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Adaptations to Climate Change of

Poor Thai Farmers

Somchai Jitsuchon

Thailand Development Research Institute

For

Asian Development Bank

November 24, 2010

The views expressed in this paper/presentation are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or
policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Directors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not
guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding,
interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented, nor does it make any representation concerning the same.
Abstract

As country situating in Southeast Asia region, Thailand shares the region’s high
vulnerability to climate change. Evidences show temperature rising, declining rainfall in
general resulting in more frequent and prolonged droughts. Areas surrounding Bangkok and
the South are particularly at risks to hazards, but the North and Northeast regions are more
vulnerable as they host most of the country’s poor population, especially those in agricultural
sector. Adaptation of poor farmers is therefore an important issue that needs proper
attention. This report reviews some of the studies in this area in Thailand, and discusses
some recent developments that are related to adaptation to climate change in Thai agriculture.
It is found that Thai farmers have limited adaptation capability, in the sense that they can
adapt to mile, but not extreme, climate change. Without major adjustment and/or external
helps, the livelihoods of poor farmers are at risk. Organic agriculture provides a better choice
than conventional farming practice in both mitigation and adaptation. Other mechanisms
should also be encouraged, including community-based adaptation, weather insurance,
bioenergy, and market-based payment incentives for environmental services.
Table of Content

Introduction ............................................................................................................................................1
Impacts of climate change on agriculture ...........................................................................................2
Climate Change in Thailand and Impacts on Agriculture ................................................................3
Adaption to Climate Change by Thai Farmers ..................................................................................6
Recent Developments in Climate-Sensitive Agricultural Practices .................................................9
Organic Agriculture .......................................................................................................................... 9
Community-based Adaptation ........................................................................................................ 9
Insurance against Climate Change................................................................................................ 10
Protecting the Poorest.................................................................................................................... 10
Bioenergy ......................................................................................................................................... 10
Payment for Environmental Service ............................................................................................ 10
Roles of Private Sector ....................................................................................................................... 11
References ........................................................................................................................................... 12

List of Tables and Figures

Table 1 Rises of Temperature in Thailand ...................................................................................... 3


Figure 1 Climate Hazard Index in Southeast Asia ........................................................................... 4
Figure 2 Climate Change Vulnerability Index in Southeast Asia ................................................... 5
Table 2 Changes in Rainfall Patterns according to Rice Farmers in
Yasothorn Province in 2008 ................................................................................................ 6
Figure 3 A farmer operating water pump as part of adaptation to climate change .................... 7
Figure 4 Soil Carbon Content of Organic and Non-organic Agriculture .................................... 9
Figure 5 Restoring degraded pasture in Nicaragua using payments
for environmental services ................................................................................................. 11


Adaptations to Climate Change of
Poor Thai Farmers

Somchai Jitsuchon, Thailand Development Research Institute


Background Paper for Conference on the " The Environments of the Poor”,
24-26 Nov 2010, New Delhi1

Introduction

UNFCC defines climate change as “A change of climate which is attributed directly,


or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of global atmosphere which is in
addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”. Climate
change is closely related to global warming and greenhouse effect.
Climate change issues are certainly on top priority of development agenda at global,
regional and national levels. In Asia, the recent ADB study2 highlights how important the
issues are and that interventions are needed sooner rather later, as temperature is found to
increase at a speed of 0.1-0.3 Celsius per decade during 1951-2000 while the amount of rain
fell and see level rose.
Changes in weather resulting from climate change come in various forms; heat waves,
droughts, floods and cyclones. These become more often and more intense, and interfere
with human activities including economic activities. For example, ADB(2009) report
forecasts a decline of up to 50% on average in rice yield in Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines
and Thailand by the year 2100, compared to 1990. Agriculture is therefore among the most
affected sector with regard to climate change. At the same time, agricultural sector is also a
major source of climate change, for example, the emission of methane (CH4) from rice fields
is contributing to greenhouse gas. The sector therefore needs serious management that
involves both adaptation to and mitigation of the climate change. The issue of adaption is
particularly important for the poor farmers who face the impacts without much resource to
deal with the problems.
The purpose of this short paper is to review studies or episodes related to adaptation
mechanism that can be adopted by poor farmers, with focus on experiences from Thailand.
The paper then discuss adaptive potentials and necessary interventions to unleash those
potentials.

1
For more information, see the conference website: http://www.adb.org/Documents/Events/2010/Environments-
Poor/default.asp
2
Asian Development Bank (2009).

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Impacts of climate change on agriculture

Impacts of climate change on agriculture sector is widely recognized and well


documented. Changes in temperature, rainfall patterns and the increase in CO2 are all critical
to agricultural activities. Pests and diseases are also likely to change and therefore alter food
productivity, while geographic shifts in land areas affect their suitability for cultivation of key
staple crops.3 The impacts are most likely to be different from one area to the others.
Negative impacts are from geographic shifts, reduction in the quantity of water, and loss of
land due to rise in sea level. Some areas may benefit from increased temperate, especially
those areas that currently have limited potential due to cold weather. Atmospheric CO 2 may
also speed up growth process of some plants. Numerous other studies address both negative
and positive impacts. For example, C. Rosenzweig et al (2001) finds that raid-fed crops
declined in South and Southeast Asia, while Cruz et al. (2007), finds that crop yields might
increase by 20% in East and South-East Asia. In the case of Thailand, Parry et al. (2004) find
that the impacts on yields can be both increases or decreases depending on CO2 regime.
Given the mixed findings, the global impacts might be small or moderated. However,
the regional impacts could be large and devastating in some areas. For example, Southeast
Asia is among the most vulnerable region due to its high forestation, and strong dependence
on agriculture (ADB(2009).
For farmers, climate changes mean more weather variation. There are more rains in
some areas and during some periods, and less in others. As a result, some farmers gain and
some lose. Likewise, the rise of temperature can also make some plants grow faster. But
more importantly, it is the increased variation that causes concerns for farmers. More
unpredictable weather makes farm planning difficult, and adjustments that are needed once
changes occur are usually costly. Drought spells are more often and uncertain. Thicker
clouds from heightened evaporation obstruct sunlight and thus interfere with crop growth.
Overall, global warming and climate changes put more challenges to farmers in maintaining
their usual way of cultivation.
In the end, how climate change really affects the agriculture sector depends on
various factors, including the adaptive capacity, which in turn relates to socioeconomic
background of population involved. Poor and low-income farmers are more vulnerable
because they often rely on nature in their agricultural activities, and also because they are
already at risk of food insecurity and hunger. Small negative shocks can send their lives into
severe hardship.

3
Grasty (1999)

2
Climate Change in Thailand and Impacts on Agriculture

Since Thailand situates in Southeastern part of Asia, the country is therefore


vulnerable to climate change impacts. There are plenty of studies pointing out that Thailand
has shared experience of climate change as most other countries in the region. For example,
ADB(2009) reported an temperature increase by 1.04-1.80 Celsius per century. As recent as
this year, many provinces already recorded new temperature highs in April. See Table 1.
Rainfalls show a clear downward trend, droughts are more often and cyclones become more
uncertain.
To get a better view of how climate change affects Thailand, a comparison with other
countries in the region might be useful. Figure 1 shows the map of hazard index (a
combination of climate-related hazards such as tropical cyclones, floods, landslides, droughts,
and sea level rise) in Southeast Asia. From this map, Thailand does not suffer from hazards as much
as the Philippines, Indonesia and North Vietnam. However, some parts of Thailand do suffer; areas
surrounding Bangkok and the Southern part of the Thailand are particularly at risk.

Table 1 Rises of Temperature in Thailand


New High 2010 Previous High
Provinces Difference
Degree Degree Year
Mae HongSon 43.3 43.0 1991 0.3
Nan 42.5 41.7 1983 0.8
Lam Pang 43.1 42.9 2007 0.2
Sukothai 42.6 41.6 2003 1.0
Tak 41.0 40.9 2004 0.1
Pichit 40.7 39.3 2001 1.4
Buriram 41.7 40.8 2007 0.9
Kanchanaburi 43.0 42.0 1998 1.0
Songkhla 37.5 37.3 1998, 2004 0.2
Source: Weather Center, Thailand (cited in ..)

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.Figure 1 Climate Hazard Index in Southeast Asia

Source: Yusuf and Herminia( 2009)

Subjecting to hazards does not necessary means the areas are vulnerable. To define
vulnerability, Yusuf and Heminia (2009) incorporates exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive
capacity as factors determining vulnerability. They use IPCC definitions of these three
factors4 Figure 2 displays climate change vulnerability map of Southeast Asia. For Thailand,
South region and Bangkok and surrounding areas are again vulnerable. However, the western
parts of the country, which are not subject to much hazards (as shown in Figure 1) are now
vulnerable. This may imply high sensitivity and/or low adaptive capacity of the region.
There are a number of country-level studies of climate change and its impacts on
Thailand. For example, the Ministry of Science and Technology issued a report in 1994. The
report’s findings are a doubling of CO2 would results in (a) a decline of the tropical forest
areas in most part of the country, except for the South, (b) an increase of very dry tropical
forests in the North and the Northeast regions.

4
IPCC defines exposure as “the nature and degree to which a system is exposed to significant climatic
variations”; sensitivity as “the degree to which a system is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by
climate-related stimuli1”; and adaptive capacity as “the ability of a system to adjust to climate change
(including climate variability and extremes), to moderate the potential damage from it, to take advantage of
its opportunities, or to cope with its consequences”.

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Figure 2 Climate Change Vulnerability Index in Southeast Asia

Source: Yusuf and Herminia( 2009)

There are evidences of some altered weather conditions resulting from climate change
in Thailand that affect agriculture. Seasons are not as regular as in the past. Summers are
longer. Southeast monsoon are more severe with heavier but irregular rains, that is, heavy
rains alternate with long spells of no rain. Floods are more severe and often in some parts,
such as in the South. This year, 2010, has already witnessed one of the most severe floods in
several years. Some estimates are that the amount of rain will increase by 20 percent in the
next sixty years compared to the last one hundred years.
Increased weather variability alters biodiversity, which might cause extinct ion of
some animals and plants. For rice farmers, the usual farming patterns are no longer
applicable. One study that surveyed farmers in Yasothorn province of Thailand demonstrates
this fact that altered rainfall pattern affected crop cultivation cycle (see Table 2). Rains that
came too soon at the beginning of the cycle made soil preparation difficult, while planting
was delayed than before due to smaller amount of consequent rainfalls. At harvesting time,
too much rain now caused water logging and moisturized grains.

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Table 2 Changes in Rainfall Patterns according to Rice Farmers in Yasothorn
Province in 2008

Source: Supaporn Anuchiracheeva and Tul Pinkaew (2009)

Adaption to Climate Change by Thai Farmers

In this section, I focus on how low-income and poor farmers can adapt to climate
changes using some lessons from Thailand. I begin with a review of a small project by
Oxfam International in Thailand’s Yasothorn province, which is particularly interesting.
Yasothorn is one of poorest provinces in Thailand. It is located in the Northeast region of
Thailand, where most agricultural activities are tied to weather. Rain-fed rice farming is the
most prevalent occupation among the province’s farmers, as most of the areas are outside
systemic irrigation area.
Yasothorn has had its share of difficult experience with climate change. Weather
changes are already shown in Table 2 above. In the past few years, rainfall became more
unpredictable and often there were times during harvesting seasons that rains did not fall as
much as they used to. There was also an increasing risk that depressions from South China
Sea to Thailand became less often, from an average of once every year to about once every
three years. These depressions are important, and they provide rainfalls in Thailand,
especially in the Northeast region.
In 2007-2008 , Yasothorn experienced one of the longest drought season in decades.
The drought spell lasted from June to late August. According to the Thai Meteorological

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Department, the 2007 drought is something to be expected given the fact of rising
temperature and change in rainfall pattern. The delay of rainfall is therefore likely to repeat
itself more often in the future. This will affect the rice farmers, which represent around 90
percent of the province’s total population. As most of the farmers grow jasmine rice which is
light sensitive and thus require a fix timetable of cultivation, plantation, and harvesting, the
climate change has taken a high toll on the province’s farmers’ lives.
As part of an effort to help Yasothorn farmers adapt to and mitigate the impacts of
climate change, Oxfam International and some partner set a pilot project in 2008-2009,
focusing on how organic agriculture can help safeguarding the farmers. Fifty-seven organic-
farming households, with a total of 285 beneficiaries (57 female), joined the project. The
project activities consisted of climate change information provision, loans for water
management (pond, underground water, water distribution system and pump), promotion of
crop diversification (vegetable, fruit trees). Experience sharing among farmers was also
encouraged. It should be noted that despite smaller numbers among participants, women
were actively involved in the project. A post-project evaluation revealed that the participating
farmers were satisfied with the project outcomes, as food became more secured, rice yield
was not as low as they feared at the beginning of the year, and that water management helped
mitigating the impact of drought. In an interview with one of the participating farmers, she
mentioned the importance of crop diversification as a risk management tool.

Figure 3 A farmer operating water pump as part of adaptation to climate change

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In spite of this Oxfam initiative and its favorable outcomes, it should be noted that
the adaptive measures in this project was still limited in scope. Except for loan to water
management, which requires external subsidy, most of the measures adopted by the farmers
were somewhat traditional. For example, crop diversification has long been adopted by
farmers in many areas and locations.
The key questions are then how much farmers, especially the poorer ones, can adapt
to climate on their own, and what kind and with what degree external helps can help. A
novel study by Townsend et.al (2009) offers an answer to the first question. The study
combines economic model with biophysical model of rice cultivation and allows for
stochastic realization of a weather generator. They calibrated the integrated model into two
climate change scenarios (mild and severe) against the no-climate benchmark. Farmers in the
model were allowed to adopted mitigation strategy. The model used a panel data of four
villages in Sisaket, another poor Northeast Thai province. The key finding was that farmers
had limited capability to counter the adverse impacts of climate change, especially when the
climate change was extreme. The farmers were more able to cope with milder climate
change, and sometimes even benefit from it, by adjusting their input process into rice
cultivation. This coping potential was, however, more limited for poor farmers.
It should be noted that Townsend et.al model did not take into other broader
adaptation measures such as change in crop type or migration. One striking element of the
Oxfam project mentioned earlier is that all participating farmers grew organic rice. I will
discuss how organic agriculture can provide a better and more sustainable solution to climate
change later. On migration, the recent World Bank’s World Development Report
acknowledges this as one way to avoid climate change impacts. There are plenty other
adaptation and mitigation practices all over the world.
We can summarize the adaptive potential of farmers, poor and non-poor, to climate
changes as follows. First, farmers should use scientific data on impacts of climate change as
much as they can, and combine this with their own inherited knowledge derived from long
history of combating with climate uncertainty. Second, a process of continuous adaptation is
needed. Third, information and experience sharing among farmers can help screening and
speeding up of appropriate adjustment measures. Fourth, in the cases of more extreme
climate change, broader mitigation measures should be considered.

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Recent Developments in Climate-Sensitive Agricultural Practices

Much is needed to be done to help the poor farmers adapt to climate change. In this
section, I discuss some recent developments that have potential in this regard.

Organic Agriculture
Organic agriculture by itself can mitigate the climate change, as the production
process involves less emission of green house gas than conventional, non-organic, agriculture.
Using less chemical inputs also reduce carbon content in soil, as shown in Figure 4 below.
Figure 4 Soil Carbon Content of Organic and Non-organic Agriculture

Source: Soil Association, 2009, cited in….

Organic agriculture also provides better adaptation to climate change. For example,
organic rice is usually stronger and more resilient to climate variation than non-organic ones.
The spread out of aphids and weevils, which are sometimes associated with climate change,
are also less likely with organic agriculture. In marginal lands, organic agriculture farming is
usually more profitable, as the benefits from using chemical fertilizers and pesticides can fall
short of cost of purchasing them. Climate-related Poverty is thus less prevalent among
organic farmers.

Community-based Adaptation
Communities can help spreading agricultural practices that are more adaptive to
climate changes, most notably by sharing information and experiences. Other related
functions are also possible, especially the post-climate change assistances. In many cases,
communities can act as an effective conduit to channel social safety net assistance from the
central and local governments. Some can even mobilize their own resources to mitigate the
impacts. Some communities can also manage public assets or common resources (such as

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fish stocks). As climate change may cause damage to common assets as well, this capability
should be useful as well. However, there seem to be limit of communities to deal with
extreme climate changes, because the adjustments needed in such large scale are not what
most communities have experiences. World Bank (2010) calls for a ‘scaling up’ the
community-based success to more widely use.

Insurance against Climate Change


There is a growing interest to employ financial innovation to help mitigate climate
change adverse impacts, most notable insurance schemes. Weather insurance is clearly a
prime example of such efforts. Given that farmers are usually able to cope with mild climate
change, but not with extreme ones, the more suitable insurance schemes are those insuring
against catastrophic risks5.
Some initial attempts in this area have also been implemented in Thailand. The
World Bank launched weather insurance scheme a few years back. It is somewhat received
warmly by the government and policymakers. The current Thai prime minister mentioned
that in the long run weather insurance will replace the crop price guarantee scheme currently
in place. This will be a good move, as insurance is more market-based, more effective, and
better target to the poor farmers.

Protecting the Poorest


The well known fact that poor families are more vulnerable to climate changes call for
special treatment toward them. Guarantee of food sufficiency, either through cash or in-
kind transfer from the governments, or with helps from communities, should be
implemented. More generally, a more complete, perhaps universal, welfare system is required
in order to make sure that the poorest are not left out of the safety net.

Bioenergy
One recent development is bio-energy crops. Given most long-term forecast of high
price of fossil-base energy, it is envisioned that production bio-energy crops will expanded,
and become more popular among farmers. It is still not clear what the net impacts on
greenhouse gas of these crops are. ADB(2009), citing studies in Indonesia, found that
bioelectricity can reduce CO2 emission by 50-185 tC/ha. ADB(2009) continues to mention
Thailand as having strong potential in this area given its well developed agricultural sector.
However, a recent study in Thailand (JGSEE 2010) reveals a possibility that some of these
crops might produce net positive greenhouse gases.

Payment for Environmental Service


One novel idea to mitigate the climate change is to give incentive to farmers (and
non-farmers) to adopt or refrain from activities that are more (or less) environmental friendly.
For example, payments are made to farmers who adopt agro-ecological practices that enhance
5
See, for example, the Carribean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (World Bank, 2010, box 2.10).

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resilience to the ecological system. Figure 5 shows the benefit of such payment scheme in
Nicaragua. Although many farmers stopped the practices they were paid for once the
payment stopped, some resumed once they recognized the long-term benefit of the practices.

Figure 5 Restoring degraded pasture in Nicaragua using payments for environmental


services

Source: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, World Bank, cited in Oxfam (2009).

The above developments should be considered in addition to usual advices on policy


measures such tax policy, better land and farm management, regulatory measures and
international cooperation in mitigation efforts.

Roles of Private Sector

Perhaps the most promising area of public private partnership is in weather insurance
schemes. Most schemes involve private sector, as the final and sometimes intermediate
insurers. Governments can use tax money to buy crop insurance contracts, which can be
designed as an option contracts triggered by climate-related indicators such as rainfalls.
Alternatively, a completely market-based scheme can be developed, where individual farmers
purchase the insurance contract themselves. Chandarat et.al (2007) provides a theoretical
background on conditions under which such schemes can exist.
Another recent development that can be fitted into the climate change context is the
concept of social enterprises (SE), which is getting more attention in Thailand. It is viewed as
having potential for sustainable and yet effective means to mitigate the environment impacts
of economic activities. It is sustainable because these enterprises run on profit, or at least no-
loss, basis. As private entities, they are also mostly effective, avoiding many red tapes faced

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by public agencies. Many social enterprises are already focusing on improving environments,
so to steer them into climate change mitigation and adaptation will not be difficult.

References

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(เกษตรยังยืน ความหวั งสร้ างโรคร่มเย็น).
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