John Bailey and Dr Raghunath Ghodake
Climate change has recently become a global issue attracting greater international attention with many governments and regional and international organisations taking various initiatives to address it. The implications of this phenomenon have been categorically analysed in the agricultural context, the sector which holds the livelihoods of the vast global population, especially the developing world.
Such was the international symposium on “Global climate change – Imperatives for agricultural research and development” at Tsukuba, Japan, from Oct 21-22 last year.
It was jointly organised by the Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) and the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), attracting 158 participants from 30 countries representing national agricultural research institutions, regional organisations, universities, donor agencies, farmer organisations, young professionals and private sector.
At the conclusion of the symposium, the “Tsukuba declaration on adapting agriculture to climate change” was unanimously adopted. This declaration consists of 10 key statements.
This column looks at how relevant are these statements to PNG.
The first two statements recognise that – the Asia-Pacific region sustains almost half the world’s population; that agriculture is critical for livelihood security in the region; that climate change is going to significantly increase regional temperatures, reduce water availability and erode coastal land as sea level rises; and that food security and environmental sustainability need to be assured against a background of declining natural resources.
These statements are highly pertinent to PNG, where over 80% of the population depends on agriculture for survival and where the effects of increased temperature, periodic water scarcities (drought) and rising sea levels are already being felt by farming communities in many parts of the country.
The third statement in the declaration recognises water availability as a key constraint for attaining food production targets, and recommends that attention be given to water storage measures involving farm ponds, reservoirs, groundwater storage and watershed management systems.
This recommendation is also highly relevant to PNG, where the risk of another severe El Niño drought in just a few years time (2012-13) has prompted NARI to apply for funding from the national agricultural development plan, AusAID, EU and World Bank to investigate appropriate systems of crop irrigation and domestic water supply provision to rural communities using a series of pilot studies.
The fourth and fifth statements recognise that increasing food production “in-country” is the best option to reduce poor people’s vulnerability to climate change variations and that the identification of new crop genotypes tolerant to multiple climate change induced stresses, including drought, floods, heat, salinity and pest loads, would assist in this regard.
Aware of the need for genetic resource manipulation to avert the risks of climate change on cropping systems in PNG, and of the need to increase staple food crop production, NARI has already initiated a programme to breed new early maturing, high yielding sweet potato varieties and to identify genotypes displaying drought, cold or excess moisture tolerance and resistance to viral and fungal disease infections.
The sixth and seventh statements focus on the need for early warning systems to alert individual countries of impending climatic risks, eg drought, floods and cyclones; the establishment of an ‘Advance centre for agricultural research and information on global climate change’ to serve the Asia-Pacific region; and the standardisation of weather data collection throughout the region.
In PNG, a number of organisations, including NARI and the Coffee Industry Corporation, has supplied regional weather data to the PNG National Weather Service (NWS), and this data is set to be utilised in a project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to produce a drought forecasting and early warning system for PNG.
The eighth statement encourages the governments of the region to collaborate on priorities to secure effective adaptation and mitigation strategies and to establish a regional fund for improving climatic services and weather-related risk management programmes.
Such an initiative is to be strongly welcomed in PNG. However, to date, the PNG Government has shown little interest in developing climate change adaptation strategies which is essential in protecting small-holder and subsistence farmers’ interests.
The ninth statement recognises that there are several possible approaches to enhance soil carbon sequestration, including the adoption of scientific soil and crop management practices and conservation agriculture.
For PNG, the adoption of these approaches is to be encouraged, not because soil carbon concentrations are in decline, but rather because there is a need to improve nutrient retention and recycling within agro-ecosystems and, thus help sustaining soil fertility and food production against a background of increased population growth and pressure on the land resources.
NARI is already involved in a number of projects to investigate the potential of conservation agriculture for maintaining soil fertility and crop production across the densely populated highlands region.
The final statement acknowledges that APAARI has been instrumental in stimulating regional cooperation for agricultural research in the Asia-Pacific, and encourages it to be even more active in this regard in the future, given the implications of global climate change for the region’s agriculture.
Because of Dr Raghunath Ghodake’s long-standing involvement with APAARI, NARI is well placed to be involved in any future collaborative initiatives on climate change mitigation that APAARI may seek to spearhead. NARI’s position is an advantage for PNG in such regional efforts for agricultural and livelihood security.
Next week: The column will focus on the global food crisis – Golden opportunity for PNG to be food secure and self reliant.