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Climate Change Will Impact Commercial Agriculture

  The issues of Climate Change have been widely discussed and are high on the agenda for Pacific Island nations, but most of the discussion has focused on the impacts
21 Nov 2015 10:04
Climate Change Will Impact Commercial Agriculture

 

The issues of Climate Change have been widely discussed and are high on the agenda for Pacific Island nations, but most of the discussion has focused on the impacts the rising sea levels and rising temperatures will have on the physical environment of these countries, particularly on the problems that are already being experienced in some countries because of the incursion of the sea into areas that were previously dry land. But Climate Change will have significant impact on many business, none more so than the commercial agricultural industry.

On an international scale there is a growing debate that is starting to gather momentum. This is what impacts will the inevitable changes brought about by Climate Change have on two critical areas, food production, particularly in the agricultural area and water availability.

The availability of sufficient water will obviously have a direct effect on agriculture. Scientists in a number of the larger countries around the world are examining these two questions right now.

There is a wide belief that there will be a direct effect on the amount of food produced unless current practices are revised and changes instituted to mitigate the impacts on the agricultural sector.

The scientists predict that there will be significant changes in the rainfall patterns due to temperature increases, both atmospheric and in the sea and shifts in prevailing winds.

One group says that there will be less rain than before and that there will be long periods of drought and the second says that there will be the same amount (or close to it) but that the rainfall will occur at different times and will probably be more condensed.

Rain (and the timing of the rainfall) is critical to the success of the agricultural industry and action has to be taken now to find ways to mitigate the impact on food production.

There is work going on to identify types of plants that will perform well with less water being consumed, both in varieties of existing plant groups and in the development of new types of plants.

There are also a number of experiments on the actual use of water, from improved irrigation methods, the recycling of irrigation water with nutrients added so that the same water can be used a number of times in the field.

There are also groups searching for ways to have the crop mature faster and to produce greater volumes of edible material so that additional food can be grown from the same amount of water, because of the increased frequency of harvesting.

The increased temperatures will also have a direct impact on the crops (even though the increased temperature target is as low as two degrees).

Agricultural scientists are seeking to develop new varieties of plants that are better able to resist the effects of higher temperatures.

There are also some interesting experiments with a technique called “hosting”, where food crops are planted between rows of trees so that there is a shade effect on the crop.

The host trees provide a cooler environment for the crop and make it possible for the plants to grow using less water. Because of the shade, less water is also evaporated from the leaves of the plants.

Experiments are also seeking crops where more of the plant can be used as food. A good example of this in Fiji is the Dalo plant where the bulb provides carbohydrate and the leaves vegetable protein as Rourou.

In this way, the usable portion of the crop is increased. There is also research being undertaken into ways to improve the efficiency of the hydroponic farming technology, where the same water is reused over and over with nutrients added each time. In this way a small amount of water can produce a greater volume of crop.

In Fiji there are several hydroponic projects, the best known being owned by Joe’s Farm. It is reported that they are planning an expansion of their facilities.

Aerial irrigation also consumes a lot more water than ground level irrigation because there is a significant evaporation factor from the spray dispersed through the air, and this evaporation will increase as temperatures rise.

Farming methods in general are being reviewed all around the world to find ways to minimize the water used in production.

There will also be new crop types, genetically engineered to meet the new conditions. That will have a direct impact on the types of food we eat in Fiji.

Concerns have also been raised about some of the farming methods currently used in Fiji. Fertiliser will become more important to promote speedy growth but fertiliser currently used in Fiji has caused great damage to the surrounding reefs, lowering the protection they give to damage from the waves, particularly in bad weather.

Not all the fertilizer is absorbed on the farm; the residual is washed into streams and finally finds its way into the sea where the minerals kill the polyps that form the reefs.

In addition, the residual fertilizer reduces the oxygen levels in the water, causing a significant reduction in the fish populations that provide food for the local people.

There is a new type of fertilizer that is organic based, instead of the mineral bases currently used in fertilizer, which does not cause the damage to the reefs and island countries in particular, are starting to demand a change. Mineral fertilizers are in the majority in Fiji.

There is a second debate, specifically centered on some of the larger agricultural nations, particularly the USA and Australia, about the issues that arise by allowing foreign owners to take control of large sections of the nation’s agricultural and primary industries.

There are concerns that the foreign owners may chose to export the food they produce to markets where the return is higher, leaving the host country consumers without adequate supplies.

The government in Fiji is aware of this and is considering the options, but it is believed that they will wait to see what the larger nations do.

There is already a significant amount of interest in leasing agricultural land by foreign investors, generally in larger tracts where mechanized farming can be used

Most scientists believe that Fiji is well placed to mitigate the effects of climate change with careful planning.

The Fiji government is aware of all the issues and is working hard to ensure that the future demands for food and water are met.

The issues are difficult, but not impossible and with the cooperation of the agriculture sector Fiji will adapt to the new circumstances. And Fiji commercial agriculture, with the guidance and support of the government, is well placed to grasp the opportunities.

 



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