July 26, 2022

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As gov’t scrambles to achieve food security, it mustn’t forget about climate change

MIKEERSKINE-HZ0-UNSPLASH

By Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson, Reporter

CLIMATE CHANGE is expected to reduce agricultural productivity and disrupt food availability if the government does not integrate mitigation measures in future policy, analysts said.

“We have been experiencing extreme weather events due to climate change. Torrential rains and strong typhoons lead to floods which cause heavy damage to crops. These calamities are occurring more frequently and it is expected that they will get worse,” Vincer V. Quibral, Food Security Cluster Coordinator of The Climate Reality Project Philippines, said in an e-mail.

According to the World Bank, storm surges are projected to affect about 14% of the Philippine population and 42% of coastal populations.

Informal settlements, which account for 45% of the Philippines’ urban population, are particularly vulnerable to floods due to less secure infrastructure, reduced access to clean water, and lack of health insurance.

“For the ordinary Filipino, climate change is increasing temperature and precipitation that leads to droughts and floods. When these are intensified by wind from typhoons, the physical destruction of agriculture and food production areas could be massive,” Roy S. Kempis, retired Pampanga State Agricultural University professor, said in an e-mail.

In agriculture, the effects of climate change manifest in pest damage, crop failure, and crop diseases, among others.

“As temperature rises, insects digest food faster, thereby damaging more crops. Crops also become more susceptible to pests when the temperature rises, which in turn affects the health of the crops. If these issues are not properly addressed, food production will diminish and it will be hard to provide food to all,” Mr. Quibral added.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), pests like the golden apple snail threaten the top Asian rice-producing countries.

“Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation levels, and extreme climate events like heat waves, droughts and typhoons will persist to be important vulnerability drivers that will shape agricultural productivity particularly in South Asia and Southeast Asia,” the report added.

Rowena A. Buena, a regional director with the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), said changing weather patterns and erratic rainfall brought about by climate change floods farms and destroys crops and agricultural infrastructure like roads, seed storage, and post-harvest facilities. 

“Specifically, intense drought and rainfall are hurting our rice farmers (to the extent that) planting is now seen as an unsustainable livelihood (because farmers are) unable to harvest and sell their crops. Their children and the youth in the rural communities who are supposed to continue farming and food production are now choosing to find work in urban areas to avoid agricultural work, becoming wage laborers instead, further weakening the future and continuity of the agricultural sector,” she said in an e-mail.

The IPCC said that recent studies have linked the frequency and extent of the El Niño phenomenon with global warming, which can substantially degrade crop and fisheries production.

According to the World Resources Institute, the Philippines will likely experience severe water shortages by 2040, with agriculture bearing the brunt.

“The looming impact is on food security because climate change can lead to hunger and malnutrition in some pockets of our population, in areas directly affected by droughts and floods brought about by high temperatures, high rainfall, or typhoons,” Mr. Kempis said.

“While only some pockets of the Philippine population will be affected by reduced physical supply of food, efforts to meet their needs from areas where there is sufficient supply could increase prices, not only in the physically affected areas but also in the areas where the supply comes from. So overall, there will be further impact,” he added.

Among the segments of agriculture, rice is considered one of the most at-risk crops when the climate changes.

“Rice farming is the most vulnerable agri-subsector in the Philippines against climate change. First, rice is the most important staple food in the Philippines. Despite that, the majority of rice farmers are living in poverty. Rice farmers can hardly protect themselves from extreme weather events,” Mr. Quibral said.

“Second, rice is mostly cultivated in lowland areas, which makes it vulnerable to floods. Most rice production depends on an abundant supply of water. With dwindling sources of water due to climate change, less rice is being produced,” he added.

Ms. Buena said it is getting harder to maintain a substantial crop yield as erratic weather conditions and intense typhoons either destroy farms or disrupt cultivation and planting schedules.

An analysis of temperature trends and irrigated field experiments at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) shows that grain yield declines by at least 10% for every 1°C increase in growing-season minimum temperatures during the dry season.

Apart from crops, the livestock industry is also at risk as farm animals become more susceptible to diseases due to fast-changing weather. 

“Moreover, livestock shelters are now more easily destroyed by strong wind and rain leaving them exposed and vulnerable to extreme weather events,” Ms. Buena added. 

A study on water buffalo production in Nueva Ecija cited feed availability and animal health as the factors most severely affected by extreme weather, according to the IPCC.

Moving forward, the government must ramp up its efforts to prepare farmers, fisherfolk, and agricultural workers to deal with the impending effects of the climate crisis.

“Government representatives from the agriculture sector must reach out to every farmer and show that their roles are very important in securing food for the country. It is important that farmers’ concerns are heard. Creating a healthy relationship will make it easier to educate farmers regarding climate issues,” Mr. Quibral said.

“The government must ensure the provision of wider insurance coverage for crops and livestock, as well as assistance and incentives for practitioners of environment-friendly farming practices. Our forests must also be rehabilitated to increase water supply, protect farmers from unfavorable weather conditions, and provide natural and regenerative resources,” he added.

Ms. Buena said conventional farming practices render farmers uniquely vulnerable to climate change.

“Conventional farmers have already become dependent on the use of costly chemical-based inputs which they can access usually through debt. The use of chemical inputs through time has weakened soil structure and degraded soil integrity which makes it more challenging for farmers to harvest more than the value of their input; and, increases the possibility of soil erosion,” she said.

“Thus, conventional agriculture does not only make farmers vulnerable to the hazard of landslides and flooding during disasters but also challenges them financially, limiting their resilience and ability to prepare for the impact of natural disasters aggravated by climate change,” she added.

Organic agriculture should also be promoted, as it offers a sustainable approach to ensuring food security while maintaining agrobiodiversity.

“Maintaining diverse crops and livestock, and the effective integration of different components, promote resilience that can support the communities’ need for food and reduce the hazards (from) natural calamities,” Ms. Buena added.

Mr. Kempis said some short-term solutions are to ramp up the replenishment of seed and seedling stock, as well as other crop production inputs, starter livestock and poultry stock including native chicken, fingerlings for aquaculture, and equipment for the fish capture industry.

“In the long run, the government should further strengthen research and development and innovation, starting with increasing budgets to hire more scientists, technology professionals, and marketing and logistics persons,’’ he added.

In order to deal with the changing climate, climate-smart technology and mechanics should be among the priorities, including “organic agriculture, agroforestry, bio-intensive farming, and many more,” Mr. Quibral said.

“This way, farmers will have increased production and income and will be adapted and resilient against climate change. On top of that, greenhouse gas emissions are either reduced or removed. Instead of harming the environment, agriculture can be a solution to climate change and other environmental issues,” he added.

Ms. Buena touted MASIPAG’s Collection, Identification, Maintenance, Multiplication, and Evaluation (CIMME) program, which identifies climate-resilient varieties of rice.

“Through CIMME, indigenous and local rice collected are organically grown and maintained in trial farms, while some are improved through breeding. Some of the varieties or selections are observed to have climate change resilient characteristics,” Ms. Buena added. 

Mr. Kempis said that the Early Warning Intelligence and Information System (EWIIS) is still among the best available measures for droughts, floods and typhoons.

In terms of farming practices, he said protection starts with identifying the vulnerable agricultural and food production areas. 

“A rotational schedule of enhancing production in less vulnerable areas and reducing production in vulnerable areas, according to data and information of projected occurrences using EWIIS, should be followed as a public policy and adhered to by communities. Crops will vary following this rotational schedule,” he said.

“Then there is the enhanced research and discovery of more resilient varieties of crops and breeds of animal. These resources must be made available by way of storing crucial stocks of certified seed and genetic material of animals in secure facilities,” he added.

The new government appears to recognize the threat from climate change and the need to finance mitigation projects, but Mr. Quibral called for active participation by farmers in policy making. 

“Project implementation should be encouraged and the government should bring the technologies and know-how to every Filipino farmer. Moreover, grants and projects for farmers must be climate-sensitive,” he said.

“Building the capacity of our farmers on climate-smart agriculture is also critical in the coming years. If properly educated, our farmers can eventually provide food for the country, instead of relying on importation,” he added.

“The Philippines is not lacking in ideas, talent, resources, and existing models of modern food and agriculture production,” Mr. Kempis added.