Five issues the 2015 climate agreement needs to address

Agriculture, Climate Change

Small scale farmers in Asia and around the world are facing the stark reality of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns. What issues do agricultural communities identify as most important to address? Last week Janice Ian Manlutac described the impact that unpredictable and extreme weather patterns are having on the farmers in Asia; here she identifies the five key issues which the next climate treaty, and national governments, must deal with.

I hope the climate treaty to be ratified in Paris this December will spell out a clear road map to mitigate emissions, enable adaptation, and provide the means for implementation. Meanwhile, in my rounds in Asia’s agricultural communities during the past year I’ve identified five recommendations that people have commonly described as urgent, which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and national governments should address.

Recommendations for the UNFCCC:

1. Effective translation of climate data

Although there have been ongoing improvements to resolution, computational methods and parameterizations, and even presentations in recent climate models that are coming out from technical agencies (see the IPCC, 2014 report), there is still insufficient quality data available on the ground. Oxfam staff and partners have repeatedly referenced the constant challenge of analyzing climate data for change and variability trends and extreme events. Once they have the data, the next dilemma is lack of technical
to assess a balance in confidence and uncertainty in climate change scenarios.

2. Lack of appropriate financial instruments to supply the funds to finance adaptation

There are already existing planning instruments in most Asian countries – National Adaptation Programmes of Action and National Strategic Action Plans for Adaptation – but in terms of financing, there is still a gap on matching instruments with which to create the demand, to absorb the amounts of investment necessary to mitigate and adapt to climate change. In countries where there is no clear cut agency responsible for climate change, fund disbursement is also a bureaucratic and financial management
challenge. For example, the Philippines passed a law establishing the People’s Survival Fund (PSF) in 2012. This was one of the world’s first local climate adaptation funds. But even now although around 23 Million USD have been allocated to the fund from the government, the fund has not yet been disbursed nor programmed due to a lack of agency to provide a delivery and monitoring mechanism.

Recommendations which national and local governments can act on now:
(These actions should converge with global level UNFCCC type interventions)

3. Extension services to support adaptation of technological solutions

We need more readily available technologies which produce more with less and simultaneously do not compromise the livelihood security of farmers. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which is gaining ground in seven countries already is one example. SRI has successfully demonstrated its potential to increase yields per acre by at least 10 percent. In the latest Oxfam policy paper Harmless Harvest, there is a call for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to scale up SRI.

More importantly, it should be noted that only 5% of extension services work for women even though they are 50% of the agriculturists. For adaptation to truly tackle inequality, this disparity must be addressed.

4. Explore the potential of community farming practices

Having community shared farming management might increase outputs for small scale farmers and prevent hunger.

In a discussion organised by Alternative Perspectives in May 2015, Dr S.R. Hashim, Chairman of the Indian Association of Social Science Institutions, said that the average plot size is too small to allow low capital-output ratios in production. However, he said caution is even more critical especially when small farmers are now opting for capital-intensive infrastructure such as tube wells to draw water. In a water constrained world, this can be a precursor to another disaster.

Four years ago I attended the launch of Oxfam’s GROW campaign on food security in the Philippines when the hot topic was rice importation to augment rice shortages in the country. I remember the Department of Agriculture Secretary appealing to the public to switch to cassava, camote and other root crops instead of rice. You can imagine the outcry of the predominantly rice eating crowd. Back then I felt that instead of improving irrigation, increasing subsidies to farmers and improving extension
services, this government official is throwing in the towel and telling us to adapt so drastically to a bad situation by forcing us to change our eating habits.

But now looking at the sad state of affairs of smallholder producers, especially those producing water-resource intensive crops like rice and wheat in an era of scarce water, I am forced to rethink my position. So my fifth recommendation is around the role of consumers in addressing food security.

5. Diversification of diet and demand for more food varieties

In the Alternative Perspectives forum Dr Hashim also outlined how consumer demand for more varieties of food may compel farmers to shift away from singularly producing resource-intensive food grain crops and diversify into other kinds of foods. However, caveats are necessary as we cannot have a situation where major crop farmers will shift en mass to other crops that might not be sustainable and will affect the overall nutritional quota of the country. India, for example, must tread a fine line between the
singular production of resource-intensive crops and a diversification that ‘goes too far’.

These recommendations have their own level of complexity or simplicity depending on where you are in terms of capacity and contextualisation. There will always be winners and losers in adaptation. One thing I’m sure of is that weathering out climate change will simply not do. We need to do something and any one of these five recommendations will be a good starting point.

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Photo: Emily Alpass demonstrates how to weed an organic paddy field. Credit: Tessa Bunney

Author: Janice Ian Manlutac
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.