Agriculture sector faces greatest impact from climate change

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- There are huge environmental and agricultural challenges for a country like the Philippines which is, unfortunately, in the cross-roads of the ongoing effects of climate change because, despite all appearances of being industrialized, the archipelago is still an agricultural country.

And in a country where sunlight, temperature and rainfall are the main considerations for crop production; climate change could prove to be a big challenge as the agriculture sector bears the burden of the negative impacts.

The Global Climate Risk Index of 2015 listed the Philippines “as the number one most affected country by climate change.”

Since the country is at the cross-roads of the Pacific, it is at risk from sea-level rise; unusually stronger and more frequent typhoons; and irregular El Niño episodes, among others.

Climate variability was evidenced by the 19 typhoons that visited the country in 2011 and yearly, some 20 tropical cyclones enter Philippine waters with eight or nine likely making landfall.

Chief Legal Counsel of the Climate Change Commission Efren Basco told this reporter that agriculture is the most affected sector in the country in terms of the effects of climate change.

“If you look at the effects of Super Typhoon Yolanda, we pegged the damage to agriculture in billions (of pesos),” Basco said, adding that every other typhoon that made landfall have brought considerable damage to agriculture.

“The base of our economy is agriculture. We still center on agriculture.
The base computation for damage is still agriculture,” Basco added.

The most devastating blow to the agriculture sector came in 2013 with super typhoon Yolanda. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) placed the destruction on the agriculture sector then at around P17,321,150,996.38–the biggest ever in the country’s history.

Regional effects

Every year, rice farmers in Central Luzon, the country’s rice granary region,  experience heavy damage to their crops and with typhoons getting stronger each year, the damage to rice and other agricultural crops have also reached unbelievable numbers.

In 2015 alone, Typhoon Lando damaged at least P5 billion worth of crops in Central Luzon. The Department of Agriculture (DA) Central Luzon data showed that some P4.8 billion of the damage was on the region’s rice crops and just before 2015 ended, some P438 million was recorded as damaged in terms of rice crops due to the flooding brought by Typhoon Nona.

In 2016, Typhoon Nina damaged some P4 billion of agricultural crops in the whole region with Nueva Ecija, the number one rice-producing province in the country, being the hardest hit.

But what makes these figures more alarming is the fact that Central Luzon accounts for 14 to 15 percent of the country’s total rice production.

In the first cropping season of 2015, Central Luzon’s share is 67.31 percent or 355,682 metric tons and 19.85 percent over all contribution to the national production.

Fortunately for 2017, the country’s agriculture sector grew by 4 percent, but this is mainly due “to good weather and strong government interventions”, according to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol. Gross earnings for agriculture in 2017 reached P1.71 trillion which was 9 percent higher than 2016.

“We also enjoyed a favorable climate and strong support of local counterparts. Palay production grew by 9 percent, the highest harvest in history of 19.3 million metric tons, partly due to modern technology and use of hybrid seeds,” Piñol added.

Effects on crop yield

The increasing temperatures, brought about by climate change, are likely to have a negative effect on the yield of vital crops.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal, reported that yields of major crops like rice, corn and wheat are projected to be reduced when the temperature increases by 2 degrees Centigrade.

“This suggests that increasing temperatures are likely to have a negative effect on the global yields of wheat, rice and maize. Each degree Celsius increase in global mean temperature is estimated to reduce average global yields of wheat by six percent,” the report said.

Fortunately for the country, it was spared from an El Niño phenomenon last year. But still, 2017 was the warmest non-El Nino year on record globally, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by fewer but stronger typhoons, dry spells, and hot temperatures.

It could be remembered that the 2015-2016 El Niño, the third strongest in recorded history, was the main culprit that plummeted Philippine agricultural production by 4.5 percent as the prolonged dry spell and hot temperatures destroyed crops in different regions.

Climate-smart agriculture

While discussing the effects of climate change on the agriculture sector, it is easy to forget the fact that agriculture too has an effect on the on-going climate change problem.

In fact, agriculture contributes one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions and most of these come from burning plant materials and use of inorganic fertilizer.

One must also not forget the methane produced from livestock, forest fires and waste products. Irrigated rice production, a dominant farming system in the Philippines, also produces considerable amounts of methane according to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

Fortunately, there is now a move to educate farmers to shift to climate-smart agriculture.

“Climate-smart agriculture is an approach that guides actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate,” the Food and Agriculture Organization, said in its briefer on climate-smart agriculture.

According to the World Bank, climate-smart agriculture seeks to increase sustainable productivity, strengthen farmers’ resilience, reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, and increase carbon sequestration.

In Central Luzon, the country’s rice granary region, climate-smart agricultural practices are being promoted by non-government groups like the Kapampangan Development Foundation and government agencies like the DA.

The DA’s Agricultural Training Institute- Regional Training Center III (ATI-RTC III), in partnership with Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (SIPAG) Foundation have been conducting lectures on farm business, climate change adaptation and mitigation technologies for farmers in Central Luzon.

Just last year, 29 farm owners graduated from the Climate-Smart Farm Business School run by SIPAG and ATI-RTC III were farmers were schooled on the different climate smart practices, adaptation, and mitigation strategies.

KDF, for its part, has been promoting organic farming practices and the shift to farming technologies that leave less carbon footprint.

However, with the ever increasing rise in global temperatures and adverse weather conditions coupled with the environmental impacts of the need to produce food for an ever growing population, the DA and non-government groups here agree that more actions are needed to respond to the challenges brought about by climate change on the agricultural sector.
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