Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Farmers from Missouri to West Bengal, India Adapt to the Global Challenge of Climate Change

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Farmers from Missouri to West Bengal, India Adapt to the Global Challenge of Climate Change

Article excerpt

Liz Graznak is the co-owner of Happy Hollow Farm, a family operation located on the rolling hills of Jamestown, Mo., where she grows crops including tomatoes, greens and corn.

Graznak said she has seen big changes in weather conditions since she started farming 10 years ago. These days, she said, "it's more extreme one way or the other."

This and other effects of climate change represent a global challenge, and farmers such as Graznak have found themselves on the front lines of the struggle to adapt.

For her, that has meant altering the way she farms. Large tunnels covered in plastic dot the seven acres where she grows vegetables, protecting them from greater variability in rainfall and temperature. "More plastic is the way that I feel like most mid-Missouri small-scale farmers are trying to deal with the challenges of the weather," she said.

In the village of Joynagar, in the Indian state of West Bengal, Srimonto Soren is dealing with such challenges in his own way. He grows rice, long beans (which resemble green beans), and lady's fingers better known in the U.S. as okra. Date palms and shrubs grow along a flat landscape where the red soil can be hard to grow crops in.

Like Graznak, Soren has been farming for the past 10 years, and has noticed shifts that affect his livelihood, such as rainfall that's now "more erratic and unpredictable." Soren and other farmers in the area look to low-cost ways to adjust to these shifts, such as making vermicompost, produced when earthworms speed up the breakdown of organic waste. The product is then added to the soil to make it more fertile and resilient to variable weather conditions.

In the agricultural heartlands of India and the United States, extreme weather events have caused damage to millions of acres of crops. Not only does this jeopardize the incomes of farmers, it puts food supplies in the United States, India and the world at risk.

Farmers are divided on the root causes of climate change. But experts who work to help them adapt say farmers are increasingly united in the recognition that their environment is changing. In places as far-flung as West Bengal and Missouri, farmers have very little choice but to seek out practical solutions to preserve their livelihoods.

According to data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were each the warmest years on record. Climate change experts say the warming climate is driving up the numbers of droughts, floods, storms, heat waves and other weather events that can devastate crops.

Water woes

For farmers in both India and the United States, wild changes in precipitation can cause some of the most immediate problems connected to climate change.

As the Earth's surface warms, water from oceans, lakes, rivers and streams evaporates and rises, gathering in the clouds and resulting in rain, storms and snowfall. At other times and in other places, the warming climate increases and intensifies droughts.

All farmers depend on some level of predictability in the weather to manage their businesses. Large fluctuations in precipitation patterns can result in changes to planting and growing seasons and lower crop yields.

Extreme rainfall has devastated many farms in India. In March 2015, heavy rains fell throughout India. In states such as Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, it was the wettest spring in decades, if not on record, according to the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

Farmers in parts of India plan for occasional heavy rainfalls, since they are a regular feature of the climate in many regions of the subcontinent. But that spring saw especially intense rainfall even for a string of years with precipitation far higher than normal.

The rains came just as farmers were preparing to harvest their winter crops from wheat and sugarcane to mangoes and bananas and the impacts were huge. In Uttar Pradesh, the Indian state most affected by the event, crops in more than 65 percent of the affected area experienced 33 percent or more damage, data from the center shows. …

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