More vulnerable than most? Farmers know that trees can help

The Philippines is struck each year by an increasing number of typhoons, which are also increasing in intensity. Not only the country’s physical infrastructure is battered but also its food-producing systems. New research for development in the Philippines is helping farmers to adapt, says Regine Joy P. Evangelista

 

The Philippines has consistently ranked very high in vulnerability to climate change. Parallel to this, the Bicol Region in Southern Luzon has consistently topped several local studies on climate risk and vulnerability. One could say that this region is the worst among the worst: it lies directly in the path of some of the strongest typhoons that hit the country, its economy relies heavy on rainfed agriculture and its farmers are among the poorest.

coconut agroforestry, Philippines

Farmers in Ligao, Albay, planted trees (Rensonii, Madre de Cacao, coconut and fruit trees) along the contours of their land to protect against erosion and to serve as windbreaks and as additional sources of food and income during climate extremes. Photo: R Peras

To address this, several research and development projects on climate change, both locally and internationally funded, are now being implemented in the region. Among these is the World Agroforestry Centre’s Adapting to Extreme Events in Southeast Asia through Sustainable Land Management Systems project, funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

The project aims to assess sustainable land management options, such as the role of trees and agroforestry systems, that will help farmers adapt to extreme climate events. The researchers are also setting out to document information about the important role of trees and tree-based farming systems within the framework of climate-change adaptation, vulnerability and resilience.

As part of this endeavour, project partners from the College of Forestry and Natural Resources of the University of the Philippines Los Baños set themselves the research question, ‘Can trees reduce farmer’s vulnerability to extreme climate events?’ Their answer was presented by Ms Rose Jane Peras during the Philippine’s First International Agroforestry Congress, 20 March 2014, at Bohol.

Trees, farmers, and climate extremes

The Bicol Region presents a unique opportunity to explore the question because smallholder farmers there were well aware of the impacts of climate extremes on their lives, properties and livelihoods. The research was conducted in the City of Ligao in the Province of Albay, which is one of the beneficiaries of the Conservation Farming Village program of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

The program is a technology-transfer method that helps upland farmers protect their land and improve their lives through participatory approaches and sloping agricultural land technologies, including agroforestry.

Ligao farmers, many of whom are beneficiaries of the program, are privy to the economic and ecological benefits provided by trees to their farms but researchers wondered whether they were aware of the role of trees in reducing their vulnerability during climate extremes such as typhoons, drought and extreme rainfall.

According to Ms Peras, the answer is yes. The farmers created a long list of benefits provided by trees, which included wind breaks, especially during typhoons; anchor points where house roofs can be secured during typhoons and floods; sources of food, fuel wood and water; providing shade during extreme heat; providing building materials for damaged houses; boat anchors; protection from waves and wind, especially mangroves; garbage traps (mangroves again).

Furthermore, a regression analysis based on the vulnerability assessment conducted at the site also revealed that trees play a role in reducing the overall vulnerability of farmers by increasing their adaptive capacity. Ms Peras explained that trees on farms and non-tree-related adaptation practices were both significant factors influencing farmers’ vulnerability to climate extremes.

The novel threats posed by climate change have brought a new appreciation of the value of trees for farmers. In turn, this enhances the appeal of agroforestry not just for increasing income and environmental benefits but as an adaptation strategy as well.

 

 

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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

 

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Rob Finlayson

Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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