Thailand has been suffering its worst drought in a decade. Thai farmers have battled for much of the year against a water shortage that has dehydrated staple crops and halted planting. One cannot deny that the terrible state of affairs is climate change-related.
According to future climate predictions and modelling, results indicate that over the next 30 years temperatures in both the upper and lower areas of the Chao Phraya River are likely to rise even further and the frequency of extreme weather events will only increase. Higher temperature and changes to the rainfall pattern could also adversely affect agricultural productivity.
How should Thai farmers respond to these unfavourable climate prospects? Resigning themselves to fate and trying to cope with the same problem year in and year out spells defeat. They need to confront the problem of climate change and undertake adaptation strategies.
But droughts and floods are also not a novel phenomenon for Thai farmers. They have coped with droughts and floods over the past three decades, and learning how they have done so can provide useful insights into how to deal with whatever hazards the future brings.
To find out, the Thailand Research Development Institute conducted an economic analysis using data collected from the farm household survey. We interviewed 815 households in six provinces in the Chao Phraya River Basin – namely Phitsanulok, Uthai Thani, Nakhon Sawan, Suphan Buri, Sing Buri and Ayutthaya. These provinces are floodand drought-hazard areas, according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
This study aimed to find out how farmers in the Chao Phraya River Basin have dealt with severe floods and droughts in the past so the lessons can be shared with farmers in other parts of the country.
According to the survey, the strategies taken include changing the crop calendar, changing crop types and changing crop varieties.
The study shows that by customising farming methods to extreme weather events, rice farmers were able to increase their yields by 31kg per rai, compared to the non-adapted households. But the costs of production were higher, especially in the first few years of change to the farmland, when farmers need to acquire new plant varieties and buy the proper equipment. At present, there are a number of factors that make adaptation much more difficult, such as lack of information on adaptation technology and lack of capital. Above all, it is now clear that no matter how hard these farmers might work, the shortage of water is insurmountable. To cope with new difficulties, farmers should be given support to find additional jobs and alternative incomes during the dry season or times of flood and to add value to their farm produce.
It is also important for farmers to think clearly about their production and annual incomes goals. For example, they should identify and plant crops that are more suitable to each season, taking into account the risks from floods and drought. But old habits die hard. Farmers need to be encouraged to change their attitudes and pay more attention to risk diversification and risk management. They should also be able to make longterm plans to generate various sources of income over the course of the year to ensure stable and sufficient income for their families.
This is where government assistance and guidance comes into the equation. Farmers need state assistance on how to adapt farming to new climate conditions. Both national and local government agencies involved in agricultural promotion should provide technical assistance and financial support, such as low-interest loans, with the aim to help farmers make necessary adaptations and plan.
The government also needs to effectively communicate with the public about the the dangers of climate change. Farmers need to be sensitised and updated about climate conditions and the implications on their livelihoods and well-being so they realise the threats are severe, and adapt in time.
Kannika Thampanishvong is a Research Fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from the TDRI appears in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.
First published: Bangkok Post, October 14, 2015