Monday, December 24, 2007

Indonesian farmers told to watch the weather closely

As if farmers need a reminder to watch the weather. But look beyond the Captain Obvious headline. From the Jakarta Post (Indonesia): …The government has told farmers to be more "creative" to grasp weather patterns that are predicted to become more extreme. "The toughest work for our farmers now is how to adapt to unpredictable weather changes," Gatot Irianto, director of water resources at the ministry of agriculture, told The Jakarta Post. "Long-standing traditional crop cycle systems may no longer be practicable."

However, said Gatot, without putting their income at risk, farmers can still do much to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus help avert disastrous climate change…. Through various incentives, the government plan calls for farmers to find ways to store more carbon dioxide (C02) and methane (CH4), thus releasing less of these harmful gases into the atmosphere.

According to the mitigation plan, the government is to provide financial incentives to farmers who avoid clearing land by burning, for example. "We want zero burning as a method for clearing land."

The plan also calls for animal manure and methane to be trapped and converted to electricity for nearby farming communities. Methane gas is even more problematic than C02 when released. To reduce methane, eco-friendly irrigation systems that use less water are called for by the plan because CH4-producing bacteria are linked to irrigation flow rates.

…Meanwhile, residue from crop harvests is to be used to produce compost and the government will work to drive up the use of organic fertilizer and eco-friendly pesticides. The government plan categorizes adaptation goals as to whether they are short, medium or long-term efforts.

In the short term -- over the next year, until 2009 -- the adaptation effort is focused on gathering data on areas vulnerable to droughts or floods, including information on dry and wet seasons. The information is to be distributed to farmers as a guideline to help in re-mapping weather patterns, agricultural seasons and crop cycles. "We have finished the map for the island of Java," Gatot said.

In the medium-term -- through 2012 -- the plan will see the government create and evaluating an early warning system for drought. In the long term, the government is set to analyze weather anomalies and be able to better predict planting seasons and adjust crop cycles.

Just exactly what farmers should expect -- of course -- the government can't say. However changes in rainfall and drought, they are told, will seriously impact agriculture. Experts have said that for every one Celsius degree increase in the average temperature, rice yields decrease by about 10 percent.

In the 1990s, the ministry of agriculture reported an average harvest failure of 100,000 tons per regency across the country due to drought. The failure rate has been around 300,000 tons per regency since 2000. With an estimated 60 million farmers in the country, approximately one in four Indonesians can expected to be directly impacted by statistics like these.

Gatot said his office had repeatedly urged farmers to plant crops other than rice -- such as corn and soybeans -- especially in the dry season, due to the water-intensive nature of rice farming. Currently, most farmers plant rice in both dry and wet seasons.

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