How do we create resilience in the agrifood system?


With every new day we better understand the impact of humans on the environment, particularly our impact on the global climate. We have just reached the highest recorded carbon dioxide level ever, large glaciers continue their retreat at ever faster rates, and there have been 400 months – over 33 years – of consecutive months with above average temperatures. For food systems, climate change concerns are centered on maintaining livelihoods and natural resource economies as well as reducing inequities and feeding rural and urban communities. To address these impacts, we challenged authors to submit interdisciplinary solutions for climate change and food systems in this special issue of Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, launched this month. Authors came up with a range of innovative solutions to address climate change challenges, which includes the following ideas:

Climate is not the only risk on farmers minds: In discussions with farmers who operate diverse operations in New York and Pennsylvania, Lane et al. found that while farmers experience climate change risks (such as dealing with changing growing seasons, floods and droughts), there are many other economic and market forces that they believe pose greater risks to their farms. Understanding farmers’ adaptation needs and priorities can help guide researchers and policymakers to develop and coordinate comprehensive climate adaptation strategies.

Place matters for climate adaptation: Through interviews and discussions with farmers in in a region of Southwest Idaho with a growing urban population, Castellano and Moroney found that a diversity of factors, such as beliefs in climate change, the presence or absence of an heir to take over the farm and the geographic location along a rural to urban interface, influence farmer perceptions of climate change. This is important because it can help us understand the unique challenges faced by farmers situated at rural to urban interfaces.

Train the trainers on climate services: A national survey polled thousands of U.S. Department of Agriculture employees in regional Farm Service Agency offices on their use of climate information. These employees often work directly with land managers and play an important role in sharing science-based management information with those managers. In their analysis of the survey, Schattman et al. note that there is an opportunity to increase these employees’ exposure to and proficiency with weather and climate information. Ultimately this could facilitate USDA field staff in better meeting the needs of American farmers in reducing climate risks.

Uplifting Tribal communities: Building on a working group hosted at the National Adaptation Forum, Reyes et al. suggest that organizations working with Tribal groups can improve their partnerships by developing and delivering decision-relevant resources and knowledge, improving cultural competency among non-Tribal partners, and supporting educational and professional development of Tribal youth.

Organic production systems can increase the climate resilience of smallholder farmers: Using a tool developed by the United Nations to assess a range of agroecosystem indicators, Heckelman et al. conclude that organic rice systems in the Philippines are more climate resilient than their conventional counterparts given their ability to simultaneously address adaptation, mitigation and vulnerability. Increased support for the development of organic rice systems would improve climate resilience and food security in this region.

Participatory research improves community outcomes and knowledge production: The results of a unique participatory action model are summarized by Bezner Kerr et al. Their work includes two communities in Malawi spanning several years and interviews, surveys and discussions with hundreds of farmers covering their perceptions of climate change and agricultural concerns. They conclude that participatory research with marginalized groups that is focused on agroecology supports experimentation and increased knowledge sharing, while also challenging dominant agricultural models.

Sharing oral histories is an important part of building community resilience: Osterhoudt found that sharing, and recording, oral histories among smallholder farmers impacted by a cyclone in Madagascar can actually increase community resilience. She argued that climate resilience encompasses not only technical or ecological factors, but also the more affective realms of shared legacies, hope, and belonging.

Film-making contributes to teaching and improved understanding of climate change: Ethnographic filmmaking, as a methodological tool, can help to assess environmental perceptions among farming communities and can illuminate diverse ways of knowing, according to Franzen. In this paper, Franzen explores the operation of a vegetable producer in the southern United States, and details how the process of knowledge generation explored in film-making can present learning opportunities.

It may not take large increases in carbon dioxide to impact crops: A range of crops, including cereals and legumes, may be susceptible to increases in carbon dioxide that are likely to occur, according to McGranahan and Poling. This research measured several different plant physiological responses beyond crop yield, in order to improve understanding of plant functional responses to carbon dioxide at an ecosystem level.

Improvements to rangeland management can support adaptation and mitigation: In a global meta-analysis, DeLonge and Basche found that a variety of rangeland management strategies, including reduced stocking rates and increased grazing complexity, have the potential to significantly improve water infiltration rates, and to increase soil carbon in some locations. This means that such practices can achieve both adaptation and mitigation goals.

Targeting drought mitigation to where it is needed most: A spatial analysis conducted by Alvarez-Berrios et al. found that drought mitigation strategies (including soil health, plant health and water availability practices) are less likely to be found in regions of Puerto Rico impacted most severely by drought over the last 16 years. The synthesis of spatial information on conservation practices and drought frequency can support the targeting of government programs intended to address climate vulnerabilities.

Enabling a watershed approach to climate adaptation: Innovations in water management engineering and cropping system diversification in the U.S. Midwest may enable a transformation to more multifunctional agricultural watersheds that expand both agricultural production and water-related services. Jordan et al. describe technological and political innovations that may serve as governance models in other regions.

When it comes to mitigation, focus on the entire food system: According to Niles et al., a food systems research approach is needed to capture potential synergies for addressing greenhouse gas emission reductions across the entire food system. They argue that this work is important to examine across both low- and middle-income countries. Advancing mitigation efforts across the entire food system with require opportunities for shifting policy and financial incentives.


Download the full Editorial for FREE here: “Climate change challenges require collaborative research to drive agrifood system transformation” until 31st July 2018

Published this month in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems  as part of Volume 33 – Special Issue 3: Themed Content: Ag/Food Systems and Climate Change

Image captions and credits:

1- Photo one: Climate change challenges the food system in a number of ways: how do we maintain livelihoods and natural resource economies as well as reduce inequities in rural and urban communities? These are the challenges we tasked authors with tackling in the new special issue of Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. Photo credit: Rebecca Schewe.


2- Photo two: Increasing grazing complexity was found to increase infiltration rates across a range of environments, according to a global meta-analysis published in the special issue by DeLonge and Basche. Photo credit: Aaron Price.

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