CROPS4HD builds climate resilience

In recent times, the effects of climate change become more and more obvious, even in the Global North. However, for smallholder farmers in the southern hemisphere they have been a reality for a while, and they make it even harder for them to secure their nutrition and incomes. The project CROPS4HD promotes neglected and underutilised crops that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change as a strategy for farmers to adapt their production to this new reality.

A higher mean temperature and unpredictable weather make profitable agriculture more challenging. Increasing mean temperatures affect the performance of specific crop varieties and the spread of pests due to increased night temperatures put whole harvests at risk.  But especially rainfed agriculture is hid hard when rain seasons and amounts are not any more predictable and water availability in form of soil moisture decreases due to increased temperatures and drought conditions. The countries of the Global South have difficulties to cope with those changing conditions as many peasants have no access to climate change knowledge or compensation schemes.

The focus countries of CROPS4HD are hit hard by the effects of climate change: Chad and Niger are part of the Sahel that is particularly affected by more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts and floods as for example in 2021, when more than 100’000 were affected in Niger[1]. Tanzania is, beyond the extreme weather events, becoming more prone to tropical storms as the course of cyclones is moving south. And India is confronted with extreme heat weaves, strong winds, extreme rainfall and erratic monsoons, according to IPCC.

The vulnerability of peasant’s families in all four countries is high as many of them belong to the poorest parts of the population. They do not have any reserves to buffer food and seed production losses and the states and private sector are not offering affordable insurance or compensation in case of crop losses. Neither are mid-term weather forecast reach peasants and hinder climate smart planning of the next agricultural season.

To better cope with these worsening conditions, CROPS4HD promotes as a core strategy the crop diversification and crop variety diversification and in situ selection for improved adaptation of native traditional crops. Neglected and underutilised species such as finger millet, Bambra groundnuts or lablab beans cope much better with hot and dry conditions and occasional floods than introduced crops such as wheat, maize or rice. Furthermore, their high nutritional value makes them even more promising to grant healthy food under worsening conditions. For farmers to produce these crops and adapt their agricultural practice, it is key that there be a market to be able to sell them and generate an income. The project will therefore raise awareness of consumers for the benefit of neglected and underutilised crops, promote new products based on underutilised and neglected species to increase the demand and consumption of those crops and make their cultivation more economically promising.

Trough continuous cultivation and selection under changing local conditions, farmer managed seeds adapt to a changing climate at the very location where they are grown. They are thus optimally adapted to this specific agro-climate zone and the changes that occur there. In a participatory approach, together with farmers, CROPS4HD evaluates the agronomic parameters of a given variety of cultivars and breeds them to further increase yields, nutritional quality and robustness against weather changes and diseases This  contributes as well to maintain and even increase a broad genetic diversity in agricultural crops, which is key to ultimately have enough healthy nutritious food under a changing climate.

The Research Institute for Organic Agriculture FIBL closely accompanies the breeding and variety selection in all four countries. With FIBL, which has long experience in participatory variety selection and breeding of organic seeds mainly in Europe, and their two partners, the World Vegetable Center (in Tanzania) and Bioversity (in India) the project has access to the biggest germ plasm databases and research pools internationally and thus the best basis to procure plants and seeds for the different crops.

As a second strategy, beside of variety selection and breeding,  CROPS4HD will promote agroecological farming practices which support farmers in investing in soil fertility, biopesticides and soil moisture retention as well as crop diversification and intercropping by a broad range of agroecological techniques. They can thereby significantly reduce the ecological and socio-economic risks of farming under unpredictable climatic conditions. Agroecological practices will not only help farmers to mitigate the climate change risks, but as well contribute to enhance the soil CO2 buffer capacities. In addition to training farmers in agroecology, CROPS4HD will promote agroecology at national and international level to convince policy makers of the advantages of agroecological agriculture and farmer-managed seed systems.