

In the face of global climate change, farmers must adapt their practices to deal with changing temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events.† These adaptations must first and foremost build resilience within the agroecosystem, increasing its ability to continue functioning when faced with unexpected events.† Climate change adaptation as a topic broadly encompasses many fields and areas where response will increasingly be needed.† This paper focuses on climate change adaptation for farmers, especially those in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).† These farmers are among the most vulnerable to climate change because they rely heavily on agriculture as their primary sector and need affordable solutions, based on their own resources and skills, to prevent excessive losses.†

This paper has chosen to explore the potential of Organic Agriculture (OA) in adaptation efforts because ecological approaches to food production offer farmers in LDCs affordable, accessible opportunities to strengthen their farmsí resilience. While certified organic farmers are relatively uncommon in developing countries, though their numbers are increasing, millions of farmers in LDCs base their farming practices on ecological principles acquired through millennia of experimentation and adaptation to local conditions. OA relies as much as possible ecological processes and on a farmís own resources, which reduces monetary costs to farmers and reduces the non-renewable resources used in farming. It is therefore assumed that OA offers adaptation options that allow farmers to use on-farm resources to build resilience, rather than rely on expensive external inputs.† Many indigenous farming practices are already based on ecology, and combining the best of traditional knowledge with support from ecological science offers farmers in developing countries an opportunity for success.††

This paper examines the role of organic farming techniques in increasing resilience in the following areas: (i) soil and water; (ii) biodiversity and landscapes; and (iii) community knowledge systems.† Soil, water and biodiversity provide the basis for a farmís success, and enhancing landscape management builds upon healthy natural resources to create sustainable systems.† Communities develop in-depth knowledge, adaptive techniques, and even specific crop and livestock varieties for their local ecosystems; ways to preserve and share this knowledge are as important as the farming practices themselves.† Each section describes how OA practices can be used to strengthen land, water, biodiversity and community systems, in anticipation of change that may be expected from uncertain climatic conditions.

Not every organic farmer uses every technique discussed, and not every technique is appropriate to OA only. What is unique to OA is its systemic approach throughout the food production chain. This paper presents under each section the basic organic principles and requirements and examines the best organic practices relevant to LDC farmers. This paper does not focus on farmers using organic monocultures for commodity production, but rather on small-scale farmers using diversified OA techniques primarily for subsistence, with some market involvement. More reductionist versions of OA may focus more on input substitution than relying on ecological processes for farming needs, which reduces resilience.

Specialization also increases the risk involved in farming. Furthermore, this paper examines adaptation potentials, thus limiting considerations on mitigation to a summary in the Introduction. Assessing the impact of climate change on agricultural resources is outside the scope of this paper.

 


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