Building the Case for Climate Change-Resilient Agriculture in the Philippines

By Ioannis Vasileiou

They say policies and politics are much about timing. Many would argue that development is a political process itself. Thus, when travelling to the Philippines earlier this fall to participate in a Policy Forum, just a few weeks before the world is supposed to achieve a universal agreement on climate, and while the region is experiencing the effects of what is widely considered one of the worst El Niño phenomenons in years, a rigorous dialogue was expected -- one focusing on the intersection between climate change and agriculture.

And that’s what happened.

The National Economic and Development Authority of the Philippines (NEDA) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), as part of a multi-year project, supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), brought together top academics, key politicians, and other stakeholders, to discuss early results of a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive analysis on “Climate Change & Agriculture in the Philippines: Scenarios, Policies and Investments”.

That the Philippines is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, for a set of reasons including geography and development, is not news. In fact, a recent United Nations report identifies the country as the second-most at-risk, because of the effects of climate change, included. On the side, and although the Philippines has managed to sustain significant positive growth rates over several years, historically, low agricultural growth has hindered economic growth, especially as it still accounts for one-third of the employment. Climate change can adversely affect local agricultural production, which combined with the global impact on international commodity prices, can have negative effects on both the Philippines agriculture and economy. IFPRI’s Mark Rosegrant, presenting the results of a recently published policy note, estimated that the impact of climate change on agriculture is projected to cost the economy about 46 billion php per year, including effects on increased malnutrition, as the poor are more vulnerable to price adjustments. Taking both positive (higher commodity prices incentivize producers) and negative effects (yields are likely to drop) of climate change into account, the total crop production is still projected to be 4 per cent lower in 2050.

Given the above scenarios, is there scope for reducing the negative crop yield impact, mitigating the costs to the broader economy, and insulating the most vulnerable? Several speakers had the opportunity to share perspectives on necessary reforms, including on governance, productivity, financing, market and trade facilitation, as well as propose innovations, while tackling some of these risks. Whereas researchers discussed the assessed potential of several technologies, to compensate for the effects of climate change on production, Secretary Mary Ann Lucille L. Sering, of the Philippines Climate Change Commission, also underlined the cultural and behavioral considerations, while institutionalizing reforms. Furthermore, Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan, of NEDA, in his contribution, shared a “call to action” towards further market liberalization, increased investment in infrastructure (including irrigation, flood control and transport), investment in R&D, but also highlighted the need for “reform champions”!

Increasing investment in agriculture, promoting crop diversification, building resilience and adaptive capacity for farmers, mainstreaming crop insurance, and other topics, were also discussed through a climate change prism, with several national stakeholders offering useful perspectives. As Dr. Amelia P. Guevara, the Undersecretary for Research and Development pointed out, investment in R&D is critical in finding new ways to address climate change and disasters, and those products should be transformative but also tailor-fitted to the user and crop; thus the importance of nationally adapted mechanisms. The private sector is a key player in those investments, but incentives such as dealing with tenure issues in forestlands, remain to be resolved. Furthermore, incentivizing multifunctional agriculture, investing in high-value crops, combined with adoption of improved practices, and through better support services, although currently not straightforward, can pave the way to increased farm productivity, consequently helping to build resilience among farmers, and at multi-scales. Moreover, gender has a special weight and milieu in the Philippines, and thus it needs to be appropriately emphasized, in connection to agriculture and climate change.

Climate financing needs also to be better understood in the particular context of the country. Philippines is not unfamiliar to extreme weather events, and experience has showed that the informal financing sector, particularly with micro-credit, is often the first resort for help, in times of disasters. Thus, it needs to be included, while designing and implementing policies, targeting disaster risk management for farmers.

In 2015, the current El Niño phenomenon in the country may intensify to one of the worse in history, according to the Philippines weather agency. Changes in budgets in sectors affected by the phenomenon will be needed. In such a year, and while climate change effects are rising, the message by Senator’s Cynthia Villar, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Food, was clear: Research-backed evidence is critical in formulating effective long-term policy planning, but practical actions are equally necessary, towards a more climate resilient agriculture and economy.

Download: The economywide impacts of climate change on Philippine agriculture (PDF). By Mark W. Rosegrant, Nicostrato D. Perez, Angga, Pradesha and Timothy S. Thomas. Policy Note 1. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Related reading: Agricultural growth and climate resilience in the Philippines: Subnational Impacts of Selected Investment Strategies and Policies (PDF). By Timothy S. Thomas, Angga Pradesha and Nicostrato Perez. Policy Note 2. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Event announcementPolicy Forum on the future of Philippine agriculture: scenarios, policies, and investments under climate change
Project PageAddressing the impacts of climate change in the Philippine agriculture sector
Learn moreCCAFS in Southeast Asia