5 Ways Climate Change is Threatening the Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers

For the world’s smallholder farmers, climate change is not a distant threat but a current reality. Learn five ways climate change is impacting these farmers’ livelihoods and what TechnoServe is doing to help them persevere despite immense challenges.

Coffee farmers in Ethiopia

Although climate change is a global threat, its effects will be felt differently around the world. Smallholder farmers are on the front line of this crisis, which impacts every aspect of their daily lives — from the money they earn from their crops to the food they put on the table for their families. Learn about a few of the ways climate change is impacting these farmers and what TechnoServe is doing to help. 

1) Higher temperatures equal lower crop yields

In low-latitude regions such as most of Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America, even small changes in temperature and precipitation have led to reduced crop yields for many smallholder farmers. Higher average temperatures have also caused an increase in demand for water, a reduction in soil moisture, and water stress in many regions. 

All of this has serious implications for farm income and food security. India and West Africa are two areas that will be hit hardest by these changes. Crop yields are expected to decrease by 2.6% and 2.9% respectively by 2050 because of impacts from climate change. 

To help smallholder farmers cope with rising temperatures, TechnoServe is training them on climate-smart agricultural practices and helping them access technology and supplies to improve climate resilience, such as drip irrigation and drought-resistant seed varieties.

In India, TechnoServe is helping smallholder guar farmers improve their productivity and build climate resilience by adopting agronomic and groundwater-neutral best practices in guar cultivation. In Ethiopia, TechnoServe is helping coffee wet mill owners implement an innovative water management solution, which includes reducing water usage, separating the coffee pulp from the wastewater, and planting vetiver grass wetlands.

Guar farmer in India
Guar farmers in India learn techniques for improving their climate resilience.

2) More frequent and severe climate change events

Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, including hurricanes, floods, and droughts. Most farmers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America practice rain-fed agriculture and do not have any sort of irrigation system in place, making them particularly susceptible to droughts. The success of their harvest is dependent on how much rainfall they get and any extreme weather events can destroy an entire harvest, leaving farmers without a reliable source of income. 

In Uganda, TechnoServe partnered with Nile Breweries Limited (a subsidiary of AB InBev, the world’s largest brewing company) and the Sustainable Food Lab to identify potential climate risks and intervention strategies for sorghum and barley farmers. Recommendations included installing additional weather stations, which can help farmers identify and prepare for extreme weather events, and partnering with forecasting providers. 

3) Producing new and more prevalent plant diseases and pests

Pests, pathogens, and weeds cause the loss of more than 40% of the world’s food supply each year. Climate change has caused changes in temperature and precipitation patterns around the world, meaning that pests and plant diseases can flourish in new areas, often moving from low to high altitudes and from low latitudes to high latitudes. 

In Central America, a severe outbreak of coffee leaf rust, known as “la roya” in Spanish, destroyed almost 15% of the region’s coffee production for the 2012 to 2013 growing year. To help farmers fight plant diseases and pests, TechnoServe is working with them to use organic pesticides and other methods that are both effective and environmentally friendly. For example, TechnoServe is teaching coffee farmers how to use a coffee berry borer trap, a simple contraption made from a plastic bottle that reduces pests. 

A coffee farmer in Honduras
Coffee berry borer traps are easy to assemble, cheap, and effective in reducing pests.

4) Livestock produce less goods, lowering profits

Farmers with livestock are also impacted by climate change. Changes in temperature and precipitation often lead to reduced feed quantity and quality, while also impacting water availability and disease prevalence. During the dry season, farmers struggle to grow enough forage for their cattle because of poor soil quality, high temperatures, and minimal rainfall.

But without enough high-quality forage, the cows produce very little milk, and what little they do produce is low-quality. So farmers are often forced to sell their cattle for low prices or supplement the cows’ diet with purchased feed — an expensive option that cuts into profits. 

TechnoServe is helping farmers in Nicaragua adopt intensive silvopastoral systems, which encourage the integration of trees, bushes, and grasses into grazing land. Ultimately, their land becomes healthier and more productive, which leads to healthier, more productive cows and higher incomes for farmers. 

5) Increased post-harvest crop losses

One third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year, with significant impacts on both the environment and food security. Climate change is exacerbating this problem — particularly for highly perishable products such as fruits and vegetables. Higher temperatures and new and worsening pests combine to make it very difficult for farmers to reduce their post-harvest losses. 

In Nigeria, TechnoServe is teaching farmers how to use evaporative cooling chambers – coolers that use evaporation to keep perishable food fresh – and how to set up in-home food processing units. Cooling chambers preserve fresh tomatoes, while in-home processing allows farmers to turn their fresh tomatoes into a paste or dried forms, thereby extending the shelf life and increasing the market value. 

Learn how you can help smallholder farmers withstand the impacts of climate change.