Climate change threatens Indonesian agriculture

Terraced rice farm in Bali, Indonesia Copyright: Marshall Burke

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Rice agriculture in Indonesia could be significantly harmed by long-term climate change, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 2 May.

Agriculture in Indonesia is already strongly influenced by annual and inter-annual variations in rainfall caused by the Austral-Asia monsoon and El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).


To look at how climate change could affect rainfall in Indonesia over the next 50 years, a team from US-based Stanford University used output from all 20 available global climate models provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Focusing on the important rice-growing areas of Bali and Java, the team found that the probability of harmful delays ― more than 30 days ― in monsoon rains could more than double by 2050, from 9–18 per cent today to 30–40 per cent. They also predict the country will experience longer dry seasons with decreased rainfall.

Rosamond Naylor, director of the Center for Environmental Science and Policy at Stanford University and lead author of the study, told SciDev.Net that her team’s ultimate goal is to get a complete picture of the effect of climate change on agricultural markets and food security throughout Asia.

The team recently carried out research on the Philippines and plans to do the same for China.

They found that ― similar to their results for Bali and Java ― ENSO events account for up to 30 per cent of the variability in dry season rice production in Luzon, the primary rice-producing region of the Philippines.

Climate effects in Asia are complex, according to Marshall Burke of Stanford University and co-author of the current study. Burke points to preliminary evidence suggesting that ENSO events lead to an increase in rainfall in some important rice-growing regions in China ― the opposite effect to that in Indonesia.

"The shifts in weather patterns that these studies describe will result in rice farmers facing greater extremes in rainfall fluctuation. This will translate into more frequent and severe droughts and floods," he added.

The researchers call for the adoption of response strategies such as increased investment in water storage, crop diversification, development of drought-tolerant crops and early warning systems.

"It is incumbent on the research community to develop rice cultivars and associated agricultural practices that will allow farmers to continue to increase rice production to meet projected increases in demand," Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute, told SciDev.Net.

Link to abstract in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Reference: PNAS 10.1073/pnas.0701825104 (2007)