Climate change is rapidly warming our planet accompanied with natural disasters perennially impacting the Philippines’ agricultural sector hard alongside the food security of every household. Just how bad it gets depends on how quickly we act.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries constitute 8.9 percent of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2022, lower than the sector’s 9.6 percent GDP share in 2021.
Based on the January 2023 Labor Force Survey, of the total 47.35 million employed persons, the agriculture sector accounted for 22.2 percent or 10.5 million Filipinos which in turn provides food for the population of more than 109 million Filipinos. Yet, the impact of climate change on agriculture is devastating. Past studies have shown that the Philippines incurred P 463 billion in damages due to extreme weather events over the past decade – 62.7 percent of which – or P290 billion – were damages caused to the agriculture sector. In the mid-1990s, the sector was the biggest employer of the economy. However, the number of workers in agriculture has been declining both in relative and absolute terms, owing to diminishing farm sizes and decreasing relative incomes which have incentivized the shift out of agriculture.
Among the major factors for the low productivity and erratic trends in agriculture are climate change, regular weather disturbances, and disasters. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) estimates that the damages to agriculture incurred due to natural extreme events and disasters from 2010 to 2019 is P 290 billion. This accounts for 62.7 percent of the P 463 billion total damages to the country incurred during said period.
A 2021 study commissioned by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) underlined the need to address the impacts of climate change on the sustainability of food systems in the Philippines. This study analyzes the interconnectedness of climate change and food security in the country, particularly the threats and the opportunities it presents to food, nutrition, and livelihoods in rural and urban areas. Moreover, it was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening to reverse years of developmental gains in food and nutrition.
Impacts of Extreme Events and Natural Disasters
The WFP study projects that the seasonal rainfall volumes will exceed historical averages by around 40% across the Philippines. Analysis of flood risk and livelihood mapping shows that rainfall will likely increase in frequency and severity in many parts of the country from 2020 to 2025, which will result in increased vulnerabilities among rice and vegetable production zones. By 2050, the temperature is expected to rise, which shall result in heat stress for most areas producing rice and annual crops and will likely cause the spread of plant diseases. The increasing temperature can also negatively impact livestock production and will diminish the quantity and quality of feed supply. In addition, the study presents a set of scenarios of possible climate change impacts over time, in 2030, 2050, 2070, and 2090.
The WFP study stated that more tropical cyclones enter the Philippine area of responsibility than anywhere else in the world, with an average of 20 cyclones in the area per year, and about 8 or 9 of them crossing the Philippines. The study and its countrywide scenarios offer stakeholders information and model situations particularly on food production, accessibility, supply stability, utilization, and consumption patterns, and identify the agricultural livelihoods that could be most impacted by climate change, to what extent, and where.
The study points out that coastal regions dependent on fisheries and aquaculture – like those in Visayas and Mindanao – are particularly vulnerable to “rising sea levels, storm surges, and saltwater intrusions, which can lead to the destruction of aquatic resources on which communities’ livelihoods depend”. Furthermore, in-land rice production areas in Mindanao may face issues in finding crops suitable to the changing weather patterns due to a “high risk of drought”. Meanwhile, in Luzon for example, selected provinces in urban zones are projected to be affected by “prolonged rainfall, including Isabela, Pasil, Kalinga, Cagayan, resulting in destructive flooding”. Pasture and livestock livelihoods are also at risk due “to projected ambient temperatures of 30 °C or more by 2050, which could cause heat stress and other climate-related hazards to livestock” in the provinces of Apayao, Abra, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Benguet, and Nueva Vizcaya.
In conclusion, the study revealed that since the agricultural sector is the most vulnerable sector to almost all climate-related hazards, this will cause major food production disruptions and greatly impact the food security of the country and the price volatility of food items. “The agriculture sector is at the forefront of the climate crisis and farmers and fishers need urgent support. We need to get ahead of climate change by acting collectively to protect the lives and livelihoods of farmers and millions of others who work in the sector. By supporting them, we contribute to better food security for all Filipinos,” said WFP Representative and Country Director, Brenda Barton.
State of the Government’s Agricultural Insurance Programs
Section 2 of Republic Act No. 8175 or the “Revised Charter of the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation Act of 1995” declares that the State shall develop and support an adequate agricultural insurance program as a mechanism for managing the risks inherent in agriculture and stabilizing the financial fluctuations suffered by the agricultural producers in case of loss on crops, including agricultural facilities and related infrastructures.
The Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC), an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA), implements the Agricultural Insurance Program of the government, which aims to increase the financial risk protection for agricultural producers, particularly from those posed by weather, geological events, and the occurrence of pests and diseases. To achieve food security and to empower and increase the resilience of farmers and fisherfolk, the PCIC provides insurance services under seven (7) agricultural insurance lines: 1) rice crop; 2) corn crop; 3) high-value crops; 4) livestock; 5) fisheries and aquaculture; 6) non-crop agricultural assets such as warehouses, rice mills, irrigation facilities, and other farm equipment; and 7) credit and life term insurance, which includes insurance protection for producers, loan repayment protection, and death, accident, and disability insurance for farmers and fisherfolk.
Under the 2023 General Appropriations Act, the PCIC received P 4.5 billion in government premium subsidy for the insurance premium of subsistence farmers and fisherfolk. In 2020, the PCIC was able to insure a total of 3,090,251 farmers and fisherfolk. The amount of protection assured was P 94.591 billion and the premium generated was P 5.086 billion. In terms of object of insurance, some 2.231 million hectares of standing rice, corn, and high-value crops were insured; around 1.31 million heads of various poultry and livestock; 8,149 fishing boats and gears; 1,069 lots of assets that support agricultural operations; and 242,330 credit and life term insurance policies were covered.
Agri Insurance Suffering From Awareness Issue
Despite consensus on the significant role played by the government’s agricultural insurance as a climate change adaptation measure and as a safety net to cushion the impact of shocks that affect the sector’s productivity, challenges remain. According to a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), agricultural insurance in the Philippines suffers from an awareness issue. This issue is usually analyzed in the context of the low availment and penetration rate of PCIC insurance products. The literature on agriculture insurance shows that the failure of farmers to file for indemnity claims is partially attributed to their lack of knowledge on how to file for one. These problems could be attributable to 1) the PCIC’s lack of sufficient resources to reach all of its target beneficiaries and 2) the general attitude of workers from the sector towards agricultural insurance. As for the former, the PCIC has been perennially understaffed and it is not clear whether it can handle an influx of new customers given their limited resources. As for the latter, farmers and fisherfolk generally lack trust in the system in view of the perceived long process of claims payments, documentary requirements, and the additional costs incurred during the application and claiming processes. Farmers are also unaware of the general benefits of insurance, and some are found to be dissatisfied with the amount of insurance cover.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, who hails from Bocaue, Bulacan, has filed a resolution directing the appropriate Senate committees to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the state of the government’s agricultural insurance programs. “Government must ensure the accessibility, availability, and sufficiency of safety nets to protect the livelihood of Filipinos employed in agriculture and the food security of the entire country. Crop insurance must be an integral part of the government’s preparedness and risk management plans in the event of droughts and floods due to El Nino and La Nina, and other natural extreme events. A science-driven and data-backed approach is necessary to build a climate-resilient agriculture sector and to address the vulnerabilities and threats that affect the availability of food in the Philippines. Furthermore, there is a need for the government to determine the gaps in the current agricultural insurance system and put in place a whole-of-government approach in determining solutions,” Villanueva stressed. The province of Bulacan is susceptible to storm surges and various types of flooding.
Water Security More Fundamental Than Food Security
Meanwhile, Angeles City mayor Carmelo Pogi Lazatin Jr. and Abacan River and Angeles Watershed Advocacy Council, Inc. (ARAW-ACI) President Renato Abong Tayag Jr. officially launched SUBLI 2023 integrated environmental campaign on January 23. A whole-year information and education campaign (IEC). SUBLI is a Kapampangan acronym which stands for “Subli ing Upaya, Bie, at Lugud king Indung Gabun”.
Most Reverend Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David of the Archdiocese of Caloocan City and president of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), was the guest of honor and speaker. In his video message, he emphasized the importance of SUBLI to the advocacy for environmental protection and climate change action.
“Nonetheless, I want to emphasize that this is in fact more fundamental than the advocacy for food security itself. How can we have food security without water security? I hope it is not yet too late to be doing this, because I remember that we were already sounding off the alarm more than a decade ago but our voices were unheeded. It was so easy back then for the Koreans to obtain an ECC (Environmental Compliance Certificate) to build golf courses in the CDC (Clark Development Corporation) area not minding the damage that they could cause on the watersheds. I hope by now it is becoming clear to most of us that the most important resource of the earth that we must protect is precisely that which made life possible on this planet, in the first place,” David argued. “As far as scientists are concerned, we have yet to find a planet B or a planet with the same potentials for life forms like Earth. The mere fact that they are already looking for planet B only suggests that we are recognizing the human capacity to destroy this planet which is our common home, our only home,” David lamented.