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Indonesia´s Climate Change Dilemma Will Have Biggest Impact on Poorest

Jakarta Globe
Teddy Lesmana

As we have seen in recent years, the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly more visible through all too frequent weather anomalies.

Sitting as it does on the tropical belt, Indonesia is viewed as one of the many countries that will be seriously affected by climate change, much more so than countries in temperate climates.

Rising sea levels for example, are expected to submerge islands and flood arable paddy fields across the archipelago. This would be a calamity in a country where about 40 percent of the population is still heavily dependent on agriculture. Climate change is going to have a sizeable impact on the livelihoods of communities that depend on agriculture, both here and around the world. Climate change can be both beneficial and detrimental to agricultural production, dependent on where the change occurs.

For countries in temperate zones and those with relatively high elevation levels, climate change will likely bring with it some positives. This would be the case for the developed countries of the northern hemisphere. It is projected that they will see a warmer climate, which would certainly help increase their agricultural productivity. Furthermore, with the support of economic resources and technology, they will also be able to circumvent some of the negative impacts of climate change.

Indonesia, on the other hand, is likely to only experience the negatives. Changes in seasonal patterns and increasingly erratic and unpredictable weather will leave some farmers grappling with crop failures. Farmers planting crops such as red chili peppers and onions will experience crop failures and face pest outbreaks. This will lead to an overall decline in productivity. Onions for example, require drying periods to ensure a longer shelf life. But heavy rainfall is expected to continue well into the dry season.

In an average dry season, onion farmers usually produce 12-14 tons per hectare, but after climate change becomes more entrenched, most farmers are likely to only yield 6-7 tons per hectare. Likewise, fishing communities will also suffer some heavy losses. Poor weather means fewer days for fishing. Fewer days fishing translates into a marked reduction in their incomes.

A number of scholars have thrown up red flags on the impacts of climate change. A constant reminder are the societal consequences of changing weather patterns and temperatures on affected communities. The 2009 Environmental Change and Security Program Report, by the Woodrow Wilson Center, says: “Increasing temperatures, precipitation anomalies and extreme weather are expected to aggravate the ongoing degradation of environmental resources.”

The report also warns that “rising sea levels, as well as more extreme weather conditions, will force millions of people to migrate, leading to greater pressures on resources in the new destination areas and subsequently fostering competition over resources.”

In Indonesia, climate change will also impact the country’s efforts to curb poverty and reduce the number of poor people across the country, especially in rural areas where the majority still live. According the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), some 31 million people, or about 13 percent of the population, currently live below the poverty line; and approximately 60 percent of these people live in rural areas with livelihoods heavily dependent on the weather.

An increasingly hostile environment will certainly dent farmers’ living standards since crop failures will reduce their productivity and then their earnings. Moreover, the majority of farmers own less than half a hectare of agricultural land. For farmers, small plots of land mean there are small margins of error afforded to them. When their crops are further damaged by flood, drought and pests, their burden becomes heavier still.

Farmers would not be able to fully harvest their crops, yet would still have to incur the costs of working and the expenses for their agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and pest control. Moreover, rising agricultural commodity prices are not automatically enjoyed by farmers, because most are also net consumers of food crops and other agricultural commodities and staples. The increase in agricultural commodity prices, as we have seen lately, will also bring with it consequences for the urban poor. A shortage in the supply of basic foods will trigger increases in inflation, which in turn will reduce people’s purchasing power and make it even more difficult to access food.

If this situation is not handled through swift and accurate measures, the impact of climate change will only bolster poverty across the country. Intense and sustained measures should be taken, including extending the dissemination of information on weather patterns to farmers. Farmers usually rely on traditional knowledge, passed down from generation to generation. Their sense of timing on when and when not to plant their crops is predicated on their use of trial and error techniques over millennia.

In situations where weather anomalies occur, the dissemination of weather information becomes a necessary tool for farmers to make informed decisions about their crops.

In addition, the government should pay more attention to research and development in developing weather-resistant crop varieties and improving agricultural support infrastructure, such as dams, irrigation and transportation, and also do a better job in water management.

Planting methods that center on efficient water use also need to be repeatedly socialized, such as rice planting that applies the system of rice intensification, a method that has been proved to increase rice productivity per hectare despite its thrifty use of often scarce water supplies.

Furthermore, support for insurance and credit guarantee schemes for farmers are also necessary, especially in anticipating farmers’ losses due to the vagaries of the climate.

The government should resolve its mission to complete land reform efforts to help small landholders and landless farmers. Expanded access to education in the country’s rural areas is also needed so that farmers can develop the ability to better absorb information and protect themselves against the adverse impacts of climate change. With a few systematic concrete steps, farmers will be able to strengthen their ability to anticipate the impacts of climate change, and increase their chances of improving their sometimes dire living conditions.

Teddy Lesmana is a researcher at the Center for Economic Studies at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and a USAID Indonesia forecast scholar at the University of Maryland.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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