Deaths, vanishing islands, floods, droughts, and all the horrors that could possibly happen in our world have already been reported or at least been associated to climate change (CC). In agriculture, its impacts can be massive from heating among animals to remarkable yield loss in highly significant crops like rice. All these maladies are happening at a time when the world population, according to the UN, approaches 9.6B in 2050—more mouths to feed, more formidable threats to global food production.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes that fear does not motivate action; adaptation mechanisms do. Hence, we endeavor to show some of the proactive ways on how we can make agriculture, particularly rice and rice-based farming systems, thrive amid all climate woes.


International agreements

Before the 2015 Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris, countries reported their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While majority included agriculture in their mitigation targets (80%) and adaptation strategies (60%), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) emphasizes that climate finance will need to address agriculture for countries to meet their goals.

In December 2015, COP made history as 195 nations adopted a legally binding agreement to reduce emissions to slow global warming and eventually make our world fossil-free.

A breakthrough in agriculture and CC policies, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva recognized the landmark deal and said, “For the first time ever, food security features in a global climate change accord.”

“This is a game changer for the 800 million people still suffering from chronic hunger and the 80% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas and earn their income − and feed their families − via the agriculture sector. By including food security, the international community fully acknowledges that urgent attention is needed to preserve the well-being and future of those who are on the front line of climate change threats.”

While agriculture was given a moment of attention in COP 21, initiatives in different scales have already been employed. Some institutions have been walking the talk long before the talk started, so to speak.


Technologies and strategies

Globally, there are quite a number of studies on how to adapt to the impacts of climate change in agriculture. International research institutions such as the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Sri Lanka and the Philippine-based IRRI are at the forefront of these initiatives.

IWMI pushes for water storage facilities due to the rather erratic rainfall. Water harvesting in Sri Lanka, for instance, is being practiced where water is directed to dry areas.

Rainfed areas account for “more than 95% of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa, 90% in Latin America, 75% in the Near East and North Africa, 65% in East Asia, and 60% in South Asia,”  according to IWMI.

IRRI has worked on alternate wetting and drying (AWD). The concept is to irrigate the ricefields only when it is needed to avoid wasteful use of water. AWD is now being practiced in the Philippines, Vietnam, and other rice-producing countries.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which originated from Cornell University in the US, is being practiced in China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Among SRI’s key advantages are fewer seeds (about 80-90%) and less water requirement by up to 50%.

Meanwhile, index insurance has been reported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) as among the keys in enhancing adaptive capacities of farmers. It is a form of insurance based on certain indices, for instance, rainfall index, not on actual loss. Under this scheme, insurance companies do the payout once rainfall registers below the expected range. They then no longer have to visit individual farmers. Reports of implementation are traced to India.

IRRI scientists have pushed for an integrated approach in tackling climate change impacts on rice. This means the issue must be approached on all fronts: “breeding, genetics, and integrating resource management to increase rice yield and reduce water demand for rice production and some cutting-edge research.”


Communication strategies

Most countries have already invested highly on warning systems to deter the impacts of climate change specifically for floods, droughts, and wild fires. The Philippine investment in its forecasting system was lauded by the UN as it has significantly reduced death tolls in the country brought about by natural disasters.

Likewise, the World Summit Award 2014 recognized ARKO, Project NOAH’s (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) mobile app, which provides location-specific flood hazard maps, as among the world’s innovative IT applications. ARKO bested 450 other apps from around the globe.

FAO, in 2010, through the Communication for Sustainable Development Initiative, piloted communication for development strategies and methods in communicating climate change.  It basically capitalized on participatory communication as it involves various stakeholders of the community. They piloted it in Bolivia, Bangladesh, DR Congo, and the Caribbean.

In general, there is clamor to use non-technical language in communicating climate change and in banking on risk communication strategies to ensure that messages are duly absorbed by the intended recipients. A good example of this is the primer by CCAFS in collaboration with the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction. It is a highly illustrated primer on communicating climate change and its impact on agriculture to policymakers.


Sustainable communities

Non-profit organizations have established climate interventions anchored on the climate-smart agriculture (CSA) framework to turn vulnerable areas into sustainable communities.

CCAFS has set up climate-smart villages (CSV), where key players in development (researchers, development partners, and farmers) convene to test CSA interventions.

CSV helps farmers who live in places identified as being high-risk to the effects of climate change, to learn mitigation and adaptation methods and eventually become resilient. It also hopes to reduce human-generated greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture making the solutions sustainable.

The villages have been set up in West and East Africa, and in South Asia. These CSVs are hoped to motivate other vulnerable countries to replicate the program.

In a warming planet that cradles a ballooning population, nations are now taking actions and working hand-in-hand to make sure that food will always be available and accessible.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute