Skip to main content

Expert opinion


The challenge of farming in a cruel climate

We talk to Chris Henderson, our head of agriculture, about the challenge of climate change for the world’s poorest farmers.

How is climate change impacting farmers?
It’s wreaking havoc with the weather systems that they rely on. As temperatures rise, pests and diseases that blight crops increase. Rainfall is unpredictable. The start and end of seasons is in flux, making it difficult to know what to plant and when to harvest.

When rain does come, it’s often violent. In drought-prone areas like Sudan and Kenya, when heavy rain hits soil that’s dried to a crust, it cannot penetrate the ground. It runs off and creates flash floods in the desert.

Flooding is a problem for communities in Bangladesh and Nepal too. Here, communities are seeing floods erode their land and wash away their crops and homes.

Altogether, the effects of climate change are making agriculture less viable or even impossible in developing countries. People can’t even grow enough to feed themselves. Climate change means families going hungry.

Where do you begin to solve huge challenges like that?
Almost everywhere we’re working, from Peru to Kenya to Nepal and Sudan, we always come back to the landscape, and the trees, animals and plants in that landscape. So many of the problems that communities face are caused by biodiversity loss and deforestation. The environment is degraded.

Almost every solution begins with improving the diversity of the plants in the landscape. The best way to cope with unpredictable rainfall and drought risk is to increase the ability of the soil to act like a sponge and hold water. To do that you need to get organic matter into the soil. So we work with communities to strengthen their practices like composting, mulching, and crop rotation, and to incorporate trees in their farming systems. This makes soil fertile, and fertile soil produces abundant, nutritious food. We call it regenerative agriculture.

What is Practical Action’s vision for the future of farming?
Our vision is a system where agriculture works for struggling smallholder farmers. Where farmers can adapt to climate change and grow plenty to feed themselves and their families, with extra to sell at market to make a decent income. Our vision is for farmers in poor communities to be part of a flourishing rural economy. One based on nature-friendly farming, using new climate adaptive techniques, and harnessing local resources and knowledge.

Where do you think Practical Action can make the biggest impact?
It’s about connecting what we know works in practice with the governing bodies who make the policies that shape the farming landscape.

I could take you to hillside coffee farms in Peru where we’ve worked with the community, and you can see the difference that new farming techniques are making to them. But the difference we’re working to make goes way beyond the individual community. We need the coffee sector to change. And that’s about building partnerships, and building trust with local government, and through strong relationships changing the systems and policies that govern farming.

My job as Practical Action’s head of agriculture is to pull together all the richness of our agriculture work around the world and connect it to the wider international challenge – achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. Goal one is to eliminate poverty, and goal two is to create food security and eradicate hunger by 2030. These goals will only be achieved if agriculture works for the majority of smallholder farmers.

The important thing to note is that nature-friendly farming helps mitigate against climate change by locking carbon in the soil. Using regenerative agriculture, rural farmers both adapt to climate change and help lessen its effects. That’s how together we can Turn the Tables on Climate Change.

Double your donation!

Donate today and your incredible support will unlock twice the opportunity.
Every pound you donate will be matched by the UK government.


If you already support with a regular gift

Please consider a small increase, if you are able to at this time