Small Island Developing Nations: Climate Change Adaptation Solutions
This post is written by Keith Agoada, CEO, Producers Trust.
At the front line of climate change are the world's small island developing nations.
Too many small island developing nations are at heightened risk of impacts due to changing climate. Rising sea levels, hurricanes and other natural disasters, supply chain shocks, acidification of oceans, coral reef destruction, sargassum bloom, and disruptions to their tourism sector are just some of the issues small island nations are already seeing.
Producers Trust is focused on designing and implementing transformative technology and strategy solutions for small island developing nations. We envision solutions that achieve economic, social and ecological resilience in preparation for an uncertain future. We’ve put an initial focus on the Caribbean community and the Caribbean islands.
We are happy to share some of our learnings. Our hope is to ignite conversations rich with creative solutions that will help us achieve adaptation to climate change and a more resilient and prosperous future for small island developing nations.
One of the most critical and overarching challenges to adaptation to climate change is the unsustainable reliance on imports. In the CARICOM island nations, more than 80 percent of food products are imported. This has a destabilizing effect on the countries.
There are multiple complex challenges related to the dependence on imports. For example, when geopolitical issues result in food shortages and/or increases in oil prices, local populations struggle to buy quality food options. Hurricanes and other natural disasters may also cause supply shocks and short-term food shortages. Many local people in these countries work in tourism, creating a disproportionate reliance on this sector. And for distributors, it is generally cheaper and more efficient to work with imported goods than local production.
In order to address these intersecting factors and unsustainable reliance on imports, small island nations must transition to local production. After studying the unique contexts of CARICOM, we have strategized models that will achieve the accelerated scaling of local commercial production. It requires a coordinated and committed effort from the public and private sectors to provide economic incentives, access to innovative technologies and investment into programs that de-risk cultivation activities and make local production more lucrative.
A first step is the economic incentivization of domestic farming. The requirement of purchase prioritization from institutional, hospitality and grocery buyers for local produce would provide this needed incentivization. Additionally, local cultivation efforts must receive economic support through the de-risking of agricultural projects. This will look like offering first loss risk, insurance and subsidies to farmers. Grant funding for capacity building and extension services will be a huge help. This kind of support engages more rural people into commercial agriculture practices and models.
Another idea is to decrease reliance on imported agrochemicals. Biological inputs can be made locally from neem, chili peppers and other local plant harvests for pest control. There are also options for fertilizer substitutes such as composting, vermi-composting, biochar production, and cow dung, molasses, and grain powder inputs.
Other ideas include building model commercial farms as training centers for regenerative agriculture, investment into input centers and increased access to low-interest loans.
One solution that we have been working hard to scale is supporting local farmers in their digitization efforts. These small farmers, along with logistics providers and wholesale buyers, all stand to benefit from digitization in a vertically integrated marketplace that helps to efficiently coordinate the demands, productions, harvests and logistics. Together, these efforts decrease waste and increase market linkage for farmers.
Along with dependence on imports, small island nations and their farming models face increased severity of winds, rain, storms, pests and rising sea levels.
Conventional production methods and crops are at risk of becoming obsolete due to their inability to adapt to climate change impacts. As such, there must be a focus on production techniques that improve soil health, biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and climate change adapted crops.
By implementing and scaling these climate-smart production techniques, small island developing nations can achieve a more robust and profitable agricultural sector.
Maintaining healthy soil is critical the world over. Cover cropping, biological fermentation applications, no-till or minimum tilling of the soil, and planting nitrogen-fixing legumes and other plants all lead to healthier soils.
Another important practice is creating diversified production models that include agroforestry, regenerative agriculture, agroecology and polyculture. Planting multiple crop species de-risks the reliance on one harvest and provides a multiple revenue stream with harvests throughout the year. Enhanced biological corridors (native forest/plant areas) on farms help provide a micro-ecosystem that can provide a wind-break to protect crops, increase habitat for biodiversity, provide a natural solution against pests and disease and protect the rivers and other critical water resources for the farm.
Hydroponic greenhouse production achieves high yields with less water and is another viable technique to incorporate. These can be built to withstand high winds and other disasters.
Finally, common imported food products rely on cheap, conventional raw materials. Many of the imported products are highly processed and are reliant on the global trade of cheap commodities (vegetable oils, wheat, soy, corn, animal proteins, etc). Not only are these products at risk of high inflation, but they also are directly related to high levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Consequently, collaboration is needed across the public, private, and agricultural sectors to achieve greater production, availability, and commercial demand for climate resilient crops that will also improve overall population health.
Public and private sectors must come together to ignite demand for highly nutritious, locally produced products. Ideal products are fresh produce, traditional tree crops such as the nutrient-dense breadfruit and hearty root crops. Most of these don't currently have a readily available market demand.
This demand needs to come from wholesale buyers — restaurants, hospitality groups, institutional buyers, distributors, supermarkets and others. However, it will depend on the consumer to demand the products to drive the supply chains. Consumer demand must be looked at as a critical objective of the government to educate, inspire, and incentivize its populations to transition into more nutritious, local eating habits, which can drive sustainable agriculture models, and lower the ballooning costs of healthcare in these regions.
CARICOM and other small island developing nations that are reliant on imports must act swiftly and work together across the public and private sectors to scale proven and innovative models that can achieve an accelerated transition to resilient models. The solutions must have a commercial viability to scale, but the public sector must also play a critical role to de-risk investments, to make funding resources available, to invest in local infrastructure and capacity building, and to grow the consumer demand for locally produced options.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must engage a new generation of farmers. Farming must be looked at as a dignified profession that can achieve economic security and a great lifestyle for people in urban and rural areas across island nations.