Challenges for a resilient agriculture: anticipating and adapting to climate-related threats

9 September, 2022

An article by Ana Romero, Head of Consultancy Department at Incatema Consulting & Engineering

Every September 9th is Agriculture World Day, a reminder of the crucial role that this activity plays when feeding an expanding world population where resources are scarcer every day.

The climate crisis and its effects on agriculture, along with a substantial and sustained demographic growth in developing countries, bring up the need for a resilient agriculture that produces enough quantity of quality foodstuffs, adapting to more and more common climate events (dry spells, tropical storms, floods, cyclones, etc.). Besides, such an agriculture practice must use natural resources, such as water or soil, efficiently.

Those who work on agriculture in any of its segments are aware that future agricultural practice must be innovative, sustainable and efficient. It is necessary to start as soon as possible, we must act today to face the future challenges.

Resilient agriculture comes with innovation, more and more focused on data collection and analysis tools to anticipate climate-related risks and threats. This way, Big Data Analysis technologies allowed developing predictive models to anticipate climate change to be faced. The present challenge is to apply these technologies to the agricultural production. As information on agricultural processes is gathered, predictive models may anticipate agricultural systems evolution and help mitigate negative climate effects. New information management technologies and robotization have increased greatly the capacity to gather data; the challenge lies in generating useful knowledge for producers to make evidence-based decisions, particularly where climate change can provoke greater negative impacts.

Luckily, technology is no longer monopolised by developed countries, even when there is still much to achieve. At Incatema we have developed a geographical information system (GIS) to manage Cuvelai river basin, shared between Angola and Namibia and that suffers from periodic devastating floods. This system provides tools to assess vulnerability in case of floods, allowing reshuffling human activities and economic activities according to how vulnerable they are to climate risks. It is an expert system that integrates local knowledge and can evolve as local operators included new real time follow-up information.

Applicable technology for al efficient use of irrigation water

One of the most needed inputs for agriculture is irrigation water, a scarce resource in many countries. It is therefore necessary to prioritise an efficient water management in agriculture.

For instance, applying 4G technologies to automating irrigation outlets allows connecting irrigation schemes to a remote-control system, programming irrigation according to the water needs of each specific crop farmed in a specific plot, improving water use efficiency and minimising infiltration losses.

Another environmental-friendly technology that also allows an efficient water use is solar energy producing necessary electricity to work water pumps. The use of such energy means avoiding traditional more polluting energy sources, less accessible for developing countries’ producers. Incatema has carried out some projects featuring this approach in countries such as Malawi or Sao Tome and Principe, promoting sustainable irrigation in a combination of technology transfer and local capacity development through training users and public managers.

The challenges we face are huge and it is necessary to promote sustainable and resilient agriculture. There is much to do yet, particularly investing in innovation and technological development. Multilateral agencies (World Bank, IDB, European Commission, United Nations Agencies…) as well as bilateral cooperation agencies such as Spanish Cooperation Agency, are decisive, as main financing entities, they introduce natural resources use sustainability and optimization as the core principles in their development programs, thus contributing to accelerate modernization.