By: George Kurzom
rooftop farms in Gaza
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
First of all, it is necessary to focus on the importance of planting, buying and consuming local and organic foods, as local and organic farming does not use nitrogen-based chemical fertilizers, which increase the proportion of methane – one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases – in the atmosphere and does not use chemical pesticides that contaminate the soil, groundwater and air and have very harmful impact on public health.
Real climate resilience requires radical changes in our lifestyles and behavior. Here we can argue that the preparedness to make the required modifications in our lives and effect a basic change in our current lifestyles, can be better understood when it is linked to the complexity of our culture.
The capacity of rural people and farmers to self-organize based on their traditional knowledge is an important factor in their resilience. Without smooth and flexible organization, they would lose their greatest source of adaptability. Institutional settings that restrict the organization process of rural people and farmers pose a serious institutional obstacle to the ability to adapt and counter pressures.
Human experiences have demonstrated that livelihood diversity, local knowledge and social linkages have the ability to enhance adaptability to the effects of climate change. Nevertheless, there are cases when such strategies are less effective in enhancing adaptability or may impede adaptability. For example, life diversity may not reduce vulnerability, especially when all activities are affected by an extreme climatic event, such as when all activities are dependent on changing natural resources, which would greatly reduce resilience to the climate’s raging effects.
In any case, access to multiple forms of resilience is governed by certain familial and individual traits, including wealth, gender, age, health, available employment, skills and social linkages (or natural, physical, financial, human and social capital). The most vulnerable groups (such as women, the elderly and the poorest families) may find it difficult to access multiple types of resilience that is based on livelihood diversity.
Nevertheless, even limited diversity in the livelihoods, such as a temporary diversity, may provide the most vulnerable families with some resistance or resilience. Since women, the elderly and the poorest families have scarce options, adaptation means that are based on local knowledge or traditions may be of importance to them, but their access to such means can be limited either by gender-based restrictions or because the activities of well-off families and socio-ecological changes have reduced availability of the needed resources.
In the context of this talk on the ability of the agricultural system to address climate change by preserving its resilience, it should be noted that preserving a healthy, balanced and fertile soil with a favorable structure for plants is the first defense line against soil pests and diseases and ensures strong and healthy plant production. The use of natural and organic fertilizers and compost is necessary and critical because such fertilizers enrich the soil with nutrients that are vital for plant growth, largely reduce the need for water, enhance soil’s consistency, traits, composition and quality and improve water and aerial system in the soil. Furthermore, their contribution to global warming is marginal.
The collected dry herbs and crop residues should not be burnt but rather should be reused by adding them to the compost pile or using them in the fermentation of manure. They can also be used as a biological cover (mulch) around cultivated crops.
One way to enhance soil fertility and consistency is not to leave free spaces between the cultivated rows but to make intensive use of these spaces by covering them with additional plants and diversify the crop patterns by using plant types that complement each other. This cultivation pattern reduces friction between rain drops and the soil. Moreover, the additional vegetation cover attracts insects that are natural enemies of pests and can repel or pray on these pests, so that the use of chemical pesticides will not be necessary.
We can also “relieve” the land, especially the rain-fed land, by leaving it without cultivation for a certain period of the year in order to maintain its stability and consistency. This applies to land where the thickness of its most fertile soil is relatively law, i.e., not exceeding 30 cm.
When addressing soil erosion in the West Bank and Gaza Strip resulting from climate change factors (reduced rainfall and changes in rain distribution by time of year, large elevation in temperature averages and drought), the intensive use of agro- chemicals and the declining vegetation cover, we can see that the ability of farming households and local communities to counter this aggravating environmental “calamity” increases in the long run when they diversify their crops – a practice that is a main pillar of natural and organic farming patterns. This practice plays a critical role in controlling and preventing pests. It also aims at distributing the production process over the longest period possible, making production extend throughout all seasons in the year, which would reduce economic risks attached to reliance on one type of crops. It is also noteworthy that intensive monoculture facilitates the spread and growth of pests that are often difficult to control.
On the other hand, intercropping or companion planting is a main element in the diversified and integrated farming. The importance of this technique is associated with its role in inhibiting and controlling pests by planting diversified plants, vegetables and trees together in an intersected manner, so that they serve and reinforce each other in several aspects in a symbiotic manner and without any competition. The benefit here may be reciprocal between the intercrops or unilateral.
Some examples of intercropping: planting tomatoes with spearmint that repels insects; planting onion and garlic with potatoes and cabbage, as onion and garlic produce substances that control the blight fungus that infects potatoes and the Aschochyta fungus that infects cabbage; planting beans with thyme, chamomile, spearmint or sage; and planting zucchini and pumpkin with corn.
It is very important to reduce ploughing to the minimum, because it destroys some useful biological components and microorganisms in the soil and consequently, weakens the bioactivity inside the soil. Excessive ploughing also hurts the soil as it brings the nutrient-poor layer to the surface and pushes the rich soil down.
There are currently in the market certain ploughing tools that do not cause severe disintegration of soil particles. Cultivation without ploughing, on the other hand, should be accompanied with encouraging the growth of other plants with roots that help consolidate the soil.
There is also a need to make maximum use of the wasted flow of natural water, such as by constructing as much as possible water harvesting wells and earth mounds in order to make direct use of rainwater in agricultural and domestic purposes, as well as to make use of the water of some springs available in various parts of the West Bank. Rain-fed agriculture and cultivation of crops that do not require large quantities of irrigation should be encouraged. Wastewater should also be recycled in agriculture, thus increasing the amount of water for irrigation and reducing contamination of the environment and groundwater. This is in addition to digging channels for water drainage and pipes to regulate water flow.