Small-Scale Farmers Confront Climate Change

Fair World Project Publication climate change
On the left: Juan Contreras, producer from Productores del Valle de Aconcagua SA (Mi Fruta). Top Right: COOPEVICTORIA, Costa Rica. Bottom Right: Banelino Dominican Republic.

The industrial food system is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Industrial agriculture practices like Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), overuse and abuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and fossil fuel-intensive transportation all generate significant amounts of GHGs and underpin an inequitable and unhealthy food system. Conversely, small-scale regenerative organic farming emits far less GHG and, adopted at a large scale, has the potential to help reverse climate change by building soil organic matter and sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide. Up to one-third of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide is from depleted, mismanaged farm and rangeland soils, and it can be sequestered back into soil through regenerative organic practices like rotational cover-cropping, minimal tillage, holistic managed grazing, and not using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that disrupt soil biota that build soil organic matter.

But despite the serious threat that climate change poses to humanity in general, and to small-scale farmers in particular, government and market support of proven solutions to climate change, like small-scale regenerative agriculture, receives little assistance or safeguards. Supporting and developing small-scale regenerative farming will require significant resources, research and awareness-raising. To successfully confront the challenges of climate change and feed the world, small-scale farmers will have to play a critical role.

Experience has shown that farmers around the world learn best from their peers. Emerging from Central America in the 1970s, the “Farmer-to-Farmer” movement has fueled the training of thousands of peasant farmers by facilitating the exchange of experiences and best practices. This movement is based upon community empowerment, traditional knowledge, and local innovation and cooperation.

Fair World Project (FWP) and the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers (CLAC) have partnered together to conduct a contest for all CLAC members to share their experiences and best practices in confronting climate change in their communities. Twelve small-scale farmer organizations from seven Latin American countries participated in the contest. Farmer submissions demonstrated impressive steps taken by these organizations to adjust to the growing challenge of climate change adaption, and to also diversify their farm economies, promoting on-farm innovation, including improving soil fertility, among other practices.

Cooperative Sugar Cane Growers of Costa Rica, CoopeVictoria RL won the contest and a $3,000 cash prize to expand and continue their work. CoopeVictoria RL stood out among the proposals for the originality of its experience, the ability to turn problems into solutions, and its focus on involving community members in training, education and awareness, increasing its impact on 3,024 member families. CoopeVictoria RL’s member families have experienced major problems with pest and disease control as a result of climate change-fueled temperature changes. Incidences of erosion have increased in recent years as well, due to unseasonal and intense rain storms. As a result, farmers have seen their production fall and have experienced loss of income. To address these challenges, CoopeVictoria RL is stabilizing and building up soil fertility by recycling sugar cane and coffee waste, returning nutrients to their fields and reducing erosion. CoopeVictoria RL is also mitigating climate change through their biodiesel program. By collecting residential and commercial cooking oil, their communities are safeguarding local water sources from contamination and burning cleaner fuel in their vehicles.

Other inspiring experiences include Colombia’s San Isidro coffee producers. For thirty years, San Isidro has been developing conservation activities, promoting environmental education, and implementing best practices and diversification of agricultural production with the participation of young people. In recent years, San Isidro’s producers have experienced increased severe droughts and insect attacks, both exacerbated by climate change. San Isidro’s producers are not only facing climate change, but local challenges as well, including deforestation in neighboring regions. To address these challenges, producers have taken steps to improve soil vitality and reduce pesticide use, as well as to obtain and manage their own forest preserves where native species, including endangered bird and tree species, are conserved. These preserves also play an important role in ensuring a steady and clean water supply.

Farmer-to-farmer campaigns have proven to be the most impactful and cost-effective method of scaling up and growing skills, like regenerative organic farming. To build off this experience, FWP will continue to facilitate future contests with producer networks, including in-person farmer-to-farmer exchanges.

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