Climate Change And The Farmers’ Fate

Posted on October 12, 2010. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods |

(Bernama) — In recent years climate change is seen as the major contributor to the food security threat.

While food prices have been rising, farmers in particular have been seeing their crop yield dwindling as the climate change unleashed floods, drought and erratic weather in general.

Rising temperatures are already lowering rice yield in Asia, where it is the staple food, according to a recent study by a team of international scientists.

Rising temperatures during the past 25 years have already cut the yield growth rate by 10 to 20 per cent in several locations, according to the findings of the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed scientific journal in the United States.

Greater awareness on the causes and impact of climate change also created trade barriers for Asian farmers.

For example, the European Union (EU) requires that food imported into the region carries a label that indicates the amount of carbon or water footprints generated in producing the food, a concept many Asian farmers are still struggling with, says Southeast Asian Council for Food Security and Fair Trade (SEACON) Executive Director, Dr Anni Mitin.

CHALLENGE TO FARMERS

When we talk about food security, there are the four ‘A’s to consider: accessibility, affordability, availability and acceptability,” says Mitin to Bernama in an interview.

She says accessibility refers to the ease of reach for farmers to essential tools for their survival, such as food, information and technology for agriculture and production.

How does climate change affect this?

“During floods, even if there is food, you may not be able to transport food, so distribution becomes a problem. During a drought, access to water can be a problem. How can farmers plant when there is no water?”

Availability of food and productive resources such as land and seeds are also important to farmers, as is the affordability of the resources.

Mitin says a lot of the technology used in farming to counter problems caused by climate change such as drought resistant seeds are very expensive.

“Can farmers afford this?” she questions. “If not, how can you help them access the new technology?”

She says small-scale farmers will not be able to have access to this if there was no support.

Acceptability, meanwhile, refers to the standards of consumer preferences today.

“For example, is the food acceptable to you? Is it halal? Does it contain GMOs (genetically-modified organisms)? Does it contain harmful substances?”

MEETING TRADE DEMANDS

Limited access to knowledge and information only serves as a hindrance to farmers who are struggling to produce the kind of food that fit demand.

“How many small-scale farmers have heard of hi-tech agricultural jargon like GMO and nano-technology? Access to information on these subjects are still very limited,” she says.

Even if they have heard of it, is the technology readily available to them?

As countries begin to understand the amount of carbon emissions produced from the farm to the fork, they develop a certain ethics in going about with agricultural trade.

Mitin says many small-scale farmers are unaware or struggle to understand concepts like carbon footprints and the need for trading countries to know how much water is used in producing a crop.

“And that is how climate change has become a trade barrier for them. When they cannot trade, that will ultimately jeopardise their food security,” she says.

LOOKING AT OUR OWN BACKYARD

Mitin says in the bid to increase trade marketability of their products, SEACON had been trying to discourage subsidies of chemical fertilisers and pesticides to farmers. Conversely, it is encouraging small producers of compost and fertilisers to increase production and work towards having them integrated into the subsidy system.

However, heavy lobbying by chemical companies have prevented the effort from being realised.

“The industry is dominated by only three or four companies, and they are insisting that small producers of organic fertilisers can’t produce enough and that it is difficult to monitor the standard and consistency of their products,” she says.

Mitin says there is no substance to the claim. This is because climate change has caused countries to question the need to import.

Instead, they are looking at their own backyards and growing what they need back home.

“Countries like the United States and those in the EU are now buying from their own farmers,” she says.

Mitin says there is no reason why Malaysia should not do the same.

“In Johor they have enough small-scale producers to supply food for the state, so they should do just that. They don’t need to supply to the folks in Kedah,” she says.

She says SEACON encourages supporting community producers and wants to work with consumers on sustainable consumption. Consumers should know who is producing their food, how it is produced, how far it has traveled and how they can help reduce carbon footprints.

Such a move would not only help farmers sustain and ensure food security in the country, but it would also ensure food safety while buffering the effects of climate change.

Mitin will be speaking further on the subject at the upcoming International Conference on Climate Change, Agriculture and Related Trade Standards. The two-day conference which starts on Nov 1 at Istana Hotel, will discuss, among others, the necessary measures for adaptation of agriculture to climate change.

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