What is in this article?:
- Asian rice bowl threatened by climate extremes
- Managing Extremes
- Climate change and its potential to intensify droughts and floods could end Southeast Asia’s global dominance in rice production and pose a significant threat to millions of people across the region.
For Thailand, managing the agricultural challenges presented by climate change means planning to handle both too much water and too little. In one solution, known as “Managed Aquifer Recharge” (MAR), land in upstream areas of major rivers is set aside to “capture” floodwater and direct it into natural underground aquifers. With fully “charged” aquifers, farmers could then maintain rice yields during dry spells.
Current flood preparations revolve around adjusting water levels of dams on the Chao Phraya. After the 2010 droughts, water levels were kept higher to make more water accessible to farmers during drier times. But this in turn limited the ability of the dams to accommodate the record monsoons that took place only a year later. Experts are looking now to MAR systems as a way to help farmers ride out the dry side of climate extremes without creating problems when the pendulum swings back in the opposite direction.
In India, MAR is already being implemented on a broad scale to replenish groundwater supplies that have been drained by farmers, a problem many blame on the availability of cheap, subsidized diesel fuel for powering irrigations pumps.
Crop production is not the only aspect of agriculture that needs to adapt. Livestock production systems, especially in developing countries, are changing rapidly in response to population growth, urbanization and the growing demand for meat and milk. But current livestock production methods, for example, average about 900 liters of water just to create one liter of milk, according to Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, head of the International Livestock Research Institute’s (ILRI’s) Asia region.
“It is important to consider livestock’s impact on climate change,” Mehta-Bhatt said, “But you also need to consider climate change’s impact on livestock, such as heat stress and the migration of Bluetongue disease and other illnesses.”
In looking at the most extreme examples of climate change, Mannava V.K. Sivakumar of the World Meteorological Organization highlighted the increase in size, frequency and economic impact of extreme weather events.
“We can see that the losses associated with climatic risks are increasing,” Sivakumar said. “But much of the loss is not insured, meaning that most of the populations of developing countries have to pay the price for these disasters and our changing climate.”