Climate smart agriculture



(First of two parts)
Rarely do I start a column by stating very bad news or facts. But there are times when I have to disclose such if only to shock readers and the general public, particularly on the realities of climate change on the agriculture sector.

So here is the bad news: The country’s average annual mean temperature, according to the Philippine Climate Change Commission (PCCC), is projected to increase by 0.9 degrees centigrade to 1.1° C by 2020, and 1.9° C to 2.2° C by 2050. According to the PCCC, warming will be worst in Mindanao that has great potential for agricultural development.

It was good President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed last February 28, 2017 our country’s accession to the Paris agreement on climate change.

So what must be done for agriculture?

Before the whole world became aware about climate change and global warming, the issues of food security, poverty, population growth and social justice were dealt with separately. With climate change, those issues should be dealt with in a holistic way, with climate change as the central or main issue.

As it is now in the Philippines, efforts to address climate change by both government and private sector looks more fragmented, and this can have serious consequences as the country’s average annual mean temperature continues to increase.

So how do we make the agriculture “climate smart”?

There have been laudable efforts from the Department of Agriculture to help farmers cope with the effects of climate change like developing climate resilient rice varieties, adjusting of the cropping calendar, using SALT of Sloping Agricultural Land Technology, farm diversification, using rice intensification technology, harvesting rainwater, mitigating methane gas emissions, utilizing biotechnology, undertaking aquasilviculture and agroreforestation, and using non-conventional irrigation systems.

But such efforts would be useless if they are not integrated into the twin global objectives to address climate change, which is adaptation and mitigation.

Adaptation is the process by which strategies to moderate, cope with and take advantage of the consequences of climatic events are enhanced, developed and implemented.

On the other hand, mitigation refers to action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long-term risk of greenhouse gases and hazards of climate change to human life and property.

The overall goal is to build the adaptive capacities of men and women in their communities, increase the resilience of vulnerable sectors and natural ecosystems to climate change, and optimize mitigation opportunities toward a responsive and rights-based sustainable development.

To put mitigation and adaptation efforts into place, the first step is to undertake policy reforms or shifts, some of which need strong resolve. So let me discuss what I have in mind for the Philippines and Asean as a whole.

One policy reform is to enhance integrated systems based on approaches, strategies and institutional arrangements that span across different sectors, including government agencies. This means that government agencies should get their act together so they can mobilize various sectors affected by climate change to cooperate in dealing with the issue.

There is also a need to address the sustainable management of oceans for food security and livelihoods, including addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

A third policy reform is to promote international cooperation and avoid unilateral measures like import and export bans. This means that Asean economies should facilitate trade of farm commodities so farmers could also earn more from exporting their products, which in turn allows them to adopt measures to deal with climate change.

A fourth policy measure is encouraging private sector investment by reducing or ensuring gain-risk. Indeed, private companies would be hesitant to invest in agriculture if they see climate change presenting a big risk, so measures like concession loans, guarantees or even crop insurance would be of great help in getting private investments to the farming sector.

A fifth policy measure is to support low-income food importing countries, with particular attention for vulnerable families and children. Asean could act on this by facilitating trade with low-income food importing countries, and even buying their products so as to facilitate two-way trade that also generates cash for poor farming families.

In the aspect of research and development (R&D), there is a need to address the scientific, technical and socio economic aspects of adaptation and mitigation in agriculture and their synergies, within international food security and climate change processes. This includes the need to “tailor” or design R&D activities to make the agriculture sector more resilient and adaptive to climate change, with the aim of achieving food security within Asean.

Also, we need to invest in the R&D of non-proprietary plant varieties and breed with the required nutritional and productivity requirements, and are resistant to diseases and climate change effects.

There is also a need for the private sector, and farmers/farmer groups and cooperatives to partner to promote
the production of high-quality products. Again, this should translate to value-adding or the development of processed products that have a longer shelf life, have an export potential, and can generate more earnings also for the farmer.

In extension and education, stakeholders should strengthen the knowledge base on sustainable practices, as well as on financial and policy options that would enable countries and communities to meet their food, water and nutritional security. This boils down to providing adequate training for farmers on how to deal with climate change based on R&D outputs, and the creation of lending windows and insurance products that would help farmers and their communities deal with climate change.

Furthermore, existing technologies need to be shared and placed in the hands of smallholder farmers, thereby improving their access to information. I wonder how many times have I said in my past columns that R&D outputs are entirely useless if they just stay in the shelves of institutions? So please get those mature technologies in the hands of farmers, especially those relating to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

With mature technologies in their hands, farmers at the community level can develop innovative successful programs and best practices that combine sustainable agriculture and land-use, forestry, and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Then government can scale up the successful community programs or apply them in other areas. In the farming sector, success stories are among the best methods to disperse mature technologies.

Lastly, there is a great benefit in creating platforms/learning hubs to bring together farmer groups/associations at the grassroots level to facilitate dialogue on how to deal with climate change issues.

For the second part of this column-series, I will discuss the key areas of concern for taking actions in the future for climate change, including for R&D, which was discussed during the InterDrought-V Hyderabad Conference organized by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) held in Hyderabad, India on February 21 to 25, that I participated in actively.


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