Across the globe, smallholder farmers are facing challenges brought about by changes in climate. The overall impacts of climate change on agriculture will depend on the balance of various effects. The shift in weather patterns takes place at a time when there is an increasing demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel, which has the potential to damage the natural resource base on which agriculture depends irreversibly.
Over time weather fluctuations have continuously affected farmers' yields and cooperative societies' incomes. It is, therefore, crucial to increase the understanding of the actual climate change dynamics on agricultural activities and at the cooperatives levels. The effects of climate change need to be considered along with other evolving factors that affect agricultural cooperatives, such as changes in farming practices and technology.
Agriculture, in general, is highly dependent on specific climate conditions. Increases in temperature and carbon dioxide (CO2) can be beneficial for some crops in some places. In Tanzania, for example, bean cultivation in low elevation areas will experience more than 20% yield reduction by 2050 while in rainfed highlands yield gains by over 20% are likely to be experienced. But to realise these benefits, nutrient levels, soil moisture, water availability, and other conditions must also be met.
"Agricultural cooperatives can help to enable members to manage climate risks"
Farmer cooperatives are well-positioned to help in addressing some of these concerns by promoting climate-smart agricultural practices amongst their members. Agricultural cooperatives are effective partners in managing community-level responses to climate change. Cooperative societies can promote local prevention and adaptation practices that reduce the impacts of natural hazards and climate change. For example, promoting alternative production practices, and farm enterprise diversification to increase the resilience of rural communities when confronted with climatic fluctuations.
Agricultural cooperatives can also help to enable members to manage climate risks and adapt to climate change by promoting adherence to environmental standards and promoting local production. Consumer and producer cooperatives can adopt processes that are eco-friendly to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Cooperatives organisations are also better placed to link rural communities with larger-scale public and private institutions. Through these linkages, cooperatives can provide services to member-farmers for them to benefit from risk management tools, be involved in natural resource conservation activities like afforestation, water harvesting, and conservation. They can also initiate activities that will reduce contribution to greenhouse gases like conservation agriculture practices in crop cultivation.
The proximity of cooperatives and producer organisations to rural people and their capacities to achieve economies of scale by grouping multiple, small producers means that they have a pivotal role to play in ensuring rapid, effective, and sustained responses to climate change.
Emmanuel Kibet, business advisor Kenya