Resilience in Agricultural Diversity: Interdisciplinary Team Helping to Overcome Interdisciplinary Problem
Climate change is a current global issue that affects everyone in their daily lives, which is not something most people realize. One of the biggest concerns is that it directly impacts our ability to produce food, and arguably has the largest influence on farmers. Despite our disciplinary differences, we all see climate change as a problem in need of more attention, and so we banded together with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) to help raise awareness about this topic. Above all, we aimed to help our local farmers adapt to a changing climate and provide resources as well as ideas for them to do so.
The interrelation between agriculture and climate change is incredibly complicated. During 2016, agriculture accounted for roughly 10% of total greenhouse gas pollution in Canada (1). The entire food system, however; including farming, food processing, packaging, and storage, is estimated to contribute up to 29% of negative emissions worldwide (2). Reasons for this problematic environmental impact includes deforestation to make arable land readily available, consumption of fossil fuels for powering heavy equipment, fertilizer overuse leading to the production of nitrous gasses, and methane production as a result of raising livestock (3). These greenhouse gas emissions in turn alter weather patterns, raise global temperatures, and adjust water availabilities to directly hinder food production (3). All of these contributors can be mitigated using better agricultural practices implemented by the farmer themselves. Interestingly, agriculture also has the greatest potential to reverse the effects of greenhouse gasses by sequestering carbon at a large scale when using sustainable practices (4). However, the effects of climate change directly impacting local Ontario farmers that use these ecological practices remains elusive to date.
Our approach to this problem follows the transdisciplinary objectives of the Food from Thought project and the aims of the Arrell Food Institute. We conducted a series of telephone interviews with EFAO farmers to learn about their unique struggles and solutions. Specifically, we interviewed farmers on their current experiences with climate change, how it affects their daily activities and what innovative strategies they employ to be resilient. This is complimented with a larger survey that we conducted online which directly captures the specific experiences and beliefs of farmers in Ontario. Our team also developed a weather tool that compiles data from climate stations throughout the province to facilitate future decision making for farmers. We hope this app will prove useful in analyzing past weather patterns during important dates for crop production such as planting or harvesting. Through the tool and documented experiences of farmers as narrated in the interviews as well as the surveys, our project contributes to knowledge sharing among farmers, an essential element in a building a resilient farm community that fosters innovation in their practices.
After several months we can only look back with satisfaction and optimism; it has been a journey worth taking, from both our individual and group perspectives. As a group, we have learned important life lessons including the capacity to build opportunities, teamwork, and above all, the depth of knowledge gained interacting with the farm community. We believe that our work has been successful because our outputs will valuable to our community partner and farmers beyond their organization. But overall, experiential learning has made us better graduate students beyond our research labs, opening us to the world of work and preparing us to solve real-world problems in innovative ways.
(1) Environment and Climate Change Canada. (2018). Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Retrieved from: www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmentalindicators/greenhouse-gas-emissions.html
(2) Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. (2012). Agriculture and Food Production Contribute Up to 29 Percent of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions According to Comprehensive Research Papers. Retrieved from: https://ccafs.cgiar.org/news/press-releases/agriculture-and-food-production-contribute-29-percent-global-greenhouse-gas
(3) Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. (2015). Impact of Climate Change on Canadian Agriculture. Retrieved from: http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/science-and-innovation/agricultural-practices/climate-change-and-agriculture/future-outlook/impact-of-climate-change-on-canadian-agriculture/?id=1329321987305
(4) Wilson, M.H., and Lovell, S.T. (2016). Agroforestry—The next step in sustainable and
resilient agriculture. Sustainability. 8(6), 574.