Asia-Pacific Analysis: Climate change and agriculture

Copyright: Andrew McConnell / Panos

Speed read

  • Changed weather patterns make farmers confused when to plant or harvest
  • Farmers urged to ‘adjust, get wiser and practise climate-smart agriculture’
  • Projects demonstrate ecosystem interaction with farms and communities

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The older folks among us have noticed that typhoons and hurricanes have come more frequently, are more destructive and no longer follow the seasons.

In the old days, for example, the typhoon season in South-East Asia usually started in July and ended in September. Nowadays, the most powerful ones are in the last two months of the year and they come even in the first half of the year.

Why? Scientists say that this is because of climate change. Climate change affects rainfall patterns, storms and droughts, growing seasons, humidity and sea level.

Farmers who depend on the rains to water their crops are not sure now when to plant or harvest. The winds and rains have become more severe. A few areas might even get cooler than warmer and vice versa.

“Farmers who depend on the rains to water their crops are not sure now when to plant or harvest. The winds and rains have become more severe. A few areas might even get cooler than warmer and vice versa.”

By Crispin Maslog

Agriculture link to climate change

Agriculture and climate change are closely linked,” agriculture scientist Julian Gonsalves tells SciDev.Net. “Agriculture is part of the climate change problem. However, it is also part of the solution, offering many opportunities for mitigating GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.”

Gonsalves, senior advisor at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), adds: “The “agriculture sector is expected to suffer the most serious impacts of climate change, and food security, nutrition and livelihoods will be affected if we don’t act soon.”

It is time, therefore, that farmers adjust, get wiser and practise climate-smart agriculture (CSA). Climate-smart agriculture, Gonsalves says, can be simply understood as environment-friendly and sustainable agriculture that takes into consideration climate variability and change factors.

Gonsalves heads an international research action project in the Philippines and Vietnam on scaling up community adaptation and CSA. The project site in the Philippines is in Guinayangan, Quezon, a seacoast and farming community of 40,000 where the local government is involved.

Thrusts of climate-smart agriculture

The main thrusts of CSA are to increase agriculture productivity and income in a sustainable and environmentally-sound manner; to build capacity of households and food systems to adapt to climate change; and to reduce emissions of GHGs and increase carbon sequestration.

Gonsalves adds that CSA also involves protecting ecosystems, such as conserving soils, rainwater and genetic resources, and protecting mangroves, and forest and water resources.

In the CSA project, Gonsalves hopes to demonstrate that ecosystem elements interact with farms and local communities and that natural resource boundaries are important because the ecosystem influences climate adaptation and resilience building.

CSA is usually best undertaken by taking landscapes into consideration because ecosystems are interconnected. Forest and water resources can be conserved. Improvements can help regenerate farms.

However, a degraded natural resource base increases the vulnerability of local communities to the impacts of drought, extreme rain, floods and other natural disasters.

Regenerative agriculture provides many choices for a new focus on climate-smart agriculture. CSA approaches address food and income security while helping reduce the carbon footprint of small farms.

CSA practices include soil, water and nutrient management along with agro-forestry, livestock and forest management techniques.

CSA technologies are already available, just waiting for widespread adoption by smallholder farmers. The adoption needs only to be coordinated and implemented at the local level, where decisions concerning public and private investments are made.

Lessons from CSA project

This is the strategic approach of the three-year CSA project in 2015-2018, funded by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) programme on climate change, agriculture and food security and managed by the IIRR and World Agroforestry Centre in Vietnam.

So far the project implementers have learned a number of lessons.

First, farmers have basic understanding of climate change and its impacts due to abundance of information (TV, radio and other multimedia sources) but are capable only of translating impacts to their lives based on actual experiences with typhoons and prolonged dry seasons.

Second, the local government partner as well as national government agencies have the same agenda for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The challenge for the project team is how to incorporate the action research agenda into these initiatives.

Third, experiential learning — field-based observation and discussions — has been observed to be the most effective strategy for facilitating learning.

If only South-East Asian governments and international agriculture organisations can speed up the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and stamp out the climate-stupid oil palm plantation agriculture in Indonesia that fuels those everlasting Indonesian fires, we might have a cleaner environment in the Asia-Pacific region.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.