The impacts of climate change affect farming livelihoods by damaging harvests and lowering crop yields, thereby increasing poverty and food insecurity for communities in the Asia-Pacific.

Dr Hideki Kanamaru, Natural Resource Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Helping Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

Amidst the coastal rice paddies of the Bicol region in south-eastern Philippines, local farmers stand knee-deep in water as an agricultural extension worker introduces new flood-tolerant seeds to adapt to changing weather patterns.

In collaboration with APEC and funded by Japan, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) initiative provides local climate projections, assesses its impact on agriculture, and develops strategies to enable farmers to respond effectively. The project was initially launched in the APEC Action Plan on Food Security  at the APEC Ministerial Meeting on Food Security in Niigata, Japan in 2010.

“The impacts of climate change affect farming livelihoods by damaging harvests and lowering crop yields, thereby increasing poverty and food insecurity for communities in the Asia-Pacific,” explained Dr Hideki Kanamaru, Natural Resource Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) headquartered in Italy, who leads the project.

“Governments and communities need to understand the impact of climate change on agriculture and start developing action plans to adjust to these changing weather patterns.”

Filling the Climate Change ‘Knowledge’ Gap

Limited data for observed and projected impacts of climate change on food production systems in Asia is one of key barriers to effective planning. Together with APEC and Japan, the FAO Analysis and Mapping Impacts under Climate Change for Adaptation and Food Security (AMICAF) project was established to address this knowledge gap. By collecting and analyzing data on rainfall, temperature, water discharge from streams as well as crop, hydrology and economic modelling, the project enables governments to make evidence-based climate change adaptation planning. The FAO developed innovative climate change models and then trained local experts on how to utilize the modelling systems.

“After using these models to assess shifting weather patterns and their impact on agriculture in the Philippines and Peru, two APEC member economies, the project then took the next step to test adaptation options on the farm and train farmers to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices,” said Kanamaru.

Climate-Smart Farming

In areas identified as high rainfall, flood-tolerant rice varieties and other climate-smart farming practices were introduced in the Philippines, this year’s APEC host.

“For example, projected increases in rainfall will require farmers to plant some crops early, such as corn, garlic and onions, to avoid excessive amounts of water that can damage the crop,” explained Dr Eulito Bautista, Project Manager for the Food and Agriculture Organization AMICAF project in the Philippines, which was piloted in January 2012 and completed at the end of 2014.

“Mango is another crop that usually flowers at the onset of the dry season. If rainfall occurs, flowering will be damaged or delayed. Excessive rainfall also has similar effects on rice plants, reducing grain setting and yield,” added Bautista.

“In response, our project taught farmers to alter planting cycles as an adaptation strategy for evolving weather patterns.”

As part of the project in the Philippines, the Climate Smart Farmer Field School trained small-scale farmers on innovative agricultural techniques from crop nutrient management to farm planning based on weather forecasts.

Green Super Rice

Green Super Rice—a climate-tolerant rice variety which can withstand multiple stresses such as floods, droughts and increased salinity—was also introduced to farmers as a way to accommodate new variations in weather.  One of the key courses at the Climate Smart Farmer Field School focused on a FAO-developed system known as PalayCheck, an integrated rice crop management system that improves crop yields while balancing technology and sustainability. For example, PalayCheck has helped farmers substitute pesticide use for an integrated pest management system that relies instead on the pests’ natural predators.

“We developed a training course for farmers that used the PalayCheck platform to combine climate information and meteorology topics in the curriculum for an entire crop season,” said Bautista.

Some of the climate-related topics covered in the course included the relationship of the weather to pest and crop growth and development; weather and climate information products and sources; and interpreting and incorporating climate forecasts into farmers’ decision-making process.

“We also discussed various adaptation strategies with farmers and demonstrated one or two options like a climate-resilient seed variety, alternate wetting and drying technology for crops, as well as raising ducks on rice paddies as a way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the use of chemicals,” added Bautista.

As a result of the project, over 200 farmers were trained for three crop seasons at the Climate Smart Farmer Field School in the Philippines. The communities selected were identified by local government units based on climate change events occurring in the region such as drought, saline-intrusion or flooding.

Strategic Response to Climate Change

The project is currently being implemented in Peru, another APEC member economy, set to host APEC in 2016.  A second phase of the project will begin soon and enable climate change modelling and farmer community outreach to occur in two more economies.  The Philippines and Peru will share the proven Climate Smart Farmer Field School approach and other lessons learned with the new project participants.

“Climate change unfortunately is a reality we face,” said Kanamaru. “We are already seeing the negative effects of even small variations in rainfall and temperature on farmers and their livelihoods.”

“This initiative is a key component of the Asia-Pacific’s strategic response to one of the biggest challenges of our time,” concluded Kanamaru.

For more information on the project, click here.