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How can agriculture adapt to continued drought?

Published on 14 September 2015 Indonesia

Cracked earth and dried rivers have become a common sight in Indonesia in recent months, following a prolonged period of low rainfall. Water shortages have even forced many farmers to leave their fields and cattle are going underfed.

The situation has been exacerbated by low water levels in many dams. The drought has hit farmers hard, but there is plenty we can do. We have to adapt. The first thing we need to do is understand the causes we are dealing with. Drought is just the result.

El Niño has changed the weather pattern in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, caused by warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) revealed that El Niño would strengthen and reach its peak in September and October 2015.

However, this weather phenomenon is manageable. In the Agriculture Ministry’s Strategic Plan 2015-2019, climate change is among five agriculture development challenges. The government is highly aware of the issues surrounding climate change and especially its impact on agriculture. 

Good awareness is reflected in abundant assistance for farmers. The government has installed as many as 21,000 water pumps, developed reservoirs and dug shallow wells in various regions. Tertiary irrigation systems have been built to cover 1.3 million hectares of rice field.

Long drought cycles and extreme weather not only need awareness, but also adaptive action. Governments, universities and research institution have abundant experts and technology. Now is the time to mobilize that potential. 

Indonesia is a center of tropical agricultural technology and is at the forefront of agricultural development research in the tropics. 

Drought adaptation and mitigation technologies have been discussed in many studies. We have rice seeds that are adaptive to drought. This seed requires less water, but will still do well during normal seasons. 

No one can stop drought, but we can apply soil-enriching, rain water-harvesting methods to lessen its effects. In addition, advanced irrigation systems can overcome water shortages on agricultural land. We need to practice drought management constantly.

Second, we have to stand side-by-side with farmers. Their traditional farming practices need to change, and they need to prepare themselves to accept new technology. Transfer of technology from library or lab to land and farmer is still a big challenge. 

Farmers need comprehensive information about climate change, El Niño and many things in between. The information will be more beneficial for farmers if we can tell them what to prepare for. Thus, knowledge management is important. 

Drought adaptation technologies must be put into practice at the farmer level. This will not only help to overcome drought, but also support rice production in 2015 to meet the target of 75.5 million tons. Technology application needs serious and concerted efforts from researchers, officials and farmers themselves.

Farmers would not have to abandon their land if they knew how to adapt to drought. We need to ensure they do not fall victim to hopelessness. Farmers households decrease every year; agriculture has no attraction for the young, and many farmers are determined that their children will not follow in their footsteps. So who will then grow crops?

Third, financial support is very important. Haoliang Xu said recently that addressing climate change now would come with a price tag, but would be much less costly than inaction. Nevertheless, he said, financing the response to climate change was a significant concern.

Financial support to fight climate change has to focus on creating new technologies through research and development, using local resources. 

Farmers need money to work their own land, but easy cash is not a good idea. Irresponsible loans will leave farmers in deep debt. We need to provide them with applicable, sustainable technology.

Those of us who are not farmers, meanwhile, have our own duties. We need to respect nature and stop polluting the environment and the soil. In the words of Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese farmer and philosopher, “Rain doesn’t fall from the sky, it comes from the soil.”



Source: The Jakarta Post | 13 September 2015