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Climate change and food systems in Southeast Asia

Dr. Chusit Apirumanekul, SEI Asia, talks about the impacts of climate change on water resources and rice production in Southeast Asia
Hello and welcome to Food and Our
Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia. I’m Matthew Fielding and I’m the Lead Educator on the course. Today, I’m joined with Dr. Chusit Apirumanekul. Welcome, Chusit. Please introduce yourself to the learners. My name is Chusit. By my background, I’m a hydrologist, so I have extensive experience in working within the government agency in the Mekong region, focusing on the drought and flood risk management. Nice to meet you. Thank you. OK, so our first question then. How do you see the effects of climate change, such as flooding and drought almost complicate the ability to achieve environmental sustainability in the food sector?
I think that– we now can feel this kind of impact, so you see that climate change has an impact on the hydrological processes. So you see that, normally when the water’s moving around the hydrological components– rainfall turning to surface run-off– changing in climate will have those kind of significant impact on that, let’s say like spatial distribution of rainfall. Too much water, too little water. Too many hot days. Too many dry days. Let’s say we can have very intensive rainfall in a couple of hours or so. And that will have an impact on water resource availability. Which is the main input to the agricultural production system.
So I think that climate change, will have also definitely a significant impact on food security. And do you feel that smallholder farmers, or small-scale farmers suffer as equally as larger scale farms? So I would say that when we have those local stakeholder engagements, so mainly when we talk about the local farmer, they have no idea, in the past, what is the climate change. Let’s say in Thailand, we tend to think “more green”. So this is like, they say that we have better condition for climate change– to deal with climate change. But it seems that recently we can feel that there is a shift in the monsoon season. Let’s say we have late monsoon season, heavy rainfall.
So how can local people manage that? So I think that this have also a significant impact. And recently, the drought. So you see that the government– Thai government and also the government in this region– have a strategy to deal with the drought by asking the local farmer, and also even the bigger scale, to change the, let’s say, agricultural production system. So they change their crop type, changing the plantation period– the crop calendar. Which type of the crop, let’s say rice, didn’t consume enough water– and sugar cane also.
So the government asks that even local people, and also the regional farmer also, to change the crop into bean so that we will consume less water and also government can also manage the dam operations and water resource availability. And has that– broadly, has that been successful? From what I have heard also, it seems quite OK, because you see that, I mean in term of collaboration from farmers. So it seems that, government is very happy with what they can support. So let’s say the rice area was reduced more than 50%. So mainly they change it to the bean. But at the same time, we also expect some uncontrolled factor, let’s say more rainfall, which we cannot control.
But the monsoon season already start, so hopefully we could get more water. But at the same climate change also adding a kind of uncertainty into hydrological systems. We have more rainfall, you can see that right now we have more rainfall in Bangkok. So we expect that heavy rainfall to be happening upstream of the dam. In fact we are not that lucky. Some part, so let’s say, the total amount of water can fill up the water storage in the dam. But not all. Mainly if we have those kind of the impact to the people downstream. Once when we have this kind of intensive rainfall at the downstream which we expect to be getting upstream. Thank you very much, Chusit.
Thank you, Matthew. And remember, you can carry on your discussions related to these themes on the webpage. Thank you very much. Thank you.
We begin Week 2: Food systems and natural resources in Southeast Asia with a discussion between our Lead Educator Matthew Fielding and Dr. Chusit Apirumanekul, of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia Centre.
Chusit provides an overview of the impacts of climate change on food systems in Southeast Asia, which we will explore in more in the coming steps this week. Parts of Southeast Asia, particularly in the Mekong River Basin, are currently experiencing drought conditions. Using Thailand as an example, Chusit explains the impacts on water availability and subsequent crop production and diversification strategies in the region to try to maintain food security.
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Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

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