Cli­mate change chal­lenges farm­ers

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - TO­MAS DERVILLE To­mas Derville works for Cli­mate Aware­ness Move­ment. Its goal is to pro­vide mean­ing­ful in­sight on cli­mate change and its im­pli­ca­tions.

Peo­ple across the world have to face an in­creas­ingly vari­able cli­mate, which has been am­pli­fied by hu­man in­dus­trial ac­tiv­i­ties over the past cen­tury. Un­for­tu­nately, coun­tries are not equally vul­ner­a­ble to po­ten­tially harm­ful weather pat­terns such as rain­fall, droughts, and cy­clones. As we con­tinue to re­lease more green­house gases in the at­mos­phere and con­trib­ute to global warm­ing, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries will be the ones suf­fer­ing the most from cli­mate change. Myan­mar, in fact, has been iden­ti­fied by the Global Cli­mate Risk In­dex as the sec­ond most af­fected coun­try by cli­mate vari­abil­ity world­wide, af­ter Hon­duras.

With this in mind, it is ur­gent to con­sider what steps should be taken to min­imise the im­pend­ing risks of cli­mate vari­abil­ity in Myan­mar – in par­tic­u­lar for the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, which ac­counts for 38 per­cent of GDP, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank.

Cli­mate change af­fects agri­cul­ture in a num­ber of ways, in­clud­ing through changes in av­er­age tem­per­a­ture, rain­fall fre­quency and in­ten­sity, heat waves, pests and dis­eases, at­mo­spheric car­bon diox­ide, and even the nu­tri­tional qual­ity of some foods such as rice, sesame, ground­nut, and sun­flower.

Among cli­matic events, flood­ing con­sti­tutes per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge for agri­cul­ture in Myan­mar. Heavy rain­fall, over­flow of nearby rivers, and tidal move­ments in coastal ar­eas can re­sult in the com­plete sub­mer­gence of paddy fields. Un­der these con­di­tions, rice dies within days, re­sult­ing in to­tal crop loss and fore­gone in­come for the farm­ers.

Some stud­ies show that av­er­age yields of mon­soon rice were slashed by nearly two thirds be­tween a good year and a bad year, fall­ing from 1440 kg per acre to 538 Kg per acre. As rice is the most im­por­tant agri­cul­tural commodity in Myan­mar, cli­mate vari­abil­ity could thus send sig­nif­i­cant shock­waves through the econ­omy.

Many re­mem­ber how ex­treme weather events have had dev­as­tat­ing im­pacts on agri­cul­ture in the past. Af­ter Cy­clone Nar­gis hit Myan­mar in 2008, the govern­ment es­ti­mated short and medium term agri­cul­tural fi­nan­cial needs at a whop­ping US$243 mil­lion – for rice seeds, fer­tilis­ers, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of em­bank­ments, and ir­ri­ga­tion schemes. In­deed, five of the most cy­clone-af­fected state and re­gions were pro­duc­ing 65pc of the coun­try’s rice, ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO). While sci­en­tists can­not ab­so­lutely de­ter­mine if cy­clones like Nar­gis are a di­rect re­sult of cli­mate change, more and more data sug­gests cy­clone in­ten­sity may in­deed be linked to global warm­ing.

In ad­di­tion to com­pris­ing a great share of the coun­try’s in­come, agri­cul­ture em­ploys the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion – around 70pc of the labour force, ac­cord­ing to FAO. There­fore, more than two out of three work­ers di­rectly de­pend on crop yields to make a liv­ing, which are closely linked to cli­mate pat­terns. Farm­ers’ rev­enues are usu­ally very mod­est, and are re­al­ized only af­ter the har­vest. If we look at in­come, an agri­cul­tural worker in Myan­mar earns on av­er­age K3,000 per day dur­ing mon­soon sea­son, and K4,500 dur­ing dry sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. Since the agri­cul­tural sec­tor is con­sid­ered low profit and high risk, it can be chal­leng­ing for farm­ers to ben­e­fit from fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments and in­surance schemes com­pen­sat­ing them for a poor har­vest.

But there are a num­ber of ways cli­mate change can be tack­led by the agri­cul­tural sec­tor.

For ex­am­ple, the In­ter­na­tional Rice Re­search In­sti­tute has de­vel­oped a flood­resis­tant rice va­ri­ety that can with­stand be­ing sub­merged un­der water for two weeks, as op­posed to only a few days, which lessens the risk that a whole crop might be ru­ined by a sin­gle flood. Al­ready some farm­ers in Myan­mar have been us­ing this va­ri­ety.

Crop di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion is also an ef­fec­tive strat­egy to deal with cli­mate vari­abil­ity. By di­ver­si­fy­ing, farm­ers in­crease the range of po­ten­tial food and in­come sources avail­able to them. A farm eco­nom­ics study by the World Bank and the Liveli­hoods and Food Se­cu­rity Trust Fund found that most farms pro­duce pad­dies dur­ing mon­soon sea­son but in­creas­ingly grow a va­ri­ety of other crops such as beans and pulses, oil seeds, and maize dur­ing dry sea­son. If we com­pare with a sec­tor like fi­nance, in­vestors ap­ply the same strat­egy: by di­ver­si­fy­ing their port­fo­lio, they are re­duc­ing their in­vest­ment risk.

More­over, some or­gan­i­sa­tions have de­vel­oped mo­bile phone ap­pli­ca­tions to in­form farm­ers about in­com­ing weather pat­terns and pro­vide farm­ing best prac­tices. These new dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies can en­able farm­ers to mit­i­gate cli­mate change im­pact. If farm­ers know that a storm is com­ing, for ex­am­ple, they can pre­pare by prop­erly stor­ing their equip­ment, seeds, grain, and live­stock ahead of time to re­duce the dam­age.

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