“Ten years ago, the Hawija area was still lush and green. It isn’t any longer. Unfortunately, climate change effects, like changes in precipitation, are not consistently measured in this country. There’s no real climate change research.
A lot of farmers still think that more water means more produce. I keep saying that less water used more efficiently, is better for their crops.
My guess is that farmers can solve at least 30% of these challenges by adapting to them. But their economic situation is so critical that they simply cannot invest in climate adaptation. It takes time and money to switch to new methods and crop varieties that better address and withstand heat, drought, and salinity. Farmers here haven’t got the money nor the time.
As a coach and trainer in the Blossom Up project, I mainly taught participants how to use irrigation systems. But farmers also wanted to know more about how to optimally and responsibly use fertilizer and herbicides.”
“We had group sessions but also worked individually. In fact, farmers can call me privately, even now that the project is over. We’re currently going through a period of wheat pests. Wheat is a very important subsistent crop. On top of that, it is quite adapted to high salinity levels. It’s important that farmers can adequately deal with this disease. Being able to call for help and advice at any time, can be very helpful.
The Blossom Up project provided important support. But it was short term. Ideally, if I’d have the chance, I would set up three stages of training and support for farmers to start adapting to climate change effects.”
Health before profit
“First and most urgent, we need to address the human health issue of farming. One example: in Hawija, the vegetables they grow are graveyards of pesticides. Our borders are wide open for massive amounts of chemical pesticides from China. Farmers use them a lot, just to be able to grow something. But these pesticides are the cause of daily deaths. To stop the use of these cheap and lethal pesticides decision-makers need to put health and healthy food above profit.”
Secondly, we have to address the challenges of soil depletion and water scarcity. We can do this by investing in crop rotation, crop diversification, and more water-efficient irrigation systems like sprinkler or drip irrigation instead of flood irrigation. We should also invest in better water catchment.”
Thirdly, there’s a need to address soil salinity. This is the least difficult challenge. It can be done by switching to a variety of crops that perform well in saline soil. And by using organic fertilizers.”
Change starts with women and young farmers
“For this to happen on a significant scale, a lot needs to happen. You need money and infrastructure. But also education. Because one of the toughest things to change is the stubbornness of farming communities. For example, a lot of farmers still think that more water means more produce. I keep saying that less water used more efficiently, is better for their crops. In general, young farmers and women farmers are more open to new ideas. Change starts with them.”
Text and images: Frank van Lierde / Cordaid