Mon, 26 Jul 2010

From: The Jakarta Post

By Teddy Lesmana, Jakarta
Recently, we witnessed an outcry from households in our country due to prices on some agricultural commodities, especially peppers reaching up to Rp 50,000 (around US$5) per kilogram.

The astronomical price increase was caused, among others, by reduced supply due to crop failure as looming climate change impacts are becoming more intense lately.

Farmers in many regions suffer losses due to crop harvest failure and widespread crop pests caused by weather anomalies in which there are still fairly intense rains in the dry season.

The soaring agricultural commodity price phenomenon is not a new one. We have often heard about skyrocketing prices of agricultural commodities long before today, and it seems that no significant attempts have been made to overcome the quandaries created by climate change impacts.

Although the government has a National Action Plan for climate change impact adaptations published in 2007, concrete measures in the agricultural sector to adapt against climate change have not received serious attention.

In reality, many farmers are confused in their field and perform adaptation efforts by trial and error due to the lack of clear information from relevant agencies.

In fact, adaptation efforts themselves are less pronounced than climate change mitigation efforts globally. Many parties still put more focus on mitigation efforts to anticipate climate change impacts in the form of reducing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases than to adaptation endeavors.

The relationship between climate change and its impact on the agricultural sector has been much analyzed. For instance, a study conducted by FAO (2007) states that climate change could have positive impacts on the agricultural sector in developed countries.

And it may also lead to harmful impacts on the agriculture sector productivity in developing countries in which the developing countries generally have low adaptive capacity due to technological constraints and the limited economic resources.

In fact, advanced technology and sufficient economic resources are two crucial aspects required in developing adaptive capacity against climate change.

Furthermore, still in their simulation forecasting models, FAO (2007) reveals that “global aggregate impacts of climate change on the yield and agricultural production is still small with a range of agricultural GDP change from -1.5 percent to 2.6 percent”.

Even so, the simulations also indicate that “developing countries with the exception of countries in Latin America will experience a sizable declining GDP from the agricultural sector. Asian countries will experience decreasing GPD in the agricultural sector to -4 percent in the high emission scenarios.

At the same time, “African countries will also suffer a declining GDP from the agricultural sector with a range from -2 percent to -9 percent”. Moreover, a study focusing specifically on Indonesian rice agriculture carried out by Naylor et al of Stanford University (2007) published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) exposes there will be “a marked increase in the probability of a 30-day delay in a monsoon onset in 2050 and an increase in precipitation later in the crop year [April-June] and precipitation later in the dry season [July-September] due to the changes in the mean climate”.

These facts clearly show that we should pay serious attention to real measures in adaptation in order to avoid adverse impacts on the agricultural sector, which will eventually threaten food security in most developing countries.

Accordingly, improving agriculture-related infrastructure, development of flood and drought tolerant crop varieties, and adaptive planting methods must be enhanced.

Meanwhile, many of our people still depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. Alas, most of our farmers are in unfavorable situations where they are still plagued by inadequate access to technology, limited economic resources, poor agriculture-supporting infrastructure, little access to knowledge and information (especially in regards to climate predictions and early warning systems) and inefficient institutions.

As we have seen, farmers are now facing climate uncertainty in every season. These situations bring adverse impacts particularly to small landholders when their crops are obliterated. They often have to borrow money for working capital and buying seeds, and if their crops fail their burden becomes heavier as they have to pay their debts and also survive.

Looking at the bleak situation and facts mentioned above, it is clear that the government should have started to implement more concrete measures in helping farmers in the fields to adapt to climate change impacts.

The government needs to pay serious attention in terms of adaptation efforts to climate change.

Incremental steps should be taken as suggested in our National Action Plan for adaptation released in 2007.

Moreover, the government needs to give clear direction to farmers both in autonomous and planned adaptation efforts as suggested by Easterling (1996) cited by FAO (2007).

For example, deliberate crops selection and distribution strategies across different agriclimatic zones substitution of new crops for old ones and resource substitution induced by scarcity.

Another aspect that should be enhanced is education and capacity for farmers so they have the ability to perform adaptive measures in anticipation of the adverse impacts of climate change.

We also should encourage a climate-aware society in order to be better prepared for a changing climate.

If no action is taken soon, climate induced impacts will hit not only farmers but also squeeze the poor as consumers, which we have already seen obviously.

The writer is a researcher at the Economic Research Center, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) This is his personal opinion.