01/23/2017

From Asia to Outback Australia, Farmers Are on the Climate Change Frontline

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Author: Anika Molesworth | Published: January 20, 2017

For those standing on the precipice of life the impacts of climate change are an ever present reality. The rural poor in Southeast Asia are some of the most vulnerable to climate extremes and seasonal vagaries. For these farmers, many who live at subsistence level and survive on less that $1US a day, life is a high-wire act with no safety net.

One stroke of bad luck – a drought, flood or pest outbreak – and they tumble further into hardship. Yet, here in Cambodia I work at an agricultural research centre with the most humbling and inspiring people. Not a day goes by that I don’t stand in awe at an under-resourced team committed to moving mountains despite the odds lined up against them.

It perhaps follows that those who stare so closely at the face of climate change talk only of pertinent matters. The health of their family and community, having enough food to feed them, the quality of their water sources and the condition of their natural environment.

Just over 6,000 kms away is my family’s farm. Located in far western NSW, Broken Hill is known for mining, good pub meals and drag queens. My family purchased our outback sheep station in the year 2000. The start of the decade long Millennium Drought. Tipped head first into volatility of agriculture, it was immediately apparent how interconnected individual components of a farming system are. As we all know, when the rain doesn’t come, less vegetation grows, livestock are sold at reduced weights, crop yields are not achieved, less money in the farmer’s pocket means off-farm employment is sought, and shops in rural towns close.

The far west is an ancient environment. A challenging environment. And an extremely fragile one. Acacias stunted and twisted by the harsh scorch of the desert offer the cool reprieve of shade to lonely sheep. I find this landscape hauntingly beautiful, and impossible not to fall in love with.

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