Climate change threats on food security in Asia: A look at Cambodia and Myanmar

Climate change poses one of the greatest threats to global food production and extends to many different food systems including crops, cereals, livestock and fisheries. Its impacts include increasing occurrences of drought, intense rainfall and floods bringing about water shortages, soil degradation and spread of disease that severely effects crops and livestock.

Climate change and Myanmar’s livestock sector

In Myanmar, agriculture, fisheries, and livestock sectors, characterized by small-scale production, supports the income, food security, and livelihoods of approximately 70 percent of the population. Smallholder livestock farmers typically raise a small number of animals to support their household incomes and use feed resources from their surrounding environment.

Climate change negatively impacts the livestock sectors in two apparent ways: feed quality and quantity and livestock health. Changes in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide effects ambient temperature which influences crop yield and feed quality.

In addition, disease epidemics could also be triggered by climate change since the development stages of internal and external parasites are influenced by ambient temperatures. Climate change also stresses the physiological and thermoregulatory control systems within livestock which could also lead to decreased dairy production, growth, reproduction, and low feed conversion efficiency.

According to data from the Myanmar Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, agriculture and livestock sectors contributed up to 18 percent of methane emissions in 2000. It is estimated that methane within the livestock sector is produced primarily (around 90%) from enteric fermentation in the digestive processes of cattle and buffalo while a smaller amount occurs from manure production.

Climate change policy in Myanmar’s livestock sector should consider socio-economic aspects to ensure that policies do not increase food prices and threaten the food security and livelihoods of smallholder livestock farmers. Policymakers could consider a multifaceted approach to developing the livestock sector that can address both environmental and social concerns.

Climate change impact on crop production in Cambodia 

In Cambodia, crop production including rice, cassava, maize, and beans significantly contributes to the country’s economy and ensures food security and livelihood activities for millions of people.

Much of the country’s crop production is rainfed. Overly dry and wet conditions with farmers experiencing both droughts and floods in one cropping season is among the greatest challenges faced by farmers. Impacts from rainfall variability also differ throughout the country as rainfall varies by month and geography. Each year, Cambodia experiences crop losses to drought while floods destroy crops in other areas.

Projections of warmer temperature and unpredictable rainfall pattern variability in Cambodia predicts an uncertain future for farmers because of their high dependence on rainfed cropping production for livelihood and low adaptive capacity.

Already, farmers are burdened by the impacts of climate change. Farmers observe increasingly unpredictable rainfall and struggle to cope with the challenges it poses. These challenges have made farming too precarious an occupation, forcing farmers to leave their farms and try other livelihood activities (non-farming activities), as well as seek off-farm jobs in cities and neighboring countries.

Policy recommendations for the livestock and agriculture sectors

To support livelihoods and strengthen the adaptive capacity of farmers, policymakers and development partners should consider a diverse array of interventions to strengthen farmers’ adaptive capacity to environmental, socio-economic, and agronomic stressors.

Within the livestock sector, policymakers need to develop actions and strategies in the sector considering both climate and livelihood aspects.  One area worth exploring for policymakers is to consider the growing evidence which shows that the type of feed (i.e. the nutritional composition of fibers, carbohydrate, sugar) influences levels of methane gas from the animal. This knowledge could be shared with farmers to develop environmentally-friendly farming practices that can both reduce emissions while increasing income.  

In the cropping production sector, an effective option for building farmers’ resilience to climate variability is constructing and strengthening water storage and irrigation schemes. Relatively low-cost options include on-farm water facilities (i.e., ponds) to harvest rainwater and groundwater development (i.e., deep wells) to pump water from the ground. Higher-cost programs include the rehabilitation and new construction of drainage systems, dams and reservoirs. However, careful study and assessment of water availability and quality is necessary before investing in these structures to ensure long-term sustainability, impact and cost-effectiveness.

Lastly, for all sectors involved in food production, agricultural insurance may help farmers manage risks and uncertainties associated with climate change. While some risks can be managed through modifying on-farm practices, other risks (i.e., drought, flood, etc.) can be transferred to agricultural insurance markets. This risk-shifting mechanism comes with additional costs for farmers in the form of premiums to an insurance company. To protect farmers, insurance must inspire a high degree of confidence in farmers and attract different forms of cash loans and input credits.

We have highlighted here the central role farmers play in food security and the risks they bear from climate change. As such, it is crucial for the government to strengthen adaptation and resilience within farmers to ensure food security and protect livelihoods in Southeast Asia.

Sustainable Mekong Research Network

Building research for policy towards sustainable development in the Mekong Region

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