Writer: Shinta Purnama Sarie
Climate change challenges among rice farmers in Indonesia
Rice has been feeding the Southeast Asian region’s population for well over 4,000 years. In Indonesia alone, it is the staple food of its 557 million inhabitants. The country is endowed with a tropical climate which provides ideal conditions for rice cultivation. Despite the steady increase in rice production and productivity, the likewise increase in extreme weather events and other climate change-related threats make rice cultivation increasingly risky for the 37.75 million smallholder rice farmers in Indonesia. According to the survey to 251 farmers in Indonesia, sixty nine percent (69%) farmers agree that the main challenge in cultivating rice is pests and diseases, followed by extreme and unpredictable weather, thirty one percent (31%). According to various published studies, climate change also participates in spreading or changing the life cycle of pest and diseases. 1
Therefore, climate information and related agronomic advisory services are needed as an approach to support rice farmers in making the best management decisions on their farms and increase their adaptive capacities to climate change.
How farmers make farming decisions to address climate change
As early as 3000 BCE, rice has already been being cultivated. In Indonesia, the seedling calendar based on weather information is the main consideration before planting due to the country’s dependence on rainfall. With regard to their use of the seedling calendar, 56% of farmers said that it has been recommended by their farmer friend; 21% farmers said that it’s through government intervention; and 10% said they base it on current weather forecast. After the planting time is set, farmers begin to cultivate with several steps to follow, starting from choosing seed varieties and quality, land preparation, seedling.
- • To grow rice, farmers have to know when to grow it by selecting the seed varieties and quality that will suit their condition. According to the survey, forty two percent (42%) farmers select their seeds based on the information that their older generation passed; while thirty four percent (34%) select their seeds based on their farmer friend’s recommendation.
- • After the seed is selected, farmers prepare the land, which involves plowing and harrowing to ‘till’ or dig-up, mix and level the soil. There are two choices on how farmers plant once the land is well prepared – transplanting and direct seedling.3 Eighty one percent (81%) of farmers plant the rice by transplanting while the remaining nineteen percent (19%) plant by direct seedling.
Figure 1. Water system in rice farming
- • Beyond rice harvest, farmers need to pay attention to pests and diseases and water shortage in their field. Fifty five percent (55%) of farmers have access to the local irrigation system; while thirty one percent (31%) fully depend on rainfall for irrigating their farms. This conveys that most of the farmers who participated in the survey are smallholder rice farmers that have well-developed irrigation. There is no denying that farmers who depend on rainfall are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The role of rice as a main food staple has now extended to issues concerning food security, society, and economy in Indonesia due to the effects of climate change. Only seventeen point five percent (17,5%) farmers plant alternative crops, mainly tomatoes and corn. Alternative plants will give substitutive income when weather is unreliable or even additional income to farmers. The need of a new technique in rice cultivation related to dealing with such is emerging. However, some farmers still have not embraced this change and continuously rely on traditional practices. While some of these are still useful, farmers need new and up-to-date information in making farming decisions as the problem now is getting more complex with climate change
Recommendations in channeling climate information to rice farmers
Since awareness to climate change is present, channeling climate information to farmers on how to cultivate rice while at the same time adapting to climate change has been less difficult. The survey reveals that farmers are aware of the importance of climate or weather information but are having difficulties accessing it. Moreover, fifty eight percent (58%) of the farmers believe weather information is important; fifty three (53%) of farmers do not have the access; sixty nine percent (69%) farmers do not have access to knowledge in dealing with extreme weather or climate change; and ninety eight percent (98%) agree that the knowledge on how to deal with it is important.
Table 1 shows existing modes of communication in disseminating climate information such as weather forecast as well as agriculture knowledge on how to adapt to climate change. In terms of weather forecast, most farmers twenty eight percent (28%) easily get access such information both from Indonesian Agency for Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics (BMKG) and TV; followed by through farmer friends, twenty seven percent (27%). When it comes obtaining information related to extreme weather events, twenty eight percent (28%) majority of farmers trust extension agents. As previously mentioned, knowledge from farmers friend is the main consideration of thirty four percent (34%) of farmers in making farming decisions. For adapting new agriculture knowledge, farmers also trust information from farmer friend. From this background, the survey suggests maximizing the role of farmer-to-farmer extension in circulating climate information and knowledge to influence farming decision, particularly in tackling climate change.
The survey was taken by BASF and ASEAN-German Programme on Response to Climate Change in Agriculture and Forestry (GAP-CC). GAP-CC is comprised of two projects designed to improve the framework conditions for sustainable agriculture and forestry in ASEAN Member States: FOR-CC project that promoting increased resilience to climate change in ASEAN Member States through the dissemination of climate smart agriculture practices and the ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems project (ASEAN SAS), through the Better Rice Initiative Asia (BRIA) that developing and disseminating best practices in rice production to improve farmer’s incomes and nutrition while reducing externalities on the environment. Total of farmers who participate is 251 farmers. 61% farmers participating in the survey are from Java islands, which is the main rice growing region of the country. The majority of them is male farmers aged between 31—50 years old. 50% farmers have a piece of rice field as much as 0.1—1 hectares. 57% farmers are able to yield as much as 7—10 ton/hectares.
1 D. O. Manzanilla, T. R. Paris, G. V. Vergara, A. M. Ismail, S. Pandey, R. V. Labios, G. T. Tatlonghari, R. D. Acda and T. T. N. Chi, “Submergence Risks and Farmers’ Preferences: Implications for Breeding Sub1 Rice in Southeast Asia,” Agricultural Systems, Vol. 104, 2011, pp. 335- 347. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2010.12.005