‘Have you eaten rice?’ is the literal translation of the Thai question ‘gin khao rue yang’. It may sound strange to non-Thai speakers but it is a common form of greeting and heard many times every day.
Khao or rice is part of every aspect of Thai life. It is not only a staple food in Thailand but also in other Asian countries.
On the production side, rice farming in Thailand covered 70.42 million rai in 2018-2019*.
Climate change drastically affects the world and Thailand is no exception, with rice farming also impacted by these changes.
If our rice production were lowered, how would this affect the price of rice? Would Thailand remain the world’s second-biggest rice exporter or could we compensate through other sectors making use of the current rice situation? Would the livelihood and incomes of Thai rice farmers change? These are just some of the many questions such a scenario would entail.
The Southeast Asia START Regional Center (SEA Start RC), Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University and the GIZ’s Risk-based National Adaptation Plan (Risk NAP) project have conducted studies on the risk of climate change on rice farming in the Chao Phraya basin, which encompasses Nakhon Sawan, Chainat, Singhburi, Angthong, Ayutthaya and Pathumthani provinces and is the largest rice farming area in Thailand. These areas can be categorised into 4 agroecosystems: flooded low-land in irrigation zone, low-land in irrigation zone, high-ground in irrigation zone and rain-fed zone.
WHAT ARE THE FUTURE RISKS FOR THE CHAO PHRAYA BASIN?
According to SEA Start RC studies, some major concerns are as follows:
The basin could experience higher rainfall. Rainfall intensity leads to greater risk of more frequent and more severe flooding, thus damaging rice production.
The frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events may change. These include higher temperatures and longer summers, leading to a loss of water in the irrigation system. The demand for water for dry season crops is higher, thus limiting irrigation in dry-season production areas.
Shifting rainy seasons cause higher stress on photosensitive rice varieties and lead to higher vulnerability to flooding before harvest.
Higher temperatures in summer cause higher stress on dry-season rice production.
Experts from the Rice Department’s water resources, Agricultural and Resources Economics, Office of Agricultural Economics, Office of the National Water Resources, Royal Irrigation Office and other related organisations met on 3 May 2019 to discuss and seek adaptation options for 4 agro-ecosystems.
The current initiatives and measures being implemented and/or planned by governmental organisations in the area were discussed. The focus was on whether or not these were sufficient to cope with 3 different future climate scenarios, namely flooding caused by heavy rainfall, drought or water shortage caused by low rainfall and high temperatures during the summer months. Other initiatives and measures that could be implemented were also discussed.
HOW DO WE BATTLE THE PROBLEM?
The experts offered suggestions on additional measures or initiatives, among them:
Geographically suitable areas for rice production need to remain productive.
A mix of crops should be used in identified areas to minimise the risks of underproduction and economic loss.
Geographical areas that are no longer suitable for agriculture should be utilised for other purposes, which is also in line with government policy of reducing rice farming areas.
The options, initiative and approaches proposed by the experts will be brought to local authorities for consultation and input.
*Source: Policy and Planning Bureau, Ministry of Interior