(Kathmandu, 10 October 2018)
Increasing frequency and severity of droughts have affected agriculture, food security, and the livelihoods of millions of marginal and vulnerable people in South and South East Asia.
Addressing food insecurity resulting from changes in agricultural productivity and an upsurge in demand is a major concern. As the climate continues to change, agricultural productivity across nations will likely suffer, with changes in rainfall patterns and intensity affecting agricultural production, especially in marginal rain-fed areas. This scenario demands a dramatic increase in timely and accurate information on climate and crop conditions. Earth observation technologies and climate services are effective means to generate and share such information.
Agricultural and hydrological drought monitoring and early warning systems; drought impacts and climate risk financing; land use practice and policies; and crop mapping and yield estimation are key areas related to agriculture and climate services. These and the emerging potential of Earth observation information and climate modelling in reducing climate related vulnerabilities in the agriculture sector in South and Southeast Asia were discussed at a forum held in Kathmandu recently. The Regional Knowledge Forum on Drought was held at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development Centre (ICIMOD) from 8–10 October.
Speaking at the event, the Director General of ICIMOD, David Molden said that drought preparedness measures, coupled with climate-resilient adaptation practices, could play a vital role in improving food security across the HKH. “Drought monitoring and early warning systems, can underpin national- and local-level planning and agro-advisories to help local populations and governments prepare for drought and cope with its impacts on agriculture,” he said.
In the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), food insecurity is more severe in the mountains than in the plains. Despite the region’s wealth of natural resources, a significant percentage of the population experiences food insecurity and malnutrition – 31% of the population is food insecure, while 50% faces malnutrition.
Discussing examples from South and Southeast Asia, panellists at the forum showcased the value that Earth observation technologies and climate services bring to establishing national and regional drought monitoring and early warning systems and agro-advisory services. Their contribution is especially important in cases where ground level data is minimal or non-existent.
Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Nepal, Yubak Dhoj GC, said, “The Ministry is keen on developing early warning systems and agri-advisories on drought to provide timely information to line institutions, local bodies, and farmers on climate-induced vulnerabilities.” He noted that limited research and studies on drought have been carried out in Nepal. He added that weak monsoons in 2014 and 2015 affected Nepal’s national gross domestic product negatively and that the floods in 2017 damaged large swathes of agricultural lands. He said that the timely provisioning of climate services and their use for disaster preparedness and management could negate damages from such events.
Executive Director of Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), Hans Guttman, said, "We need to make drought forecasts reliable and trusted to enable actions which save lives and livelihoods. We want to see significant improvement in tools and services for the betterment of the livelihoods of people."
The forum also reiterated the need for regional collaboration in developing and sharing information on climate-induced hazards. Director of the UNESCO Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Shahbaz Khan, said, “We need to extend beyond borders, not just physical borders but also disciplinary borders.” Citing examples of national and regional endeavours in climate risk management in Latin America and Africa, he stressed on the need for cross-border cooperation between governments, scientists and communities to realise early warning systems for droughts and floods.
Regional research bodies can play crucial roles in brokering knowledge and expertise across country boundaries and building capacities across institutions. The knowledge forum established an expert working group comprising of representatives from different institutions working on drought early warning systems and agriculture advisory services to foster regional cooperation on agriculture, drought monitoring, and management.
“A south-south dialogue is important. This regional knowledge forum on drought provides cross learning opportunities between people working with the science and people working with communities in South and Southeast Asia,” said David Molden.
The event was organized by ICIMOD, and ADPC, under the framework of the SERVIR initiative, a joint initiative between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and the World Food Programme (WFP) partnered in organizing the knowledge forum.
A hundred participants – academics, policy practitioners, researchers, and media persons – affiliated to 50 institutions based in 14 countries – in Asia and beyond – participated in the event.