Jasmine Rice in the Weeping Plain: successful adaptation to climate change

October 9, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

Lured by its wonderful title, I’ve just been reading a new briefing about some successful adaptation work in Northeast Thailand. Here’s a summary:

In 2007, farmers in Yasothorn Province, north-east Thailand, experienced thai mapthe longest dry spell during a rainy season in decades. Yasothorn, one of the 10 poorest provinces in the country, is part of the ‘Weeping Plain’ named after its barren landscape. The Plain’s dry conditions have made it suitable for growing the world-famous fragrant jasmine rice.

The drought was part of a trend. Rainfall records for Yasothorn show that the rains are arriving later and later each year, from a few days late to many weeks. The cause is (at least partly) rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns caused by climate change.

Oxfam has been working with local organisation Earth Net Foundation (ENF) since 2004, promoting organic agricultural production and fair-trade marketing with farmers in Yasothorn Province. The growing climate crisis in the region prompted staff to take action. In consultation with farming communities and ENF, it decided to implement an initial one-year pilot climate-change adaptation project (May 2008 – March 2009). Fifty-seven out of the 509 organic-farming households decided to join the scheme. Here’s how it worked:

1. Participants received full information on the state of climate change in Yasothorn, and then shared ideas about how they could adapt their farming practices, and designed their own on-farm water-management sprinklerssystems (e.g. storage ponds, wells, ditches, sprinkler systems, pumps).

2. ENF established a fund to provide loans of up to 30,000 baht (US$ 880) to each household, to help them build the water-management systems.

3. Farmers, especially women, grew vegetables and planted fruit trees as alternative crops,

4. Female and male farmers who took part in the project spread the word to non-participating neighbours

Results? As expected and feared, 2008 saw Yasothorn hit by drought – the ‘worst in 57 years’, according to one village elder. Excessive rainfall then drowned much of the remaining crops at harvest time.

Even so, after harvesting it was found that all 57 project households were more food secure than they had been before the start of the project one year earlier. Of the rice, vegetables, meat, and fruits consumed, more than 90 per cent was grown by the families, and less than 10 per cent purchased from outside.planting rice

Because of the drought, the project farms’ overall rice production fell by almost 16 per cent – but it was worse on the organic farms that did not take part in the project, whose production fell by 40 per cent overall. Outside the programme, their chemical-intensive (non-organic) counterparts fared worst of all, suffering losses of 50–90 per cent in 2008, probably because organic fields can retain more moisture.

The fruit and vegetables were (partly) sold at local markets, earning around 500–1,500 baht (US$ 15–40) a week.

Lessons learned? Combining climate change adaptation with organic farming can make a big difference, especially if you:
– make sure male and female farmers participate in all stages of project design and implementation
– use scientific data, where available, to help understand and respond to the situation
– back up ideas with loans of suitable size and repayment schedule

The project team concluded: ‘However, to achieve large-scale success, government and the public sector need to provide financing and resources so that climate adaptation methodology can be adopted on a bigger scale’ and are now talking to local authorities to try and get backing for an expanded phase 2 of the project.

In this case at least, adaptation is basically good development – speeded up and expanded to match the new urgency created by climate change.

Here’s a previous post on organics and climate change, and here’s a 6 minute video about the project

October 9, 2009
Duncan Green