How gov’t is readying farmers for climate change

Farmers and fishermen who depend on the abundance of natural resources are expected to suffer economically

CLIMATE READY. Farmers, among the sectors most vulnerable to climate change and disasters, need to learn how to adapt to the phenomenon's impacts

MANILA, Philippines – The latest United Nations report on climate change confirmed that global warming will threaten agriculture and fisheries, as well as farmers and fisherfolk – especially in tropical countries.

What’s the government doing about it?

Climate-resilient infrastructure, weather-proof crops, information campaigns and adaptation schemes for easy recovery of farmers are some of the projects in the works, said Department of Agriculture Climate Change Office Director Alicia Ilaga.

By 2015, the DA plans to “transform the entire DA budget into an adaptation budget. We’re now making climate change considerations in all plans, budgets, programs so that climate change is mainstreamed by all offices under the DA,” she told Rappler on Monday, April 7.

The report, the 2nd chapter of the 5th assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), confirmed the warming of the planet will have devastating impacts on crops and aquatic resources. (READ: Climate change creating ‘new poor’ in PH)

Changes in temperature, longer dry periods and intense rainfall may lower crop yields and kill populations of fish, mollusks and other marine species. (READ: How climate change threatens our food security)

Farmers and fishermen who depend on the abundance of these natural resources will also suffer economically. 

In the Philippines, climate change impacts will definitely be felt by these vulnerable sectors.

“Every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature will reduce rice yields by up to 10%,” said Ilaga, quoting a PAGASA report that localized the findings of a previous UN climate change report, the IPCC 4th Assessment.

Each day with a temperature of more than 30 degrees C can reduce maize (corn) yield by 1.7% under drought conditions.

“So if we have 10 days with temperatures above 30 degrees, we will have a 17% decrease in corn.”

Vegetable yield will also be low because of high temperatures, limited soil moisture and environmental extremes.

Here are government projects to prepare the agriculture industry for climate change:

1. Climate-ready crops

To address the alarming figures, the DA plans to promote the use of various climate-resilient crops.

Drought-tolerant, submergent-tolerant, saline-tolerant and early-maturing rice and other crops are already available in the market, said Ilaga.

Submergent-tolerant crops can survive floods, while saline-tolerant crops can thrive in salty environments such as coastal areas. 

Early-maturing crops like BP mongo cut the number of days before harvest to 31 instead of the usual 60 days. By shortening the maturation period of crops, you also minimize risks that the crops will die, said Ilaga.

Many of these climate-resilient species of crops used biotechnology for more accurate breeding of important traits from different crops.

2. Integrated climate change map

One of the DA’s biggest climate change efforts is the development of a 3-dimensional map that combines other kinds of maps to provide vital information on how climate change will affect agriculture and fisheries in any part of the country.

The map will make use of maps created by other agencies such as the environment department’s geohazards maps, poverty incidence maps, and climate change impact maps.

With on-the-ground information from the DA, the map can be used to spot agricultural areas prone to drought, flooding, and landslides.

“We can geographically target our interventions and prioritize the use of our limited resources,” said Ilaga.

They can also help the DA and farmers identify the crop-suitability of specific areas. Is this piece of land ideal for planting bananas? Does it have the right elevation, temperature and amount of annual rainfall?

The integrated map will be ready for Typhoon Yolanda-hit provinces this May. Maps for the rest of the country will be ready by April next year.

4. Climate-proof infrastructure

It may be time to rethink the National Irrigation System, said Ilaga. 

Because climate change may lead to heavier rainfall, irrigation canals have to be fortified against clogging due to the soil erosion and landslides that can result from extreme weather events.

The department wants to concretize all irrigation canals and install coco husk nets above canal walls to keep soil from falling into the canal during a storm.

But the irrigation system may need a more extreme overhaul than that.

Longer dry periods and short periods of intense rainfall in the Philippines may make rainwater harvesting systems more practical than typical irrigation systems. At the very least, they will be vital complements.

The DA is also set to build drainage systems in all farm-to-market roads so that these agricultural lifelines – vital for food security and economic security of farmers – may be used even in harsh weather conditions.

Post-harvest facilities and markets must also be weather-proof, said Ilaga.

5. Climate field schools

Farmers have to know about climate change so they can prepare for it.

The DA will introduce climate change into its “field schools,” or curriculum formulated by the DA, that is cascaded to farmers organizations.

The curriculum, taught by farmer leaders to their constituents, deals with specific topics like new farming methods, available services, and other information important to farmers. This time, climate change adaptation will be put on the table for discussion.

“In 2015, we’re putting more money in climate field schools. Information should be weather advisories – what, when, how. Which institutions can they seek help from?”

Data from the integrated map will also be relayed to farmers through these “schools,” with the aim of showing them their vulnerabilities so they can make potentially life-saving adjustments.

6. Schemes for early recovery of farmers

After a super typhoon, how can a farmer or fisherman who has lost everything get back on his feet? (READ: Coconut, rice farmers worst hit by Yolanda)

The DA will finance schemes for adaptation and quick post-disaster recovery of farmers. These schemes will not only insure their crops but their house, assets and life as well.

The Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation currently covers less than 10% of the 10 million Filipino farmers. By 2015, the DA hopes to bring this up to 13%. 

***

Ilaga admits there is a lot of work left to do. But her office is riding on the momentum created by Yolanda.

“All our advocacies last year didn’t really get that much attention. But after Yolanda happened, people in the department realized how urgent an issue climate change is. Now, we don’t even need to advocate anymore.” – Rappler.com

Worker in rice field image from Shutterstock

Farmer plant rice image from Shutterstock

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