BICOL, Philippines — Due to more than a decade of unpredictable and ravaging weather patterns, with an average of 20 typhoons a year, farmers throughout the Philippines are losing millions in crop damages. Farmers in the Bicol region have been hit particularly hard, having lost approximately $55.86 million in rice revenues in 2014 alone. To prevent extensive future losses, farmers are now looking to the USAID funded course, Climate Field School (CFS), teaching climate change friendly farming techniques to maximize rice harvests and income.
As a major stable for Filipino diets, rice is currently accounting for about 20 percent of an average Filipino household’s food expenditures, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Research. This expense incurs because, although a producer of vast quantities of rice, selling and exporting rice is a primary source income for many rural Filipinos.
In recent years, the Filipino rice industry has taken numerous blows due to more frequent and intense typhoons and bouts of drought caused by climate change. As the rural farming community braces itself for continuing weather assaults, Filipino farmers are receiving a helping-hand from USAID.
The CFS is conducted under the USAID $1.5 million grant funded Water Security Under Climate Risks project, also known as the Bicol Agri-Water Project (BAWP). Run by the University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation Inc. and the Philippines Department of Agriculture, CFS is operated as a two-fold course, with daily classroom-based sessions accompanied by hands-on demonstrations conducted at the CFS demonstration fields.
The lessons are designed to teach local farmers how deal with a gamut of climate related hardships, including drought, high winds and floods by “integrating climate change concepts into its rice production modules,” according to USAID. The key to the success of the CFS is this marriage of teaching about climate-adapted technologies and more hearty rice varieties.
Since the program’s inception in 2013, 893 farmers have participated in and graduated from the 48-week CFS. Although the formal classroom-based portion of the course is over, farmers are still benefiting from the program.
In August 2015, CFS participants were given advisories from BAWP and Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, recommending the best farming practices based on the three-month weather outlook. The CFS graduates also receive ongoing instruction from their local municipalities that provide community resources to continue the program.
During the 2015 dry season, some farmers increased their harvests by as much as one-third, maximizing income and insulating them from future weather related economic shocks. This success for the region of Bicol, accounting for more than six percent of the nation’s rice production, equals a huge step toward the Philippines achieving rice self-sufficiency and further economic development.
Due to the initial success of the CFS, the Regional Development Council 5, Bicol’s top planning agency, has allocated further investment funds to be given to the project, enabling it to be spread throughout all the provinces of Bicol. As the CFS program spreads and climate change concepts are integrated into rice production, the Philippines is one step closer to reaching rice self-sufficiency and economic security for rural residents.