Back in 2012, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) which I headed from 2000 to 2014, made an assessment on the vulnerability of Asia toward climate change and the results were not very encouraging. But I was not at all surprised that in Temperate Asia and Tropical Asia, all if not most countries were “highly vulnerable” to the effects of climate change affecting their food and fiber production, water resources and coastal ecosystems.
Tropical Asia consists of countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. While I am using an assessment by ICRISAT dating to 2012, I believe that not much has changed in South Asia and Southeast Asia countries that were assessed to be “highly vulnerable” to the effects of climate change. I can say this because extreme weather disturbances have worsened, and excessive rains and drought have become more frequent.
Also, the 2016 World Risk Report showed that the Philippines ranked No. 3 in its World Disaster Risk Index taking into account the effects of climate change with a score of 26.70 (the lower the score, the better). The country is outranked by Vanuatu (36.28 points) and Tonga (29.33 points). Among Asean countries, Singapore was No. 150 with a score of 2.27.
With the country being “highly vulnerable” to the effects of climate change, it is the smallholder farmer who is most affected, as in the case of other countries considered to be underdeveloped and developing. Among the effects of climate change at the farm level are: delayed sowing, changes in cropping pattern; higher pest and diseases incidence; frequent and persistent droughts; less water in reservoirs and canals for crops; and less profit from higher input prices, wages and stagnation of output prices. Eventually, many smallholder farmers badly affected by climate change quit farming and divest their landholdings. This is already becoming a common anecdote in some parts of rural Philippines, especially with much of the youth not wanting to take up farming as a vocation.
Also, one very sad fact is the potential of rain-fed lands have not been optimized, with yields from such farms lower by 2-5 folds than the achievable output.
I have discussed in my past columns how climate change affects the agriculture sector, so I need not discuss that thoroughly in this column. But to state it simply, climate change is reducing farm yields and this can worsen if we just do “business as usual.”
So for this column, I will discuss more solutions for the agricultural sector to deal with the effects of climate change.
To understand better what types of solutions are needed for farmers to deal with climate change, let me discuss again the “Hypothesis of Hope” schematic framework developed by ICRISAT when I was leading it. The Hypothesis of Hope outlines five management and climate scenarios of which the first two scenarios, Low Input Practices + Current Climate and Low Input Practices + Climate Change, result in the lowest farms yields.
The third scenario is Improved Practices + Climate Change, which should transition to Improved Practices + Adapted Germplasm + Climate Change. The best case scenario is Improved Practices + Improved Germplasm + Current Climate. The fourth scenario, Improved Practices + Adapted Germplasm + Climate Change, is achievable if we can get our acts together!
So again, I ask the question: What must be done?
From my experience heading ICRISAT and being on the field for projects in India and parts of Africa, one of the solutions is to put into place a system to predict climate impacts and provide enhanced climate services, which should result in farmers improving their practices and making them resilient to extreme weather changes. The first component for that is developing simple tools to analyze climate risk and benefits to investments in crop management strategies, like what was done in Eastern and Southern Africa with success.
Second, we can pilot the use of seasonal climate forecasts including participatory crop simulation in modeling of scenarios with farmers, as applied in Zimbabwe and Kenya. This participatory approach should result in farmers learning the best farming practices for their locality to make their plots more resilient to climate change.
And finally, we can pilot the use of GIS-based advisory maps like what was done in Andhra Predesh, India. GIS, or geographic information system, can help farmers identify which crops to plant based on a land’s geographical features that includes available water resources.
When all of the three are applied properly, the Improved Practices component under the Hypothesis of Hope can be adequately addressed.
For the component of Adapted Germplasm, ICRISAT embarked aggressively on developing climate-change ready crops like, for example, three chick pea varieties: Super early ICC 96029 with 75-80 days maturation period; Extra early – ICCV2/85-90 days; and Early maturing – KAK2/90-95 days.
The Department of Biotechnology (India)-ICRISAT Center of Excellence in Genomics was also instrumental in developing climate-ready crops with its large-scale drought phenotyping facility. It also developed integrated watershed management systems and was a catalyst in the formation of micro-enterprises to empower the poor.
In the Philippines, I have seen and heard of State Colleges and Universities undertaking research and development for various climate-resilient crops, which I believe should be given more funding and logistical support.
As for watershed management, this should form part of the strategy to increase production in rain-fed areas, which make up 80 percent of the world’s 1.2-billion hectares of lands devoted to farming.
Besides reforestation, watershed management should include building water impounding structures to harvest rainwater, and canals and reinforcing structures to protect farms from flooding.
As to how the abovementioned solutions can increase farm yields can be glanced on the success of the Yamang Lupa Program (YLP) in 2013 and 2014. Under that program, the field demonstration plots for certain crops showed impressive gains, for example, rice: Calabarzon (Region 4A), 4.88 percent for largely lowland rice; Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9), 29.55 percent of upland rice and 22.22 percent for lowland rice; and Eastern Visayas (Region 8), 67 percent for upland rice and 58 percent for lowland rice. Also in Calabarzon, tomato yields registered an increase of 48.20 percent under YLP; corn 32.32 percent in the Zamboanga Peninsula; and sweet potato (kamote) 79 percent in Eastern Visayas.
The YLP adopted the principles of the successful Bhoochetana program in Karnataka, India, that saw smallholder farmers who actively participated get 20-66 percent yield increases.
The Bhoochetana and YLP were also conceptualized to deal with the effects of climate change, and much of the components were based on science.
Both programs also took off from the Low Input Practices + Current Climate or Low Input Practices + Climate Change scenarios under the Hypothesis of Hope, and graduated to the Improved Practices + Adapted Germplasm + Climate Change scenario. Of course, the best case scenario is Improved Practices + Adapted Germplasm + Current Climate, but I do not see climate change stopping dead on its tracks. That is a reality we have to face.