Helping farmers adapt to extreme weather

Water availability is going to become more challenging in the next few years, particularly if countries will drag their feet on implementing measures to limit their carbon emissions. The delays in rolling out measures that would cut greenhouse gas emissions would hasten the warming of the planet and result in less predictable weather conditions. According to the United Nations, erratic weather conditions would affect the availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater, and further deteriorate water quality.

Extreme weather events, such as droughts, are disastrous for the Philippines, where farmers cultivate water-intensive crops in many areas. These include rice, the country’s staple, and sugarcane that generates export dollars for the country. Rice, in particular, is a popular crop in the country not only because it is the Filipinos’ staple food, but also because farmers can harvest their crop after four months.

Because rice is the most water-intensive crop, it usually bears the brunt of El Niño, which causes drought (See, “Farmers, fisherfolk bear P4.35-B loss from El Niño,” in the BusinessMirror, March 31, 2019). In recent years, farmers have lost billions of pesos because of El Niño, which forced the government to increase rice imports to plug the shortfall in domestic production. El Niño episodes also entail government spending on interventions that will help farmers recover immediately from the devastation caused by the weather event.

While the country cannot immediately resolve issues related to water access and availability, the government can tap drought-tolerant rice varieties to help rice planters in drought-prone areas adapt to extreme weather (See, “Planters must have access to drought-tolerant rice varieties,” in the BusinessMirror, February 14, 2022). The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) said policymakers should make the technology accessible to planters, as this will allow them to minimize their losses during El Niño episodes. PhilRice, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, noted that the yield of drought-tolerant varieties is “comparable” with the national average for rainfed areas at 3.28 metric tons per hectare and irrigated at 4.53 MT per hectare.

Policymakers must promote these varieties and identify the areas where farmers can access them. Identifying the sources of financing for initiatives that will increase the supply of these varieties should not be a problem given the existence of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which consists of tariffs collected from rice imports. The seed program should be complemented by an agricultural extension system that would allow farmers to hasten their shift to these varieties and maximize their gains from the technology.

Water scarcity is increasingly becoming a reality due to the continuous warming of the planet, and countries like the Philippines are paying a great price for the inaction of major emitters of greenhouse gases. To meet the food requirements of its growing population, the country must hasten the adoption of available technologies to shield the farm sector from the ill effects of extreme weather events. The government should also increase spending on research and development to help our scientists and researchers discover other ways that will enable our farmers to produce food despite the challenges posed by climate change.

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