SEARCA webinar series discusses practices and technologies for a climate-resilient agriculture

  • By Jean Rebecca D. Labios
  • 6 May 2021, Thursday

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) conducted its 27th and 28th SEARCA Online Learning and Virtual Engagement (SOLVE) webinars under the theme Enhanced Agriculture and Rural Development Towards Climate Resilience on 14 and 28 April 2021 via Zoom and Facebook Live.

The 27th SOLVE webinar was titled SOLVE Climate Change Impact on Agriculture: Production and Post-Production Practices. The presenters include Dr. Reiner Wassmann, climate change expert and SEARCA Senior Fellow, and Engr. Martin Gummert, Senior Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The 27th SOLVE speakers: Dr. Reiner Wassmann (l) and Engr. Martin Gummert (r).The 27th SOLVE speakers: Dr. Reiner Wassmann (l) and Engr. Martin Gummert (r).

Dr. Wassmann shared his insights on the climate change impacts on rice production. He said that 26 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) come from food production systems, that is why it is important to develop mitigation and adaptation measures that will help reduce the carbon footprint of food security activities. Temperature increase, changes in rainfall, weather hazards such as typhoons, and sea level rise are the climate change effects relevant for crop production, particularly in rice. In Dr. Wassmann’s experience, breeding climate-resilient rice varieties is one way to respond to the challenges of food production systems. An example of these are drought-tolerant, flood-tolerant, and salt-tolerant rice varieties. There are also other production practices available such as different water management types that reduce greenhouse gas and methane emissions, and having improved storage devices for seeds especially under unpredictable weather and climate patterns.

Apart from developing climate-resilient production practices, post-production practices may also be altered for mitigation and adaptation. Engr. Gummert discussed the different postharvest management practices in emerging climate change. It was also demonstrated how mechanized systems present alternatives. A loss assessment in postharvest practices was conducted in Myanmar, comparing traditional practices with mechanization. Results show that there is not much difference in GHGE. For example, between sun drying and mechanical dryers which produced emissions from its construction and installation, a usual response is that the latter is much worse. But when looking at traditional systems, there are high losses that also require energy to produce; hence, the losses also create emissions. A life cycle assessment using different drying systems was also done and results show that while there may be an increase in emissions from mechanical dryers, there was also a reduction in losses. Farmers now opt for mechanized alternatives to traditional postharvest practices not only because of unpredictable weather but also for better quality commodities that the market is demanding. Engr. Gummert closed his presentation by stating that “most postharvest technologies have potential for adaptation by helping avoid risks caused by the change in weather patterns and extreme events and that’s plainly because you control your operations better when you mechanize and when you use equipment. You can control, or you can minimize risks, and that way you can adapt much easier to changing scenarios.”  

At the end of the 27th SOLVE webinar, both experts called on the audience, especially to the young professionals, to consider incorporating climate change mitigation and adaptation agenda in their careers. Despite the issue on climate change being relatively new, they believe that it will drive discussions because it is one of the major challenges that humankind is facing.

The 28th SOLVE webinar, titled SOLVE Vulnerabilities to Climate Change: Technologies for Climate-Resilient Agriculture, featured discussions on the potentials of energy and technology for mitigation and adaptation. The webinar opened with a short message from Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy of the 18th Congress of the Philippines. This was followed by presentations from Dr. Annabelle Briones, Director of the Industrial Technology Development Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (ITDI-DOST), and Mr. Ricardo Torres, Jr., Program Manager of the Development for Renewable Energy Applications Mainstreaming and Market Sustainability (DREAMS) Project of the United Nations Development Programme.

The 28th SOLVE speakers (l-r): Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Dr. Annabelle Briones, and Mr. Ricardo Torres, Jr.The 28th SOLVE speakers (l-r): Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Dr. Annabelle Briones, and Mr. Ricardo Torres, Jr.

In his message, Senator Gatchalian stressed the importance of energy security in agriculture. As Chairman, the Senate Committee on Energy tackles ensuring continuous supply of energy, 100% electrification, and lower electricity rates which are all valuable to activities in the agriculture sector, such us the use of postharvest facilities and mechanisms. The Senator also cited legislation examples such as the Murang Kuryente Act, which lowers electricity rates that are beneficial to farmers who depend on electricity to operate machineries and equipment. He also cited the Microgrid Systems Act to provide total electrification in the country, including the underserved areas or far-flung communities.

Dr. Briones discussed what DOST-ITDI can do for Filipino farmers in the context of climate change. Her presentation covered packaging and processing technologies for a climate-resilient supply of agricultural products. These technologies address climate resilience through preservation, storage, and transportation of supply especially when there is surplus and there is a need to sustain communities through times of scarcity. Further, these technologies add value to raw materials, which means additional income for adopters. According to Dr. Briones, a long-term benefit of improving packaging and storage is price stability, with commodity supplies no longer dependent on peak harvest seasons. DOST-ITDI also developed practices that maximize harvest by developing processes and products that increase food supply and diversity. This, Dr. Briones cites, is an approach to a climate-resilient food supply. Climate resilience also requires communities to be smart about waste management and disposal. Already implemented in selected rural communities, ITDI has a Waste Analysis and Characterization Study (WACS) which enables communities to develop smart waste management plans specific to their needs.

Mr. Torres presented the role of energy as contributor to agriculture and rural development, especially in emerging climate change. Rural electrification is a main challenge, and this is where rural electric cooperatives come in. Almost 60 percent of the population are served by rural electric cooperatives, mostly for farmers and fisherfolks. Often, these are in areas that are in off-grid communities that are not connected to the main power backbone. This is where renewable energy (RE) and the Renewable Energy Act come in. This will push for the development of RE resources such as in hydro-facilities in upland areas, or solar energy for communities. RE also pushes for adoption of clean energy to mitigate the effect of climate change. To demonstrate, Mr. Torres shared a case of a group of communities in Iloilo, Philippines that is powered by diesel, paying the same rate compared to grid areas but only getting electricity service from six to 10 hours per day. In off-grid areas where agriculture development is needed, energy is often expensive because diesel, which contributes to GHGE, is the number one power supplier. In these areas, it is important to look at hybridization and the use of solar power.

In culmination of the 28th SOLVE webinar, Dr. Briones and Mr. Torres urged the participants, especially farmers and entrepreneurs, to coordinate with local government bodies such as the regional DOST offices to have access to the different support services and climate-resilient technologies for agriculture and rural development.