Diagnosis of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the impact of climate change on agriculture is not at all promising. As a consequence of global warming, droughts and floods, he says that the availability of suitable land for cultivation and water will be increasingly scarce and lower quality resources, and points out that this new reality will affect crop yields. In addition, it warns about the increase in pests and diseases in plants that will put food security at risk in the affected areas.
Latin America and the Caribbean are concerned about this situation, which would particularly affect Mesoamerica and the Andes area. It is not for less. Thanks in large part to the expansion of the agricultural frontier, Latin America has already become the main producer and exporter of food in the world. According to the FAO, some 270 million people depend on agriculture here.
Against this background, and still with a long way to go, the concept of climate-smart agriculture is beginning to make its way on this continent to facilitate the transition to more efficient and climate-friendly agriculture and food systems. “We have advanced a lot in practices such as no-till agriculture, regenerative agriculture, precision agriculture and irrigation, in genetic improvement, in the use of biological inputs or in the use of agricultural residues to generate energy, among others,” he says from Washington by phone Guillermo Foscarini, the person who leads the agribusiness team of IDB Invest , the investment arm in the private sector of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The IDB is, precisely, one of the entities that is mobilizing more knowledge and financing towards agribusiness, supporting and advising projects that are in line with mitigating climate change and increasing the adaptive capacity of agriculture. However, Foscarini recognizes that technological and digital progress is still incipient in Latin America and will be linked to the development and expansion of connectivity in the region, one of its main limitations.
“One of the challenges is to close the technological gap by bringing new technologies such as drones, sensors or intelligent irrigation to small producers, the true backbone of the industry and which are the ones that will need to be reached to have a greater positive impact”, indicates.
Mitigating and adapting to climate change will not always be easy. Some of its impacts can be predicted. Others have not yet. In the opinion of the experts, Latin American agriculture in many cases should start by reducing its ecological footprint by correcting some of its food production systems that are causing deforestation, loss of biodiversity, increased greenhouse gas emissions, waste of food or the irrational use of water. Two of its major problems are the so-called enteric fermentation due to the methane generated by cattle during their digestion and the use of synthetic fertilizers.
Fortunately, Latin America also has good and innovative agricultural experiences of adaptation and resilience to climate change and how smart agriculture generates added value for the producer and helps to reduce Greenhouse Emissions (GHG). This is the case of the Argentine Association of Direct Sowing Producers (AAPRESID), a network of agricultural producers who use a cultivation technique without plows or previous cultivation, respecting the coverage of previous crops, including stubble. The system allows to produce without degrading the soil. “Moving the land with tillage destroys a lot of microbiology and increases fossil fuel, therefore GHG emissions. Direct seeding keeps the soils healthy and fertile, and allows a more efficient use of water ”,
Direct sowing has proven effective as a production model that buffers extreme temperatures, increases carbon sequestration in the soil and achieves high productivity. In fact, says Giraudo, 92% of Argentina’s arable land is developed under this system. Most of it corresponds to corn, wheat, barley, sorghum, soybean, sunflower or pasture crops, but its use has become widespread. “Argentina is on the way to adopting a globally validated metric in order to be a country with a carbon neutral or positive balance,” concludes Giraudo.
And from Argentina to the State of Michoacán, in western Mexico. Here is Ejido Verde , considered by Fast Company magazine as one of the 50 most innovative companies in Latin America in 2020. It promotes with regenerative and sustainable practices the planting of pine trees to produce resin, involving rural communities, mostly indigenous. His proposal has reactivated the sustainable production of pine resin by reforesting native forests on degraded lands that suffered indiscriminate logging long ago. The resin has hundreds of industrial applications, including adhesives, glues or inks.
Ejido verde boasted in 2019 having reforested more than 4,000 hectares of pine plantations and planting an average of 6,000 trees per day. Its goal is to reach 12,000 hectares, which would mean being able to absorb six million tons of carbon dioxide. “We provide solutions to climate change in different ways. Pine resin is a green product that replaces other petroleum derivatives that do generate greenhouse gases.
We have reforested degraded landscapes by sequestering carbon and promoting the conservation of soils and water sources. We are returning the forests to their natural state but with a concept of commercial agroforestry plantations ”, explains in conversation with Planeta Futuro its general director, Shaun Paul.
The Mexican company has managed to integrate the traditional knowledge of the Purépecha communities that have a millenary practice extracting resin from trees with the best technologies. “We work with six species of pine, low impact agrochemicals, we use forest computer systems with remote sensors, satellite images to analyze soils, we introduce the use of the drone to monitor trees and detect pests, and we measure rainfall”, lists the director.
This company, which has in mind to start up 3,000 more new family farms that would adopt climate-smart agricultural practices and generate 10,000 new jobs within the framework of its praised philosophy of social development and community building. In 2019 alone, Ejido Verde ensures that it had the collaboration of more than 2,100 people.
New technologies applied to agriculture are capable of predicting the climate and also pests and diseases in order to manage them. The young Brazilian entrepreneur Mariana Vasconcelos, the daughter of peasants, knows this well. Some years ago she warned that in a situation of changing climate like the current one, it was increasingly difficult for farmers to trust what they had done all their lives. He decided to change the chip of intuition for that of security so that they could make the right decisions backed by data, not by uses and customs.
In 2014 he created Agrosmart,a digital agriculture platform dedicated to providing producers with accurate data by monitoring crops with sensors and satellite images. “We help to better understand what happens in each plot by responding with precision agriculture what must be done in order to achieve greater efficiency, producing more but also with greater sustainability. Through the data we can draw an ideal cultivation scenario and the farmer can better plan his activities so that they become more adapted and more resilient to climate change ”, he explains.
For Vasconcelos, the farmer must necessarily move towards a digital transformation and the first step is to have data generated by sensors, by spectral images, by a drone. In the case of Agrosmart, the sensors communicate with each other without the need to connect to the internet or a mobile data network. Information flows to the points where there is connectivity.
“Once we cross all the information, we can make operational alerts with irrigation recommendations and thus use less water, understand the risks of a disease and thus use inputs only when necessary, apply fertilizers better, have the best weather forecast or know what seeds work better for certain scenarios and are more resilient to the climate itself ”concludes the general director of Agrosmart, who already monitors more than 200.
Data science is shown as a powerful tool to help agriculture to be more productive, sustainable and efficient. However, in Latin America there is almost everything to explore in this field. “There is a systemic lack of consistent and reliable data, coupled with the resistance of many producers to share data from their farms. On the other hand, there is a lack of profiles that combine agronomy with data technologies, ”explains Diego Steverlynck, executive director of S4, an Argentine applied technology company that is presented as the first that helps agronomy to manage climate risk.