A top official of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO), a Myanmar economist and a Filipino agriculturist have agreed that climate change has conditioned farm productivity and rural progress in Southeast Asia.
Aristeo Portugal, assistant FAO representative in the Philippines, said that the rehabilitation efforts in areas hit by Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) have given FAO valuable lessons.
He said this in his presentation “Response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines: Relief, Rehabilitation and Development for Resilience” during the 2014 International Conference on Agricultural and Rural Development (2014ARD) conference in Makati on November 12 and 13. The 2014ARD that was sponsored by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Research and Graduate Study in Agriculture (Searca) and participated in by more than 400 Filipino and foreign experts.
Searca Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said Portugal’s paper is a significant contribution into the protocol for disaster management, logistical support and the rehabilitation of farming and fishing communities using new and better climate-resilient technologies.
“During the onslaught of Supertyphoon Haiyan, the Philippines suffered extensive damage to the agricultural sector in areas where crop production and fisheries were the residents’ primary means of sustenance and livelihood,” Portugal said.
Heeding the call of the Philippine government, the first organization-wide FAO Level 3 Response was declared, which is aligned with the new FAO Strategic Objective 5 (to increase the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises), he added.
“Using the relief, rehabilitation and development for resilience [3Rs] approach, mutually reinforcing actions addressing risk and crisis governance, early warning and information management, risk and vulnerability reduction measures, and preparedness and emergency response were implemented.
“Improving management practices, introducing suitable technologies and products, and post-harvest and value-enhancing economic activities geared primarily toward women are just some of the efforts FAO is undertaking to build resilience and improve economic growth,” Portugal said. On the other hand, Tin Htut Oo, chairman of the National Economic and Science Advisory Council of Myanmar, told participants in the same conference that Southeast Asia needs a “new agricultural vision” that will take into account the effects of climate change on food production and the effects of the farming sector on the environment.
In his paper “Toward Sustainability and Resilience in Asean Agriculture,” Oo said agriculture in Southeast Asia is very vulnerable to climate change, and there is a need to shift away from the “traditional growth pattern” or “business as usual” approach.
“The challenge for Southeast Asian countries is to pursue economic development without creating additional burdens on ecosystems, thus, conserving biodiversity and enhancing the welfare of both urban and rural populations,” he stressed.
To create the new agricultural vision for Southeast Asia, which includes the Philippines, Oo argued that there is a need to invest in and address the following key concepts: soil characterization, plant nutrient management, crop varietal development with the application of biotechnology, water management, transfer of knowledge and technology, post-harvest management, value addition, agricultural mechanization, and supply-chain development.
The new agricultural vision, according to Oo, should achieve the following objectives: Provide safer and adequate food and nutritional requirements of the population; provide sufficient income for farmers and to sustain a comfortable standard of living, and; protect ecosystems, including climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“On the other hand, with increasing income growth, growing middle class, rapid urbanization, changes and lifestyles and dietary patterns, as well as rapid regional integration, globalization and trade liberalization, several drivers of change are emerging that generate opportunities and challenges for Southeast Asia agriculture sector,” he added.
To obviate the deleterious impact of climate change, a Filipino expert, now based in Vietnam, argued for the efficient use of resources and noted that studies have also shown that crops have naturally formed defenses against aberrant climate.
In his paper, “Innovation Systems for Eco-efficient Future of Asian Agriculture,” delivered at the same conference, Dr. Dindo Campilan, regional director for Asia of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Hanoi, said agricultural research has been focused on on-farm productivity even as current conditions dictate that new research should cover the vulnerabilities of the farming sector to climate change. Saguiguit noted that the Campilan paper is significant since advances must be made in mitigating the impact of climate change, rising sea levels, and prolonged but alternating episodes of flooding and drought.
Campilan has proposed that “eco-efficiency—both as research vision and approach—to address the growing complexity of agricultural development challenges.” He said: “An eco-efficient future for agriculture focuses on the smarter use of natural resources toward achieving development outcomes—for food security, income and nutrition—under growing threats of climate change.” Campilan said the key pathways to eco-efficiency include large-scale adoption of better crop varieties and management practices, based on sound agro-ecological advice; and increased investment in best practices that offer large enough gains to compensate farmers for greater risks;
They also include reduced investment in inputs that are being overused; more efficient use of resources to obtain greater returns at lower costs—ecological, agronomic, socioeconomic; spread of technologies that make possible quantum leaps in agricultural productivity, and; protection against future losses in productive capacity.
“In Asia, CIAT develops eco-efficient solutions to boost yields, incomes, and overall livelihoods of poor agricultural producers and consumers,” he added.
His stress has been on innovation systems for eco-efficient agriculture through adding value to cassava for diverse markets and uses through diversified cassava value chains through improved varieties and crop technologies, reduced crop losses from biotic factors, and increased cassava utilization in agri-food systems. Another concern is enhancing forages integration and access for smallholder livestock production that improves forage options for smallholders, increases the availability of high-yield and quality forage systems, as well as improves ecosystem services in integrated crop-livestock systems.
His last concern covers the sustenance of diversified livelihoods in crop-livestock systems.
This includes, improved livelihoods for smallholder producers through cassava-forage integration; diversified cropping systems through integration with other key cash and food crops; improved productivity and resilience of agri-landscapes, and; restored soil health, better land management through actions and policies at the agri-landscape scale.