Scientists have categorically proven that the drive to produce more food to meet the growing world demand is a major factor contributing to a warmer atmosphere around the globe.
Specifically, land clearing, charcoal production, cattle breeding/rearing, aquaculture, livestock production and application of agro-chemicals are, to a very large extent, responsible for hotter climate and environmental pollution.
The United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA) has said the world population could increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050, compared to today's 7.5 billion.
Paradoxically, it added, crop yields could decrease by 50 per cent over the next 35 years because of altered climatic conditions, caused, in part, as a result of the activities in agriculture to provide food for the growing world population.
Professor Will Steffen, Climate Councillor and Dr Annika Dean, Senior Researcher, in their book titled, 'Land Clearing & Climate Change: Risks & Opportunities in the Sunshine State,' found, based on research efforts in Australia, that, one, land-clearing policy in Queensland has had a significant impact on rates of vegetation clearing. And, two, that vegetation clearing in Queensland had contributed to climate change.
They found that in decades, changes in land-clearing regulations had led first to a decrease in vegetation clearing and then to an increase in vegetation clearing when laws were relaxed.
They added that 395,000 hectares of woody vegetation were cleared in 2015-2016, representing a 33% increase over the previous year. This is equivalent of roughly half of the forest cleared in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in 2016.
Among others, the researchers found that the 2015-16 clearing rate in Queensland was the highest since 2003-04 (490,000 hectares/year) and that Queensland had become Australia's hotspot for land clearing, accounting for between 50-65% of the total loss of native forests in Australia over the last four decades.
Similarly, the European Environmental Agency has affirmed the finding in Australia that agriculture contributes to climate change.
"Before reaching our plates, our food is produced, stored, processed, packaged, transported, prepared, and served. At every stage, food provisioning releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Farming, in particular, releases significant amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gases," it stated.
The agency explains that "methane is produced by livestock during digestion due to enteric fermentation and is released via belches. It can also escape from stored manure and organic waste in landfills. Nitrous oxide emissions are an indirect product of organic and mineral nitrogen fertilisers."
The European agency also added that agriculture accounted for 10 per cent of the EU's total greenhouse-gas emissions in 2012, and a significant decline in livestock numbers, more efficient application of fertilisers and better manure management reduced the EU's emissions from agriculture by 24 per cent between 1990 and 2012.
However, it said agriculture in the rest of the world, especially in Africa and Asia, is moving in the opposite direction.
Between 2001 and 2011, the agency lamented, global emissions from crop and livestock production grew by 14 per cent. The increase occurred mainly in developing countries, due to a rise in total agricultural output.
This, it added, was driven by increased global food demand and changes in food-consumption patterns and improved disposable incomes in some developing countries.
The agency claimed that livestock and fodder production each generates more than 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent, adding that "Post-farm transport and processing account for only a tiny fraction of the emissions linked to food, and "by reducing food waste and consumption of emission-intensive food products, we can contribute to cutting the greenhouse-gas emissions of agriculture."
Climate change affects agriculture
Ironically, agriculture as a cause is also a victim of the climate change. Crops need suitable soil, adequate water through rainfalls or irrigation, sunlight, and heat to grow. The natural patterns of these variables are fluctuated, altered and negatively influenced by climate change.
Crop yields are also expected to vary increasingly from year to year due to extreme weather events of droughts, erratic rainfalls, extreme thermal undulations and increasing pest attacks and diseases.
Scientists have linked voracious appetite of pests such as Fall Army worms to increasing temperatures, discovering that excessive heat increases the appetite of destructive insects, which, in turn, devour vegetative crops. This reduces crop yield per hectare. In Nigeria, maize farm destruction by pests in the last four years has been monumental.
Growth, production and survivability of poultry, livestock and dairy animals are equally affected by extreme thermal heat that upsets the thermo-neutral comfort zones for these animals.
The above is affirmed by the European Environment agency, which stated that "Changes in temperatures and growing seasons might also affect the proliferation and the spreading of some species, such as insects, invasive weeds, or diseases, all of which might in turn affect crop yields."
As a result of climate change, "western France and south-eastern Europe are expected to face yield reductions due to hot and dry summers without the possibility of shifting crop production into winter," the European agency said.
Similarly, the distribution of some fish stocks has already changed around the world, affecting communities relying on these stocks throughout the supply chain.
"Along with increased maritime shipping, warmer water temperatures can also help facilitate the establishment of invasive marine species, causing local fish stocks to collapse," it added.
Resolving the conflict
Political efforts on climate change and mitigation of its effects took positive turn in December, 2015 with the United Nations Paris Climate Change Agreement, which was endorsed by 195 countries.
World leaders agreed to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.
The European environment agency said there is still potential to further reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with agriculture in the EU by integrating innovative techniques into production methods to capture methane from manure; more efficient use of fertilisers; and greater efficiency in meat and dairy production.
Land clearing and substitutes of tree crops
The Director-General of the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr Adeshola Adepoju, while giving an insight into fixing food-environment conflicts during an interview with The Guardian, suggested that the best way to tackle the collateral damage attached to efforts to feed the world through agricultural practices is "to combine arable with tree crops."
Land clearing is inevitable to extensive agriculture as practiced in developing parts of the world, but substitutes for trees felled are found in planting economic trees with arable crops.
Therefore, he said, perennial economic crops would grow to make forest covers, which would substitute the destroyed forest in a couple of years.
"The model has always been there," he pointed out, "but the farmers would say they could not wait for the trees to bring returns after 25 or 30 years."
But the good news is that scientists have worked on the Nigerian indigenous economic trees by shortening their gestation periods from 25/30 years (the wild varieties would fruit between 25 and 30 years) to a maximum of seven years.
Bitter kola, for example, will take up to 30 years to fruit if the wild variety is planted, but it can fruit in three years now with the improved varieties.
"To even raise it was a problem because it could not grow directly under the sun in its wild form. It could only grow under the shade of other trees, like cocoa. But now, it grows directly under the sun ray," Adepoju explained
Cashew, palm trees and cocoa are other economic trees intercropped with annual food crops, ensuring sustainable forest covers and food for humans.
"If you intercrop bitter kola trees in the first three to five years, you will still use the land for arable farming of beans or maize. And in five years, the returns on the economic trees will start flowing in. The economic trees will give you the minimum of 50 times of the arable crops," he claimed.
Supporting the approach, a promoter of coconut plantations in Nigeria, Mr Anthonio John-Bede, said income from agro-forestry of coconut plantations would be augmented through arable crops such as potato, yam, beans and vegetables that could be intercropped with coconuts trees.
"In-between coconut trees, sweet potato, vegetables, pineapples, pawpaw, oranges and coffee could be grown," John-Bede said.
The acting Executive Director of the Nigeria Institute for Palm Research, Benin City, in Edo State, Dr Celestine Ikuenobe, also said Nigerians had not maximised the business opportunities in coconut and palm trees as economic trees.
He, too, said these economic trees could be used for re-forestation, erosion control, whirlwind breaking and other environmental purposes.
Controlling charcoal production
Again, foreign and local demands for charcoal have escalated tree felling, deforestation, and hazardous emissions through charcoal production and export.
The FRIN boss, Adepoju, said "Charcoal is supposed to be a blessing. I mean a source of foreign earnings to Nigeria if done well. In all the developed economies where charcoals are produced and used, the production is well coordinated."
Professor Albert Olayemi of the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education (RCE) for Sustainable Development said the country loses its forests at the rate of 11.1 per cent annually, and that tree felling for charcoals, building plants and furniture was responsible for the high rate.
The Executive Director of the National Centre for Genetic Resource and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Dr Sunday Aladele also lamented reckless production of charcoals, saying that "Charcoal production is depleting the forest. The government has to wake up and checkmate the trend. We are killing the future of the country. Necessary legal enforcement must be done by the government."
Controlling tree felling sustainably
Dr Adepoju, the FRIN boss, suggested a meticulous approach to the challenge of felling trees indiscriminately.
The government should set up a council to coordinate the activities of all those doing the business of charcoal production, he postulated.
"If you register with such a council as a charcoal producer, and your consumption is estimated to be one hectare of a particular species of trees, you are expected to know the maturity age of that species," he added.
"Let us assume it is 20 years the trees will take to mature. And you use one hectare per year, you are expected to cultivate at least 20 hectares of such a tree. If you take one hectare per year, before you come back in 20 years, the first hectare you harvested would have reached maturity. In this case, no negative impact will be felt on the ecosystem," he suggested.
Production of charcoals, he explained, should not be seen as completely negative. State governments, through ministries of agriculture, could earn from it if managed as recommend.
Registration of charcoal producers, saw millers and timber dealers is the first step and commencement of tree plantations project is the next, he advised.
Controlling animal emissions
One of the advocates of integrated farming systems in Nigeria, Mr Kolawole Adeniji, advised that using animal and plant waste to generate bio-gas and electricity would reduce pollutions emanating from manures and reduce effects of climate change.
Converting animal waste into sources of energy, he postulated, is a sustainable way of environment-friendly agriculture capable of taming pollution, climate change and their negative effects on humans and animals.