Millions of farmers face climate hardship


Earth Month Special


With rising temperatures, fiercer typhoons, severe droughts, devastating floods and landslides floods damaging farmlands, appropriate and innovative farming techniques as well as finance are needed for millions of farmers in the developing countries to build their resilience to climate change.


Climate change is transforming the lives of farmers. Adaptation for them is an increasing daily challenge.




In the mountainous region of the Northern Philippines, about 340 kilometers away from Manila, farmers in the World Heritage Site, Ifugao Rice Terraces, farmers are facing evolving problems such as lack of water supply, insufficient rice yield, more lucrative jobs in the cities and pressure from rural development in the midst of the changing climate.


Jose Banggal has grown rice in his almost one hectare piece of land for the past 50 or so years near Barangay Bocos in Banaue, Ifugao. Growing rice has been an integral part of his life and that of his neighbors in the community for decades now. He lamented that things have changed for the farmers in the past few years as crop yields have been decreasing.


“ Rice farming is no longer profitable and practical nowadays. You see brown patches everywhere in the field as there is inadequate water supply, poor irrigation and we cannot predict the weather anymore. That’s why most of the people here especially the youth prefers most tourist-related jobs such as weaving and wood carving,” Banggal said.


Like Banggal most farmers across the Philippines are in a dilemma on how to revive the glory of good harvest. They complain of the dramatic consequences of climate change in their day-to-day lives.



A grim reality


Climate experts warned that extreme weather patterns pose a threat to the world’s already tough food security challenges, declining incomes for poor farmers, spike in food prices coupled with a growing population.


In the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it summarizes that the effects of climate change on crops and food production are already evident in several regions of the world, saying that with average temperature increases of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius we will see large negative impacts on farm yields and severe risks to food security, especially in tropic areas.


“ Major future rural impacts are expected in the near-term and beyond through impacts on water availability and supply, food security, and agricultural incomes, including shifts in the production areas of food and non-food crops across the world,” climate scientist Lourdes Tibig said, citing the AR5 report of the IPCC.



Tibig, also the lead author of the IPCCC AR5 Working Group II said that in the latest IPCC report, climate change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger throughout the 21st century.


“ In terms of adaptation in agriculture, the use of diversified cropping, use of seasonal forecasts for decision-making at farm levels such as climate-resilience field schools for farmers are vital,” Tibig explained.




Dwindling water supplies


In 2050, there will be enough water to help produce the food needed to feed a global population expected to top 9 billion, but overconsumption, degradation and the impact of climate change will reduce water supplies in many regions, according to a report released last week by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Water Council (WWC).


Up to 100 percent more food in developing countries will be needed by 2050 to feed the world while agriculture will continue to be the largest user of water globally, said the report which was recently released at the 7th World Water Forum in South Korea. And even with increasing urbanization, much of the global population and most of the poor will continue to earn their living in agriculture. Yet the sector will see the volume of water available to it reduced due to a competing demand from cities and industry.


“ Water, as an irreplaceable element of achieving this end, is already under pressure by increasing demands from other uses, exacerbated by weak governance, inadequate capacities and under-investment,” in a statement said by FAO deputy director-general natural resources, Maria Helena Semedo, adding that there is a need to revisit public policies, investment frameworks, governance structures and institutions.

The report further said that through technology and management practice, farmers, especially smallholders, will need to find ways to increase their output on the limited land and water available. Currently, water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of people across the world due to overconsumption of water for food production and agriculture.


The study recommended that policies and investments to enhance adaptation at the watershed and household levels, such as improved water storage facilities, wastewater capture and reuse, as well as research that generates more resilient agricultural production systems for smallholders.


A climate-resilient agriculture


Farmers, especially in developing countries like the Philippines, are particularly vulnerable to climate change given their direct reliance on weather-dependent natural resources.


Greenpeace Food and Agriculture Campaigner Wilhelmina Pelegrina said farmers need assistance to face these challenges in growing our food, as well as support from the government and non-government organizations alike is crucial in bringing-in practical and advance farming systems, ecological farming technologies that work with diversity.


“ While we agree in the thinking to provide food aid, seeds and organic fertilizers, we strongly urge the Philippine government to step in and set mechanisms for a more-climate resilient ecological farming system,” Pelegrina said. “


According to Pelegrina, many farmers have since abandoned their rice fields leaving un-harvested rice grains which failed to develop due to the dry spell. She cited the latest figure from the Provincial Reduction Management Council of North Cotabato which estimates that the damage caused by severe drought to the town of M’lang in North Cotabato to rice crops is around P42 million. The problem already impacted an estimated 503 hectares of rice land, affecting livelihoods of 630 farmers.


Acknowledging the problem many farmers face nowadays, the Philippine Rice Research Institute in Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija, said more than 4,000 Filipino farmers were trained and many others will continuously to train with the latest technologies on rice farming through its rice agritourism under its FutureRice program.

Lakbay Palay - PhilRice

Under the program, farmers learned about the technologies used such as the nutrient diagnostics tools, rice crop management app, machines and monitoring systems in the field. The farm also showcases hybrid rice varieties such as Mestiso 19 and 20, rarely seen collection of traditional varieties, aromatic rice, submerged tolerant rice varieties, and other rice varieties.


“ Our objective is to prepare the Filipino farmers and extension workers for the future rice farming scenarios and train them on clean, green, practical and smart rice farming,” said Roger Barroga, PhilRice’s FutureRice program leader.


Earlier this month, officials of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation toured the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) where scientists presented key advances on rice development, including the latest on climate change-ready rice and healthier varieties that aim to help solve micronutrient deficiencies, which afflict about two billion people globally.


The climate change-ready rice varieties that have reached millions of farmers in Asia were developed by IRRI and its partners under the BMGF-funded project named Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia.


These stress-tolerant varieties, according to IRRI, hold the promise of improving the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest farmers who till lands and most vulnerable to climate change by ensuring a good harvest, for instance, even after over 14 days of flooding. Non-tolerant rice varieties would normally die after four days of submergence.


Even the Department of Agriculture and the IRRI are working hand-in-hand in helping the poorest farmers for better varieties and technologies in the face of climate change.


“ Farmers in the Philippines are facing greater challenges with a continuously growing population and ever-scarer land and natural resources. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges,” IRRI Deputy Director General Bruce Tolentino said in a statement. “ “Improved agricultural technology developed through advanced scientific research is necessary to overcome these challenges in the long term.”


Philippine extension professionals will benefit from training and the use of tools that allow faster information transfer using information and communication technology under the IRRI. In addition, policies formulated through accurate and ground-validated information, as well as knowledge of policies that have spurred growth of rice sectors in neighboring countries will help the country achieve food and nutrition security, IRRI stated.



For the meantime, millions of farmers in the Philippines like Banggal will have to struggle to adapt to the effects of climate change while they wait for more technical support, adequate awareness on climate-smart agriculture and sustainable agricultural practices and infrastructure from the government and from various sectors.


Story and photos by Imelda V. Abano

photo credit on Lakbay-Palay photo: PhilRice

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