Jasmine Rice: Adapting rice farming to climate change in Northeast Thailand

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Oxfam supports communities and organisations around the world that are already developing the tools and techniques that can be used to adapt to global warming. This case study is one in a series that highlights some of this work to assist programme practitioners in sharing and learning on climate change adaptation. In 2007, after the Yasathorn Province in Northeastern Thailand experienced its longest rainy-season dry spell in decades, Oxfam along with partners Earth Net Foundation decided to take action to safeguard the livelihoods of the region’s farmers. In consultation with farming communities, Oxfam and ENF implemented a one-year pilot climate change adaptation project designed to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on the production of organic jasmine rice. As part of the project, men, women and children were educated about climate change and its potential impacts in Thailand
  Oxfam Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Resources: Case Study Jasmine Rice in the Weeping Plain:  Adapting Rice Farming to Climate Change in Northeast Thailand Supaporn Anuchiracheeva, Tul Pinkaew  Introduction In 2007, farmers in Yasothorn Province, north-east Thailand, experienced the longest dry spell during a rainy season in decades. The dry spell, lasting from June until late August, reduced crop yields, lowering farmers’ income and reducing their food security. Yasothorn, one of the 10 poorest provinces in the country, is part of the legendary ‘Weeping Plain’ named after its barren landscape. The Plain spans ve provinces, covering more than 2.1 million rai (829,500 acres). The Plain’s dry conditions have made it suitable for growing the world-famous fragrant jasmine rice.However, statistics from the Meteorological Department suggest that the dry spell that occurred in 2007 is not a one-off phenomenon, but part of a gradual trend that has developed in the past decade, due to rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns caused by climate change. Rainfall records for Yasothorn in the last decade show that the rains are arriving later and later each year, from a few days late to many weeks. 1  A recent study has conrmed that the phenomenon is real. It shows that the annual number of tropical depressions in Thailand in the last 30 years fell from 30 to 10; tropical storms declined from 55 to 35, and typhoons from 70–80 to 45–50. 2  The reduction in the frequency of depressions is signicant, because without them tropical storms and typhoons do not provide enough rain during the dry season.  Almost 90 per cent of people living in Yasothorn Province are farmers. 3  Most farms in Yasothorn are rain-fed, with no irrigation facilities. Jasmine rice is light-sensitive and has to be grown during particular months of the year; so when there is no rain, rice plants are left to wither in the scorching sun. When seasons start late and rain does not fall, the impact on rice yields is signicant. Combined with rises in temperature, this means that Thailand’s biggest production hub suffers greatly. Irregular weather in the form of hot and cold spells also causes pest attacks on rice crops and fungal disease, reducing the quantity and quality of the crops. Climate change in Thailand 4 ã Temperature increasesã Changes in rainfall patterns (frequency and intensity)ã Prolonged droughtã Intense rainfall events, leading to ooding and storm surgesã Reduced agricultural production, including lower rice yieldsã Impacts on food and water security, health,  settlements, forests Pictured above and below: Planting small rice plants into the paddy elds. 1  Oxfam takes action Oxfam has been working with local organisation Earth Net Foundation (ENF) since 2004, promoting organic agricultural production and fair-trade marketing with farmers in Yasothorn Province. Compared with conventional chemical-based farming, organic farming is less dependent on off-farm inputs, requires less energy, and is more environmentally sound. In 2007, ENF was working with three farmers’ groups in Yasothorn, consisting of 509 families certied as organic farmers. A combination of scientic ndings and observed changes by communities and programme staff prompted Oxfam to take action to safeguard the livelihoods of farmers. In consultation with farming communities and ENF, Oxfam decided to implement an initial one-year pilot climate-change adaptation project for organic rice (May 2008 – March 2009). Fifty-seven out of the 509 organic-farming households decided to join the scheme. They included: ã 20 families belonging to the Bak Reua Rice Farmers’ Group of Sanam Chai District, Yasothorn ã 25 families from the Nature Care Club,  Kut Chum District, Yasothorn ã 12 families from the Lerng Nok Tha and Thai Chareon Organic Farming Co-operative. Pictured above: An example of one of a number of integrated farming systems designed and implemented as part of the programme: Bung-On Phungkit working in her vegetable garden beside the paddy eld. Table 1: Changes in rainfall patterns according to jasmine rice farmers in Yasothorn Province, northeast Thailand, 2008  MonthAprilMay-JuneJuly-September OctoberNovember        A    c     t      i    v      i     t    y ‘Normal’ climatePrepare soilPlant seedlingsTransplant seedlings Seedlings ower and growHarvest  jasmine riceClimate nowStarts raining Little or no rainRain comes at the end of August, heavy in September Rain continuesRain continues even heavier, stops at the end of November EffectsDroughtDroughtWater loggingEffects on cropsSeedlings wilt, hard to transplant Grain quality affected by high moisture and a lack of colder, dry weather  2  Of the 285 beneciaries, 57 were female.The project also received support from START (Global Change Systems for Analysis, Research and Training), which provided technical input on climate-change issues and supervised/commented on the adaptation process, as well as training project extension ofcers to interpret weather forecasts. Project activities 1. Provision of climate-change information to farmers; participatory decision making Men, women, and children were educated about climate change and its potential impacts in Thailand. Using this information, participants shared ideas about how they could adapt their farming practices to cope with these changes, and they designed their own on-farm water-management systems. In designing these systems, they took into consideration their own farm sizes, energy-saving opportunities, and household labour force, making sure that the systems were convenient for women and children, who are key sources of labour for rice farming and vegetable gardening.In addition to designing their own water-management systems, they discussed how they could adapt to climate change in the longer term, beyond next year’s harvest, using other adaptation strategies. 2. Provision of loans to project participants ENF established the Water Management in Organic Agriculture Fund, which provided loans of up to 30,000 baht (US$ 880) to each household, to assist in the construction of on-farm water-management systems. The loans are offered at low interest rates (1–3 per cent) for 1–6 years. The Fund lent money to all 57 project households: 1,400,000 baht (US$ 41,000) in total. Pictured above: Noograi Sangsri working in her paddy elds. The integrated farming systems that were designed as part of the programme took into consideration the needs of women by piping water directly into the elds, thereby reducing the amount of time women spend in the eld. Project objectives: ã Support farmers to recognise and understand the impacts of global warming and climate change. ã Support farmers with appropriate water-management systems for their organic farms. ã Promote selected farmers as role models and catalysts for change, by means of sharing their knowledge and experience with other farmers in Yasothorn. ã Study the impact of climate change on women. 3
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