Gut issue

A SURVEY of the United Nations’ World Food Programme and an international risk analysis firm nine years ago classified the Philippines as “high risk” from food insecurity due to various factors, including risk of extreme weather events, quality of agricultural and distribution infrastructure, conflict and effectiveness of government.

What was interesting about the survey was about extreme weather events, one of which was rising temperatures. Researchers looked at the impact of rising daily minimum and maximum temperatures on irrigated rice production between 1994 to 1999 in 227 fields in China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. They found that the main culprit in the drop in rice yields was higher daily minimum temperatures. As the daily minimum temperature increases, or as nights get hotter, rice yields drop.

Up to a point, higher daytime temperatures can increase rice yield but future yield losses caused by higher night-time temperatures will likely outweigh any such gains because temperatures are rising faster at night. It was thus not without basis that the survey cited extreme weather events as among the factors that will cause food insecurity. Even modest rises in global temperatures will drive down rice production.

Rice is in fact a key global crop, eaten by around three billion people a day. In Asia, it is a staple food to some 600 million people who are among the world’s one billion poorest inhabitants. A decline in rice production will mean more people will slip into poverty and hunger.

With rice as our staple food, it is imperative for the Department of Agriculture to push for programs that will increase production, ensure steady irrigation water, and make fertilizers affordable. It should not just wait for the unpredictable weather to “cooperate.” If we do not have climate adaptation programs such as changing our rice production methods or develop new rice strains that can withstand higher temperatures, there will be a loss in rice production over the next few decades as days and nights get hotter. And there will be famine across the land.

Global warming or climate change is thus gut issue. It should therefore not be downplayed or glossed over by the government.


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