As the world adapts to the worsening effects of climate change, the agriculture sector is exposed as one of the most vulnerable sectors, if not the most.
According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, damages incurred due to natural disasters totaled P463 billion from 2010 to 2019. The agriculture sector alone incurred a third of this loss, suffering damages amounting to P290 billion.
Small-time farmers are one of those that suffer the most during these disasters. Damage to crops means damage to their livelihood. Whereas corporations can reel from the shock, having the resources to keep business as usual, small-time farmers might need to start anew every disaster.
But there are already solutions being practiced by individual farmers, up to the institutional level. In an online event organized by the Good Food Community on August 19, 2022, several stakeholders discussed how the agriculture sector can prepare and mitigate climate-related risks in agriculture.
How small-time farmers adapt to unpredictable weather
Laurio Diego is a member of Duale Masipag Organic Farmers Association in Limay, Bataan. Due to this work pushing for organic agriculture, he was awarded the 2020 Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan award.
Diego shared several agricultural practices to reduce climate-related risks in farming. When they expect El Niño, a weather phenomenon that brings sustained dry weather in the Philippines, they use seeds known to have drought resistance capabilities. They can also use early maturing varieties so that farmers can harvest crops before the worst period of drought. If time is short before La Niña, they will grow vegetables that do not require too much water, like the monggo. Not only does this allow them to switch their crops, but it also restores the nutrients in the soil.
In the opposite situation, they use flood-tolerant seeds if they expect La Niña, which brings sustained wet weather. They also assess which months would have the heaviest rain so they can adjust their planting season by sowing the seeds earlier. They also practice intercropping by planting corn or vegetables partnered with low-growing root crops such as peanuts, radish, and sweetpotato. Doing so would assure that farmers would have something to harvest even though their main crop gets damaged during heavy rain. Doing so would also help reduce the need for pesticides as some pests of one crop could negate the pests of another crop.
Government interventions to mitigate climate risks
Tublay is the smallest town in Benguet after La Trinidad, the provincial capital. It is often on the path of climate-related disasters, making the area prone to heavy rain and landslides.
Jeffrey Sotero, Tublay’s municipal agriculturist, is at the forefront of this small agricultural town in climate-related risks. He is also an advocate for organic agriculture and was even recognized as an outstanding municipal focal person on organic agriculture during the 2019 National Organic Agriculture Congress held by the Department of Agriculture.
Tublay has been adopting mitigation measures involving the collaboration of stakeholders like farmers, government bodies, and non-government organizations. They have also been working with state universities to help them with their research as they usually cannot do it on their own. Involving consumers are also part of the solution, according to Sotero. Identifying what consumers need and want on their table is essential so farmers can choose the right crop for production.
Organic farming is at the top of their priority, which helps boost their productivity despite most farmers being micro-to-smallholders, owning only an average of 2,500 square meters. Organic agriculture is enhanced by a calendar system to determine which crops are best suited for certain months. This system derives from historical climate and traditional knowledge passed on from older farmers.
They also hold climate forums to study data for the previous six months and project what would happen next month. These forums help them determine the best course of action so they can advise farmers ahead of time.
Should the worst come to worst, agricultural insurance can make a huge difference. The municipal agricultural office has been helping local farmers avail insurance through the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation.
They recognize the limitations in current models of agricultural insurance. Sotero said that they are studying how a weather-based index crop-insurance system could be possible as PCIC only assists in areas where a calamity has been declared.
The role of civil society organizations
As wide-reaching government institutions are, there are plenty of gaps that civil society organizations work to fill in. Often they work as linkages between farmers and consumers like Good Food Community. They recognize this culture that farming should not be the sole burden of farmers but the entire community. They work with farmers to deliver organic produce to the market. They also help farmers to match their crops to what the market needs and assist them with zero-interest, zero-collateral loans to help them build polytunnels.
There is also the Institute of Social Entrepreneurship of Asia (ISEA), which is evaluating the work of the Good Food Community to replicate its model. ISEA works to support gender transformative and responsible agribusiness investments. They recognize how climate change impacts men and women farmers differently and are thus promoting ways to plan for climate change while keeping this in mind.
The life of farmers is often out of the mind of common people, but people benefit from them daily, three to five times a day. What impacts them impacts everyone. Though some farmers may have learned over the years how to adapt to the devolving state of the environment, institutional support is crucial when farmers cannot cope with natural devastation.
They often say that change happens with individuals, but climate emergencies require urgent collective action — from the farmers and consumers to government bodies.