Weathering it out: climate change and farming in Asia

As extreme and unpredictable weather patterns have become the norm many farmers in Asia have used their initiative to diversify their crops and engage in experimentation. But, as Janice Ian Manlutac, Regional Change Lead on Resilience, explains, if local adaptation efforts are to be successful the international community must deliver a strong and binding climate agreement.

As I write this piece, reports of tourists flocking to the many beaches and islets of the Philippines this summer are overshadowed by a few people dropping dead from the heat, poultry animals dying in droves and farmers going out of their minds trying to salvage their crops in the North. Fishponds are in a sad state of affairs with fish dying of extreme heat. The prices of staple grains and vegetables have spiked as a result of heat waves in the agricultural corridors of the country. Food insecurity among small-scale farmers is highly likely.

Earlier this year in the state of Kachin in Myanmar, a farmer shared the adverse effects of the changing season on his planting calendar; his family is skipping meals and is now deep in debt with the loan shark, trying to just ‘weather this one out’.

Food insecurity among small-scale farmers is highly likely.The farmers I met in Kachin said they upped the ante and really engaged in experimentation. They diversified their crops and increased their analysis of weather patterns. They are quick to emphasise that they did not get much help from any agency and they are ‘self taught’ since to be a farmer these days ‘is like engaging in high stakes and high risk gambling‘. One farmer felt secure because he had
planted peanuts as an additional high value crop to rice, but then in January cold weather came in too early and the sudden drop in temperature dried up his crops. So now he has been weathering it out for three years and looking at his gaunt face, it is truly taking a toll on his life.

These scenarios validated the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC (AR5) presented in March 2014 which stated with high confidence that extreme climate events will have an increasing impact on human health, security, livelihoods, and poverty, with the type and magnitude of impact varying across Asia. Increases in floods and droughts will worsen rural poverty in parts of Asia due to negative impacts on the rice crop, and resulting increases in food prices and the cost of living.

…extreme climate events will have an increasing impact on human health, security, livelihoods, and povertyThe issue of climate adaptation and mitigation is seeping through the DNA of development actions in varying speeds from global to local fronts. However, the overall rate of adaptation in many aspects – finance, technology, policy and capacity of both people and the environment – lags so far behind what seems like an exponential change on climate variability affecting agriculture in many Asian
countries. The issue is also more painful and more costly to the most vulnerable members of the agriculture value chain such as the farmers and food producers who really can only do so much analysis and mitigation at their level. Without a bigger and more integrated support and programme from institutional actors, their efforts will not make much of a dent.

As I write this piece, 196 parties to the UNFCCC will begin to engage in a substantive negotiation for a new climate agreement at the 42nd session of the Subsidiary Bodies in Bonn, Germany. The same agreement will be ratified in a treaty in Paris come December 2015. This would seem a world away from the farmers in Kachin or Benguet but their actions do have an impact on the present and future of these farmers.

There are so many issues and competing needs but I hope the final package will provide some urgent and practical actions linked to solutions that can be rolled out on the ground as soon as possible.

The right treaty decisions could make a real difference to farmers like those I met in Myanmar. In the second part of this blog I’ll discuss the elements which should be included in the UN climate negotiations.

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Photo: Jerik Tomada tends to his rice crop. Credit: Simon Rawles/Oxfam.

Author: Janice Ian Manlutac
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.