Small-Scale Farmers Confront Climate Change

Author: Ryan Zinn

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.