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Climate change and food security


While working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), I have seen the extensive damage caused by super typhoon Yolanda in nine of the Philippines’ poorest provinces. I can never forget the first time I saw Tacloban — thousands of cadavers lay in debris, the streets smelled of death and decay, and in several barangays, not a single house survived. Students who were just studying for their exams woke up the next day with nothing but their shirts.


According to a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ocean heat content and sea level rise due to climate change worsened the impacts of super typhoon Yolanda, the deadliest and most devastating natural disaster in the Philippines so far.


But we do not need to experience more typhoons and other climate-related disasters to remind us that climate change is amidst us. It has already been unraveling itself in the past decades, intensifying year after year. Without the necessary interventions both on mitigation and adaptation, climate change will continue to threaten our communities and adversely affect our most basic needs, particularly food security.


According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), between 2010-2019, extreme weather events in the Philippines caused ₱463 billion in damages, 62.7 percent of which or about ₱290 billion were damages on the agriculture sector.


In December last year, typhoon Odette registered ₱11 billion worth of damages to agriculture. Fisheries was the most affected sector registering ₱3 billion in losses; followed by rice at ₱2.6 billion worth of losses.


In November 2021, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) released its Climate Change and Food Security Analysis (CCFSA) study in the Philippines. The study indicated that combined climate hazards, such as typhoon, flood, and drought will cause serious threats to food security. A major risk is price volatility of food items caused by disruption of food production in areas affected by climate-related hazards.


The CCFSA study outlined the top three climate-related risks for food security in the Philippines in the coming decades. (1) The increased rainfall variability, frequency and severity in many parts of the country will affect rice and annual crops livelihood zones. (2) The rise in mean temperatures will contribute to the spread of crop diseases and increased incidences of drought. (3) Extreme weather events such as super typhoons could impact agricultural and fisheries production due to the destruction of crops and fish catching/storage facilities from strong winds and flooding.


While these data show the impacts on agriculture, the effect will be most felt by the poor. The WFP study stresses that climate impacts on agricultural, livestock and fishery supply chains will affect food production, distribution, and consumption, which in turn affects the availability, affordability, and accessibility to nutritious food, particularly for the poor and marginalized populations. They who did not cause climate change will once again bear the brunt of its impacts.


We already have laws geared towards achieving climate resiliency, we have climate-resilient agriculture-related policies, and the Department of Agriculture (DA) has the Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative in Agriculture (AMIA) program since 2014, implementing technologies and practices like alternate wetting and drying (AWD), organic farming, and crop rotation, among many others.


Our farmers and fisherfolks need urgent support in making their livelihoods resilient to natural hazards and climate impacts. Led by the government, we need a whole-of-society approach to mitigate the impacts of climate change, we must all work together to combat the threats to our rural livelihoods and food security.

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