Climate Change and Food Security: Incentives for U.S.-Asia Cooperation

28 May

By Mary Howard, PISA Program Assistant

With the recent releases of the United States’ third National Climate Change Assessment (NCA) and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) book, The Environments of the Poor in Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, attention to impending climate change is accelerating.  Reports on climate change serve a vital function to present information from various disciplines, such as science and economics, in an integrated matter to inform society about complex processes. While the NCA and ADB’s works are regionally focused, both reports highlight parallels which strengthen the argument for global cooperation to mitigate and adapt as necessary to climate change.

The Global Change Research Act of 1990  requires the U.S. Global Change Research Programto produce an NCA every four years. The purpose of the NCA is to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” The ADB’s publication inaugurates an upcoming three-volume series based on a 2010 conference that included diverse actors. While climate change often invokes negative and worrisome feelings, this report remains positive and argues that “reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and responding to climate change” can happen simultaneously as a “triple-win” situation.


A Burmese sunset over the rice paddy fields along the road to Mandalay just outside Myanmar’s capital city of Nay Pyi Daw on February 17, 2013. Photo credit: Sandi Moynihan.

Both the NCA and ADB’s work describe the anticipated harms due to climate change: extreme weather, flooding, spread of infectious diseases and pests, infrastructure failures, and ecosystem collapses, many of which will have an impact on agriculture. A United Nations report predicts that by 2050, world population will be a staggering 9.6 billion people with Asians comprising the  major portion. Feeding 9.6 billion people in a world facing food security problems is a challenge. However, the NCA and ADB report are optimistic: with the correct policy implementation and technological innovations, agricultural production could increase. Climate change has the potential to affect agricultural systems positively and negatively, depending on location and other environmental factors. The key is to develop practices that will take advantage of any opportunities that the changing climate presents.


Food stall in Yangon, Myanmar on February 16, 2013. Photo credit: Sandi Moynihan

The NCA describes “climate change induced stresses,” which echo those in the ADB volume. China provides a useful case study for American policymakers, since the country’s decline in rural poverty rate coincides with increasing food production rates. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, China’s grain production increased from 285 kg per capita during the early 1980s to over 300 kg per capita onwards, except in 2003. In the chapter, “Climate Change, Food Security, and Poverty in the People’s Republic of China,” author Qi Gubo describes how Chinese farmers’ responses to climate change have been effective. Simple measures such as moving the crop sites, planting different crop varieties, producing drought-resistant crops and increasing greenhouse crop ventures has raised overall output. In a different chapter, “Conservation Agriculture in Cambodia,” authors describe current land use trials in Cambodia that may have international applications. In Cambodia, experts are experimenting with sustainable upland agriculture programs to support technical training for farmers, increase access to resources, and increase land-use efficiency.

Considering the global nature of climate change and its impact on food security, the U.S. and countries in Asia should continue to strengthen information sharing and policy cooperation. Effective collaboration already exists within multilateral venues such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. As these two reports issued this month reveal, climate change induced problems facing developing and developed countries are the same. However, each nation differs in its ability and resources to address climate change. While each country’s situation is unique, it is clear that there is much to learn from both hemispheres and all levels of development.

Calling Out Climate Change – Reactions Across Asia

28 Apr

By Spogmay Ahmed, PISA Staff Assistant 

Climate change has struck, and if we do not take immediate action, its pernicious impacts will continue to exacerbate. This is what the International Panel on Climate Change warns in its recently released Fifth Assessment Report. Though climate change is a global phenomenon, the report notes that much of the world, particularly developing countries, do not have adequate resources to counteract its risks. The report therefore advances adaptation as a necessary approach in responding to a changing environment. Climate change can easily aggravate ongoing social and economic processes; developed and developing countries need to cooperate to ensure steady growth. Among the countries left most vulnerable are those in Asia, which have not hesitated to address the risks in their local media.

An article in the China Daily recognizes the impact of global warming, as well as food and water scarcity on China’s growing economy. Though yields of winter wheat may benefit from rising temperatures and increasing precipitation, yields of rice may be threatened by these same changes. Additionally, as the Chinese population continues to grow, the country may face challenges in guaranteeing healthy food and clean water for all. The article notes that the IPCC report focuses on livelihoods and poverty, which could bring attention to rural populations most vulnerable to a changing climate. In terms of adaptation, the article explains that despite the government’s efforts towards promoting adaptation projects, local planners struggle to access effective resources for further implementation. Lastly, it emphasizes local development and community-based adaptation as a sensible approach to combating climate change. This requires the participation of vulnerable peoples, thereby targeting climate change within the framework of local developmental policies.

Likewise, an opinion editorial in the Indian press titled “The quiet IPCC warning” focuses on much of the same phenomena. It recognizes that changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, and disappearance of land could generate large-scale migration across South Asia. This would result in a conflict over diminishing resources, and could aggravate existing structural inequalities and poverty conditions. The article notes that the most vulnerable states are arguably the most dysfunctional. Therefore, creating adaptation policies will not be an easy undertaking.


The Costs of Climate Change: Aggravating Caste-Based Discrimination

4 Mar









By Spogmay Ahmed, PISA Staff Assistant

To many, climate change is simply another story in the news, a phenomenon left for the experts to solve. Rather, it is a harsh reality that exploits the already existing social and political discrepancies that mark everyday affairs. In South Asian countries like India, Nepal, and Pakistan, parts of society are organized according to a caste system. This form of social order permits little mobility and subjugates those individuals comprising the lower ranks of society. To add to the institutionalized inequality that low-caste communities face every day, climate change only exacerbates their vulnerability. When natural disasters strike, these people are left homeless, defenseless, and are even exploited for their labor. With the unpredictability of climate change threatening all populations, low-caste communities are left neglected and in dire need of political attention.

The “Equality in Aid” report recently released by the International Dalit Solidarity Network analyzes the pernicious impact of caste-based discrimination on Dalits, or ‘untouchables’ at the undermost level of the caste system in South Asian countries. For example, though untouchability was outlawed in India’s 1950 constitution, discrimination against lower-class individuals persists. Without proper accountability mechanisms in place, the government cannot be sure that laws are being effectively implemented at the local level. Therefore, structural inequality leads to the marginalization of these communities. Dalits are typically landless, and the few assets they own are often not formally recognized. During times of crisis, Dalits are disposed to lose everything they have, and their untouchable status leaves them at a loss for receiving emergency aid. To add to this maltreatment, Dalits are even taken advantage of with complete disregard for the trauma they may have experienced themselves. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, for example, Dalits in India were forced to remove corpses and debris with little or no compensation received. Dalits have been denied fundamental resources, such as health care, shelter, and access to clean water. Additionally, their lack of documentation leaves them ineligible to claim their land and property rights. Priority is offered to higher-class people, while discrimination against Dalits often goes without retribution. The structural repression Dalits face as a product of their low social status is only aggravated by administrative ignorance and governmental limitations.

The report lists a number of recommendations to address the problems caused by caste-based discrimination. First, humanitarian actors must ensure that the issue is publicly recognized. To promote disaster prevention and response, they must engage directly with low-caste communities to advance their needs. Second, humanitarian actors must agree to a common approach that fosters consensus and encourages stronger response mechanisms. Last, they must support laws and policies at all administrative levels that recognize the situation of marginalized groups, advance accountability, and adequately address the effects of caste-based discrimination. These steps are fundamental to effectively tackling the social barriers low-caste communities regularly face.

Climate change has been attracting increasing attention around the world, but some of its effects have been utterly overlooked. As environmental concerns make their way onto the international stage, regional concerns need not be neglected. Inevitably, climate change impacts both developed and developing countries. It is important that these countries do not fall along dividing lines, but recognize the realities that are really at stake. Among these realities is the pending exploitation of regional, low-caste populations. Since natural disasters can strike unexpectedly, it is crucial that preparedness and response be carried out in an effective, equitable fashion.

“Using Indigenous Knowledge to Promote Local Leadership and Sustainable Resource Management in Myanmar”

24 Sep

As part of PisaSpeak’s  month-long guest blogger Series – “Tell us what you’re doing in the field” we heard from Priscilla Clapp, blue moon fund, about the need for integrated watershed management in Myanmar.  This week’s post comes from Rainer Eizenberger, Program Coordinator, Heinrich Böll Stiftung and focuses on a new program that taps community leaders in an effort to build support for indigenous knowledge in natural resource management.  

Guest Blogger:  Rainer Eizenberger, Program Coordinator Southeast Asia, Heinrich Böll Stiftung

Photos: Rainer Eizenberger, Participatory Indigenous Natural Resource Management Workshop, Myanmar 2013


EditorImage: Suzanne Kelly-Lyall

While Myanmar has seen remarkable political changes over the past few years, conflicts over natural resources and environmental degradation have been on the rise. Reports about conflicts over land, mining projects, hydropower mega-projects and others dominate the recently liberalized local media landscape. In many cases the conflicts are linked to investment projects from neighboring countries (mainly China and Thailand) which result in unsustainable resource extraction with detrimental effects for both- the environment and the local and indigenous communities. As more investment in the resource sector is to be expected following Myanmar’s economic liberalization, it could put further pressure on already vulnerable communities. This is especially the case in the resource rich ethnic areas.

Enter Heinrich Boll Stiftung and EcoDev/Alarm…..


“In order to empower local communities to manage their natural resources in a more sustainable way it is crucial to build up a critical mass of local development practitioners and NGO workers who are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with these new challenges.” To this end, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia together with EcoDev/Alarm and several other local partner organizations, joined hands to create a specialized Training of Trainers Program on Participatory Indigenous Natural Resource Management. Over the past year, more than twenty trainers representing local organizations from all parts of Myanmar have acquired new skills and knowledge at one of several weeklong workshops conducted across the coImageuntry. The training program includes participatory methods such as Participatory Action Research, moderation and visualization skills (VIPP), exposure to legal frameworks regarding natural resource rights and more. In local communities, future trainers learn to appreciate and explore indigenous and local knowledge and the value of indigenous knowledge for sustainable development at the local level. After completing the program the participants receive certificates issued by the Right Livelihood College and continue the training program within their own organizations. As part of the program two manuals on Visualization in Participatory Programs (VIPP) and Participatory Action Research (PAR) are now available in Burmese Language editions and distributed at no cost as hard copy and e-book for downloads to local civil society organizations.

Want to tell us about the fantastic work you’re doing and how it makes a difference?  Send my your written or audio post:

Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar

10 Sep

Special Guest Bloggers:

Sheridan Hyland, Program Associate, blue moon fund and Priscilla Clapp, Retired Minister Counselor, U.S. Foreign Service

Former Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Burma, for the blue moon fund


 Within the past few years, we have seen the Union of Myanmar, formerly Burma, open itself to the international community and begin a promising reform process.  These new changes provide both opportunities and challenges for Myanmar’s development, and one of the most important components for development is water.  A significant portion of Myanmar’s population still resides in rural areas, and as a result agriculture accounts for the dominant share of the country’s water usage.[1]  The energy sector, however, specifically the hydropower, has been steadily increasing its water usage as Myanmar seeks to expand economic productivity, raise incomes, and alleviate the acute poverty of the majority of the population.  With four key rivers as identified by the Government of Myanmar– the Ayeyarwady, Sittoung, Thanlwin, and Bago – as well as numerous important tributaries[2], Myanmar’s water resources are significant and offer potential solutions to many of the development challenges the country faces, if they are employed wisely and efficiently.

As greater emphasis on environmental challenges has become global, it is clear that careless use of natural resources cannot continue indefinitely, and Myanmar’s government, civil society, and population have recognized that water resources management systems must be put in place to ensure sustainable development of the country’s economy and resources.  Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), in particular, has gained significant traction in Myanmar.  IWRM is a practical and goal-oriented process for water use that “promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.”[3]  Participation of key stakeholders – in water and other sectors, as well as the politically influential and the politically disadvantaged – in the process is crucial.  In Myanmar in particular, it is also important to assemble existing and new information from the different ministries and civil society organizations to put into conceptual models for policy planning purposes and to make this information easily accessible to all.[4]  These tactics allow stakeholders to identify positive and negative consequences of proposed actions and make informed decisions on the most feasible policy solution.

By utilizing IWRM as a tool for water and land use in Myanmar, the government not only has a means for conserving waterresources, but it can help prevent further social tensions fromescalating.  Many of the country’s most disadvantaged peoples will be negatively affected by poorly designed water use and development policies, so it will be crucial to develop a participatory process offered by IWRM to allow these groups to lend their voice to the identification of key problems and the search for a solution that will not disadvantage them further.  Because Myanmar’s government and population recognize that their country is unique in terms of its natural wealth and beauty, key stakeholders recognize that as development progresses, they have the opportunity to ensure that the process is done in a sustainable manner from the beginning.  While nearly everyone in Myanmar can agree on the need for economic development, many also agree that the country must not squander its resources as so many others have done.

The missing ingredient at this stage is the IWRM framework for organizing the stakeholders in government, industry, agriculture, transport, and civil society to approach this task together. In January 2013, the blue moon fund in cooperation with the Dutch NGO Deltares and several local and international NGOs[5] engaged in a scoping mission of the Ayeyarwady River to identify key water resources management problems, as well as possible solutions through IWRM.  In July 2013, the blue moon fund, in partnership with the Stockholm Environmental Institute, held a forum on conservation of the Ayeyarwady in Naypyitaw with concerned parliamentarians and ministries. Deltares has recently signed an MOU with the Myanmar government to begin compiling an IWRM data base and conduct some initial studies.  It is also time to begin organizing civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders to participate in these efforts. With continued cooperation at a policy level and on the ground, Myanmar has the opportunity to pursue development, address critical social issues, and preserve the natural resources that make it unique.

[1] “Strategic Plan on Integrated Water Resources Management in Myanmar,” Inter-Ministry Task Force on Water Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Global Water Partnership, 2000.

[4] “Report of the Scoping Mission for the Ayeyarwady River Basin: Final Report,” February 2013.


Myanmar in Motion: A Climate-wise Development Approach

5 Sep

In February 2013 Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA) collaborated with Yangon based NGO, ALARM, to offer a week long pre-training program for 45 mid-level government officials from Burma’s line ministries with portfolios most likely to be impacted by climate change. The Myanmar Leadership Institute on Climate Change (MLICC) was designed to build capacity at the national level on mainstreaming climate change into development policies. The objective of the pre-training was to introduce the officials to what PISA terms, climate-wise development (CWD). CWD seeks the advancement of the community in tandem with responsible management of natural resources, investment in human capacity, and good governance. This methodology seeks to mitigate the tension inherent in development policies that seek rapid economic gain and the need for longer-term environmental and political stability.


Climate Change at the Edge of Security – By Suzanne Kelly-Lyall

5 Aug


As a practitioner housed within a leading academic institution Elliott School of International Affairs in a metropolitan center recognized for innovation in energy, security and environmental policy, I have the good fortune to occupy a perch that offers both a broad overview of what has grown to be the field of climate change as well as emerging thinking about its offshoots into security, governance, and sustainable development. Each time I return to the “field” for programming, most recently in Myanmar MLICC, I do so eager to apply new scholarship and test theories with practice. PISA works at multiple levels and across sectors so we also have the chance to explore which theories are “sticky” and which are not. I am on the lookout for new ideas that push boundaries and change the way we conceptualize challenges and solve problems.


A very good example of fresh thinking was on display at a recent Webinar hosted by the Security and Sustainability Forum where Dr. Elizabeth Chalecki, Visiting Fellow at The Stimson Center was the featured speaker. Chalecki’s work on environmental security and climate change is exciting; it challenges the traditional security paradigm and seeks to expand the conceptual framework of security to include climate change both as threat multiplier and possible driver of conflict, a view as controversial among scholars in international affairs and as it is among members of the “community of practice.”

Dr. Chalecki takes a systems approach and in so doing is able to weave seemingly disparate threads of scholarship together for a more comprehensive and in my view, pragmatic take on how policy makers need to view and address climate change. That is to say, it must be a part of a broader security assessment and thus figure into policy planning. Her work asks us to consider the fundamental ways in which each decision, from base location to the energy required to fuel operations is taken and asserts that such choices must be made using an environmental assessment that accounts for climate change.

While the overall message of “securitizing” what have been considered environmental and sustainability challenges may be irksome to traditionalists, I find this weaving of security considerations and climate change useful in real world problem solving. PISA uses this prism at its Climate Change Leadership Institutes (CCLI) where we work directly with policy makers in Southeast Asia who confront challenges like balancing poverty alleviation and economic growth with sustainability. They must do so against the backdrop of a changing and unpredictable climate and the real possibility of conflict over natural resources. As one senior official confided to me, “worrying about maybe, possibly, and if when we have immediate demands for energy, health and education is not possible.” His perspective is not unique among decision-makers in the region. When we can change the dialogue about climate change and reframe it as human security it gets the attention of otherwise skeptical officials. The next step is to strengthen the case for what PISA calls climate-wise development. We need scholarship that utilizes a systems approach to environmental security as Dr. Chalecki so persuasively argues in her book, Environmental Security, a Guide to the Issues.


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