Greenhouse gases from agriculture account for over ten percent of total emissions globally, roughly equivalent to the entire global transport sector. Meanwhile, it is estimated that agricultural production will need to increase by about 70% by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth. What’s more, the real impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector are likely going to be hardest felt in many of those countries whose people rely on agriculture most for their livelihoods. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, for example, some estimates show a reduction in the productivity of most major food crops as a result of changes to the climate over the next forty years.
While this may sound like a doom and gloom scenario, this Earth Day I want to focus on an area of promise: the increasing availability of affordable technologies that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases and increase productivity in agriculture. I am referring here not to agricultural technologies—although those certainly play a role—but rather to information and communications technologies, like the mobile phone, video, and even radio. If you are wondering how a mobile phone, a video camera, and a radio might relate at all to climate change, allow me to explain.
For starters, so-called “climate-smart” methods of agriculture, such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and others already exist. The challenge is that not all farmers know about them, there is no single prescription, and traditional practices can often die hard, particularly when you are working with very small margins and taking risks could spell utter ruin for yourself and your family. So how do ICTs change this? In short, they make it easier to share locally relevant information on improved techniques and to provide time-specific information and recommendations (such as weather forecasts, and when to do what).