Changing the Climate for Rice Farming in a Climate Change Hot Spot
The Philippines holds the distinction of being one of the richest countries in terms of biodiversity. It is very rich in both flora and fauna, with a great number of these being endemic. Ironically, it is also a biodiversity hot spot in terms of need for conservation due to the rapid loss of biodiversity, relegating some species to the endangered list especially for fauna.
Its location and characteristics alone make the Philippines one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This vulnerability is further aggravated by poor socioeconomic and environmental conditions prevalent in the entire country, causing low adaptive capacity for communities. Being an agricultural country, it is sensitive to climate conditions, thus any variability can adversely affect agricultural activities.
The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries not only in Asia but in the world. It lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area within the Pacific Ocean characterized by earthquakes and volcanic activities. Except for the province of Palawan, the entire country lies along a fault line and has several active volcanoes. It is also situated within the most active cyclone basins in the world. Storms and typhoons are regular occurrences in the country especially during the wet season.
The Philippines is among the top 10 rice-producing countries in the world with at least 15 million metric tons of rice produced per annum. Ironically, it is also the world’s top rice-importing country as production is insufficient to meet consumption demands. Per capita consumption is at 119 kg, with wastage at 3.3 kg/person or 308,833 metric tons on a national scale.
Projections for rice importation for 2014 is 1.2M MT but actual importation has already been exceeded by 0.8M MT. Rice importation has been ongoing since the 1870s and may worsen with the impending end to quantitative restrictions for rice imports as per agreement with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Rice insufficiency is caused by several factors, among them, land conversion, where 900 hectares are plantations for high-value commercial crops. Further, attainment of rice sufficiency and overall food security is continuously threatened by climate change conditions.
Over the years, billions of pesos worth of crop losses are incurred due to damages caused by climate-related events like droughts, floods, typhoons, incessant rains, and variable rainfall.
Current annual mean temperature is at 26.6oC. It has been observed that since 1951, temperature in the country has increased by at least 0.65oC over the years, with longer periods of hot days and warm nights. Projections for temperature increase in the Philippines are between 0.9 ˚C to 1.1 ˚C by the 2020s, and 1.8 ˚C to 2.2 ˚C by the 2050s. Studies show that for every 1oC increase in temperature, yield deceases by 10%. High variability of rainfall has also been observed wherein the country has experienced extremes of rainy rainy season and dry rainy season.
Projections for the Philippines will see a reduction of annual rainfall over the years which will significantly impact agricultural production.
The melting of polar ice due to global warming has caused sea levels to rise. Archipelagos and island countries are the most at-risk for the consequences of rising sea levels. The Philippines, being an archipelago, shares this vulnerability. Rising sea levels have caused the intrusion of saltwater into agricultural areas. Evidence of saltwater intrusion in farmlands is present in some coastal municipalities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. High levels of salinity have adverse effects in plant growth.
Floods as a consequence of climate change can cause sedimentation and siltation of water sources including irrigation. Irrigation plays an important role in rice production and other agricultural activities. The insufficiency or lack of irrigation adds to the insufficiency of production. Currently, the Philippines approximately has 3.1M hectares of irrigable lands but the actual irrigated areas account only for 1.6M hectares including areas with irrigation systems that require repairs or rehabilitation. Prolonged flooding or inundation of rice crops and typhoons have caused significant reduction of yield if not total destruction of crops.
Socio-economic, environmental, and political conditions affect rice sufficiency and food security in general. Because the main staple of its rapidly growing population is rice, the Philippines should not only be rice sufficient but more importantly, rice secured. This means that rice should be readily available to each individual. Availability is not only limited to consumption or purchase but also in terms of planting materials.
Following are some recommendations to make rice available and sustainable:
Install community seed banks. Community-level seed exchanges remain to be the primary mode of access of farmers to seeds. The installation of community seed banks can further enhance this practice and serve as a solution to seed access problems. This will require financial and technical support for sustainability. Such support can be further emphasized through institutionalization at least in local government levels.
Install irrigation systems and related infrastructural support. While farmers already know crop management through practice, these knowledge and skills can be further enhanced by involving them in capacity-building activities such as participatory plant breeding, farmer field schools, integrated pest management, and trainings on sustainable agriculture.
Conserve, develop, and use traditional rice varieties. The Philippines has thousands of traditional varieties with positive characteristics that can be developed and utilized. Traditional varieties have withstood the variability of climate and weather conditions through years of utilization and development. Further, traditional varieties have long been proven to be more stable in yield as opposed to modern high-yielding varieties that are mostly good for one cropping season only. The use of traditional varieties can help sustain environmental and economic viability of agricultural systems, as these do not require the harmful chemical inputs used for modern varieties.
Discourage the introduction of genetically engineered varieties like the “Golden Rice.” Modern varieties may be more harmful than beneficial to human health and environment, more so if done with the wrong pretext. The continuing proliferation and promotion of modern varieties cause the tried-and-tested traditional varieties to become unavailable due to genetic erosion.
Employ a “reef-to-ridge approach. Agricultural biodiversity, being a vital subset of biodiversity, should be included. Varieties with a wide genetic base, something that is intrinsic to traditional varieties, should be used. Additionally, utilization and development of traditional varieties instead of modern varieties are consistent with basic biodiversity conservation principles.
Climate change adaptation and mitigation also need a ridge to reef approach. Failure to address environmental concerns related to climate change in other ecosystems will still adversely impact agricultural ecosystems, if not negate agrobiodiversity conservation initiatives. Rice sufficiency should not only focus on the quantity of rice that needs to be produced but also include addressing other underlying issues tied to rice production.
Do not make a repeat of the genetic erosion caused by the green revolution and masagana 99 programs of the 1970s.
Address the issues of agrarian reform for the farmers to have more control over the production system.
Mechanize agriculture. Agriculture remains backward.
Tackle the issues of land use, conservation of agricultural land, other land areas like forests that impact on agricultural ecosystems.
Make seed certifications easy for farmers. Farmers make up a great number of the Filipino population, but they hardly get the credit that they deserve particularly on their historical role in conserving the local rice varieties. Current seed certification requirements are hard to comply with for ordinary farmers, thus, certification is monopolized by seed companies. Mechanisms for easier certification and payments for environmental services at the very least should be institutionalized to further encourage farmers to continue the development of rice seeds and varieties and conservation of agrobiodiversity.
The road to rice sufficiency and food security is clearly not a straight path. Humps and curves will be encountered along the way—climate change, politics, and social conditions. Nonetheless, it has to be traversed.
1. Report: National SAP Workshop. Philippines. SEARICE. February 2014
[This publication has been produced with the assistance of the International Treaty. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the International Treaty.]