What are the farmers from Haiphong to Kuala Lumpor going to do? The stark reality is that despite Southeast Asia’s actual contribution to green house gasses, it is a region that will suffer most from oncoming climate change. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the agriculture and food production sector, where the vitality of agriculture is threatened from all sides.
A much-publicized report (at right) by the Asian Development Bank details how extensive the damage will be:
• Rising temperatures will curtail rice yields 10% for every 1 degree Celsius of temperature rise.
• Severe storms will hasten erosion and prolonged droughts will wither crops.
• Rising sea level will decrease arable land and raise the salinity of irrigation water.
According to a report from the Vice President of ADB, rice yields are projected to crash by the end of the century, with Vietnam especially taking a hit. ADB startlingly predicts 6% yearly GDP declines due to climate change.
It’s not a question simply of what the farmers will do, but also what the governments will do? Where we are – or will be – is insignificant to the pressure to act. Are Southeast Asian governments prepared to face technological and sociological demands for climate change adaptation, all the while burdened with growing populations and food demands?
Growth often obscures the rights of indigenous farmers, forcing them to compete unfairly in markets stacked against them. Even those who aim to aid in issues can be accused of bearing threats or not doing enough. The very same organization that has detailed the threat to Southeast Asia’s farmers – ADB – is now being sued by a consortium of local NGOs who claim the bank’s free market, loan and privatization policies are crushing the region’s small farmers.
Perhaps a wide adoption of the Declaration of Nyeleni, which “prioritizes local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture” must be considered as the scale between feeding their populations, adapting to climate change and respecting the rights of vulnerable farmers continues to bedevil Southeast Asia’s leaders for the foreseeable future. They will be forced to make stark choices in nearly every area: from selling locally-grown rice on global markets to considering the relative merits of GM crops.