Climate change and food security in Thailand: Impacts and policy recommendations

Climate change does threaten food security. A recent seminar entitled ‘Climate Change and Food Security in Thailand’ voiced concerns over impacts of the irregular weather patterns to the sustainable food systems in the country.

The seminar aims to provide the overview of climate impacts on food security in Thailand and policy recommendations to overcome the challenges towards food security in the country.

circleAsst. Prof. Dr. Witsanu Attavanich, Deputy Director for Academic Affairs, Center for Applied Economics Research, Faculty of Economics, Kasetsart University

Dr. Witsanu says that greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide released from human activities are the cause of climate change. The amount of atmospheric CO2 has been increasing overtime and is projected to contribute to the rise in average global surface temperature by one to four degree Celsius in 2100. This poses tremendous environmental and socioeconomic effects on food systems leading to food insecurity.

The combustion of fossil fuels for human activities such as electricity generation, transportation, and industrial production is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Main sources of methane emissions related to human activities are livestock farming, landfills and waste, biomass burning, and rice agriculture.

Human activities that release nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere are the use of chemical fertilizer in agriculture sector, and livestock.

He explains that all four dimensions of food security (availability, access, utilization and stability) will be affected by climate change. For example, changes in climate may contribute to yield growth rate reduction while crops grown in warmer climates are prone to greater risks. This might result in higher food price affecting food affordability (food prices in comparison to income for purchasing food). Changing climatic conditions also influence food utilization such as food processing, packing, and storage; and food consumption. For example, fruits and crops harvested with higher temperatures require more energy for proper cooling. Furthermore, higher temperature and humidity generally increase food pathogens (bacteria and viruses), causing foodborne illnesses.

Based on the statistics from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Thailand, the number of affected villages and the value of the damage from drought tends to increase overtime. From his study, rice yield in Thailand during 2090 – 2100 is projected to drop in almost all scenarios and accumulated damage value from 2005 – 2045 on Thailand’s agriculture sector is projected to be from 590.4 to 2485.4 million baht for the best and worst scenario, respectively. He also pointed out that poorer nations are at higher risks than wealthier nations when considering the impacts of climate change on all four dimensions of food security.

Dr. Witsanu suggested that to obtain practical strategies and mitigate the risks, climate change impact studies may be needed for all crop and livestock and the analysis should cover all food system activities with the participation from all parties.

circle2Asst. Prof. Dr. Warapa Mahakarnchanakul, Lecturer, Center for Advanced Studies for Agriculture and Food, Department of Food Science and Technology, Kasetsart University

Dr. Warapa emphasizes on the impacts of climate change on food safety. For instance, elevated ambient temperature may associate with the increase in population of pest and vector and degradation of soil quality. In response to that, farmers may increase pesticide and fertilizer application, causing higher trace of chemical residue in food crop which has greater risks on consumer health. Furthermore, higher temperature might increase risks associated with storage and distribution of food commodities and hygiene management in which improper management can lead to food-borne illnesses.

Dr. Warapa proposes that relevant government agencies should communicate the emerging risks and preventive measures related to climate change and food safety to the public in order to avoid and reduce negative effects on human health.

circle3Dr. Akarapon Houbcharaun, Economist, the Office of Agricultural Economics, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Thailand

Dr. Akarapon states that from the vulnerability assessment of the Office of Agricultural Economics, Thailand, climate change impacts will result in the reduction of major crops yield. During 2010 – 2050, maize and sugarcane production will experience yield reduction by about 11% and 4%, equaling to economic loss around 1,850 and 2,200 million baht in 40 years, respectively. To overcome the problems, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has prepared a Strategic Plan on Food Security 2017 – 2021 with the vision ‘Thai people have adequate food to consume with food safety, quality and sustainability’ which comprises of six strategies as follows.

  • Strategy 1: Producing enough food to sustain domestic food demand
  • Strategy 2: Supporting all levels of people to access adequate food at all times
  • Strategy 3: Promoting food quality, reducing food waste and the proper use of food
  • Strategy 4: Maintaining food production sustainability
  • Strategy 5: Supporting development of food security and nutrition

He furthers that strategy 5 of the Strategic Plan on Food Security 2017 – 2021 is very important because climate change makes food crops less nutritious.

Dr. Akarapon recommends that Thailand should focus on research and development of technology and innovation in producing low carbon agricultural/food products while increasing yield and reducing cost in order to increase the competitiveness and overcome trade barriers.

Lastly, it has been agreed by all experts that research based policy, which should be formulated by using interdisciplinary approach, is necessary for Thailand to overcome these challenges. The government should organize a policy making forum in which all stakeholders, particularly policy makers, researchers, farmers and businesses, will be involved.

The policy roundtable seminar entitled on ‘Climate Change and Food Security in Thailand’ was organized by Faculty of Agriculture, Kasetsart University on 20 September 2016 in Bangkok. The seminar was moderated by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Wiboon Chongrattanameteekul from the Department of Entomology, Faculty of Agriculture, Kasetsart University.

By Santikorn Pakdeesettakul, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems