Why rice farmers are key to tackling climate change in the Philippines
17 Jun 2015 by Alexandra Soezer, MDG Carbon Project Manager, UNDP
When I began supporting the Philippines Programme for rice cultivation, I saw it through the lens of climate change mitigation.
The logic was, if we made some necessary improvements to cultivation methods, we could reduce greenhouse gas emission (GHG) and help mitigate climate change. This is especially important in a country where 29 percent of the GHGs come from rice cultivation.
However, I quickly learned that although you might be driven and committed to work towards reducing global warming, it does not necessarily lead to the critical buy-in of stakeholders like the Department of Agriculture, the National Irrigation Administration, and farmers.
Our Adaptation and Mitigation programme aimed to improve local cultivation techniques in order to lower GHGs. Irrigation techniques like the applied Alternative Wetting and Drying, allow for modification of water management for shorter periods of rice flooding and a reduction of methane emissions. The first phase of the program involves building capacity for these improved techniques and supporting farmers in diversifying their income sources through the production of mushrooms, vegetables or other crops. It was estimated that this would help the Philippines reduce GHGs by 36,455,063 tons of carbon dioxide. The programme would eventually be extended to the entire country and double the emission reduction potential.
These are impressive numbers and would go a long way towards helping the Philippines achieve its climate goals. However, undertaking the kind of changes that had been proposed requires more than national buy-in from policymakers keen to keep global temperatures in check, but also local buy-in from rice farmers.
The Philippines agricultural sector is critically important, providing for the livelihoods of 12 million Filipinos and a total labor force of approximately 40 million people. Out of that, rice is the most important crop, and its agriculture represents 11% of the growing GDP of the country. In addition, rice is a staple food for the vast majority of Filipinos. As it is, domestic rice production is insufficient to meet demands and imports are required. This balance is expected to tip further as populations continue to grow and as climate change threatens rice output.
It’s imperative that any climate mitigation and adaptation programme that targets the rice sector aim at increased and sustainable production, to ensure human food security while considering the adverse effects of climate change.
Noting this, UNDP proposed a training programme that would reach half of the rice farmers; and a complete overhaul of the Irrigation Service Fee system, so that farmers adopting the new method can be eligible to pay a reduced fee for water.
The new cultivation method achieves significant water savings of up to 30 percent without any loss of yield, which ultimately increases rice production and improved food security. Farmers are getting more interested to learn about these alternative methods that can help them to overcome both water and consequent yield shortages.
In the Philippines, it was not possible to promote mitigation actions without visualizing the linkages with the country’s national priorities. This showed me how essential it is to integrate our global priorities with national strategy and planning processes. If global goals and strategies are aligned with national growth opportunities, countries will be more eager to get involved in negotiating ambitious country targets.