Climate change is real and is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today with a complex manifestation in terms of its impacts on agriculture and food security. In the last two months, a series of articles were published under this column, presenting facts about climate change, how it is affecting PNG, and what interventions are needed to safeguard communities.
The most immediate risk to PNG as a result of global climate change is strong El Niño-induced droughts. It is a temporary change in the climate of the Pacific Ocean around the equator whereby the ocean surface warms causing trade winds to slacken and thunderstorms away from PNG – thus causing droughts.
The frequency and intensity of these events have increased significantly in the last century in parallel with the increases in global temperatures. Situated on the western rim of the tropical Pacific, PNG has been and is vulnerable and this will continue to be so for eternity. Scientific evidence suggests that the 1997 El Niño-induced drought was the strongest and worst scenario in living memory for PNG.
While food aid programmes provide short-term relief, they are not long-term solution. The long-term solution lies in developing coping strategies and mechanisms aimed at better preparedness through scientific research. NARI responded with a World Bank funded research project and developed a series of drought-coping strategies for rural communities. The project aimed at developing and adapting technologies to manage impacts of droughts and frosts in PNG.
From this project, a number of strategies and adaptive mechanisms were identified and documented in a publication Drought response: On-farm coping strategies, NARI Information Bulletin No. 6. The information is also available online at www.nari.org.pg, in runtime CDs and in a range of topical leaflets in Tok Pisin (NARI Tok Tok series).
The document, compiled by NARI researchers, with contributions from the AusAID’s ACNARS project and members of the National Drought Response Committee, provides a resource of information for extension providers. Further, NARI documented the traditional drought coping mechanisms used by farmers during the 1997 drought.
This information can be found in Indigenous drought coping strategies and risk management against El Niño in Papua New Guinea by Sergie Bang and Kud Sitango (CGPRT Centre Working Paper No.74).
In the past century, not only has our planet warmed significantly but the strength and impact of El Niño events have also increased. Climatologists suggest that El Niños are recurring every 10-15 years with another major one likely in three-five years’ time. Given this, NARI recommends the adoption and implementation of the recommended coping strategies, including some traditional coping mechanisms.
Coping strategies can be categorised into those to use before, during and after a drought. People need to assess the drought situation before applying these strategies.
The strategies are presented under three headings:
* Pre-drought – when there is a forecast of dry conditions and crops face severe water deficits;
* Mid-drought – when crops face severe water deficits and crops fail; and
* Post-drought – between when good rains fall and harvest of first sown/planted crop.
Some of the short term strategies, which can be applied during drought periods include mulching of gardens, maintenance of planting materials and frost reduction (pre-drought); tuber storage, livestock management, water management, and fire management (mid-drought); and the cultivation of early maturing sweet potato varieties (post-drought).
The long term strategies include cultivation of varieties of drought tolerant sweet potato, banana and cassava; post-harvest processing; storage and use of grains and legumes like rice, corn and bean; and establishment of simple irrigation systems. People in Highlands areas should plant some gardens on hillsides to help reduce the effects of frost (frost moves down slopes and settles on food gardens in valleys causing irreversible damage).
It is recommended that farmers plant some of these drought tolerant crops or crop varieties, mostly staple foods, in every garden each year for assured production. These include sweet potato, banana and cassava varieties that NARI has released for both the lowlands and highlands.
The dissemination and adaptation of drought-coping strategies in rural communities should be an obvious consideration by authorities and development partners. They have been promoted in NARI events and other public ceremonies. The strategies are available at NARI centres and can be made available to extensionists, development partners, schools, farmers and vulnerable communities.
PNG needs immediate interventions to adapt to climate change and mitigate its negative impacts on food and water security. The vulnerable communities need to change their practices of sustaining their livelihood.
Indigenous knowledge which has been relied upon by generations to survive will not be adequate to combat the changes in the climate that are occurring. PNG requires a multi-pronged strategy and a multi-stakeholder action in the areas of agricultural research for development, policy and resource support, and strategic and effective implementation.