by Atty. Dana Batnag
The Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture in the Philippines
The problem with numbers is when they’re not just numbers: when they’re representations of people, lives, and a reality that numbers will never capture.
In the case of climate change, it’s worse: though the numbers are scary enough, they still obscure the future that lies ahead. For example: in the Philippines, the number of people at risk of hunger is expected to increase to 17.1 million by 2050, compared to 15.2 million if there were no climate change. Climate change will also increase the number of malnourished children from 2.15 million to 2.20 million by 2050. None of these describe the anguish and desperation felt by the people those numbers represent.
The Future of Philippine Agriculture Under A Changing Climate, a compilation of policies, studies and scenarios on climate change and its impact on the Philippines, is a book that must be read not just by policy makers and local government officials, but by everyone. But the numbers, the jargon, and the sheer volume of information can overwhelm an ordinary reader.
Climate change will impact agriculture in various ways: some projections show that while climate change will have little to no impact on rice, maize will be negatively affected. Projections show that yields for irrigated rice can even increase by 2.6%, but yield losses for maize would be 20%. Another simulation shows that while rice production will decline by only 3.2 percent, corn production will decline by 13 percent. The impact will vary depending on the region, on whether or not the crop is irrigated or rain-fed, and the use of fertilizer. Rain-fed rice will be negatively affected in many areas in Luzon, but not in Visayas, where areas of increase will offset areas of decrease. In Mindanao, yields are projected to increase under climate change.
Unfortunately, while irrigation is protection against droughts, another study notes that “the analysis of trends and patterns indicate that the relevant public sector agencies need more inputs, direction, and guidance in order to formulate a sound development agenda for agricultural water resources that explicitly take into account the potential adverse impacts of climate change.”
The impact of climate change on agriculture is projected to cost the Philippine economy about P145 billion per year through 2050, the authors say in the last chapter, Summary and Policy Recommendations. Three adaptation strategies analyzed in the book show the potential to reduce the high costs of climate change, they added.
However, they also noted gaps in responding to the threat of climate change, including the need to better align climate change strategies with development plans, as well as weak institutional capacity and technical skills in implementing climate change agenda from the national level down to the local government unit.
The authors stressed the need for increased investment in agricultural research and development, especially to develop “improved crop varieties that are more tolerant to the stresses caused by climate change.”
A better knowledge management system is needed to “disseminate seasonal weather information in terms of its agronomic and economic implications so that farmers can make decisions on the use of various production strategies to enhance the resilience of their crop, livestock, and fish production while also improving resource-use efficiency.”
By themselves, the numbers are bleak, but what makes it worse is that the numbers themselves are dependent on certain assumptions: that the right decisions will be made, and made in time.
“Fundamentally, climate change policy is the same as good agricultural policy, but climate change increases the cost of policy failure and changes policies, investments, and appropriate technology on the margin,” the authors say.
What is not emphasized enough is the need for the powers that be to prioritize changes that were not seen as important until today; to ensure that policies will be implemented properly, unlike before, so that we may hope that things will go smoothly as we prepare for a future that our scientists and policy planners have foreseen, but which we have yet to fully prepare for.