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June 2024

Climate-smart rice farming the future

Rice is Thailand’s most important food crop and an integral part of Thai culture and society. At the same time, rice farmers remain among the poorest occupational groups in Thailand and are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate-rice farming is a water-intensive and temperature- sensitive activity conducted in a climate that is becoming increasingly characterised by longer dry spells and higher temperatures.

In addition, rice farming is a significant source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, particularly methane: about half of Thailand’s agricultural emissions come from rice farming, according to the Thai Biennial Update Report to the UN.

Globally, rice provides 19% of the world’s food energy, with 3.5 billion people relying on rice as a staple food every day. It is grown on 160 million hectares of land, consuming 30-40% of the world’s fresh water and accounting for 14% of global fertiliser use

While being a mainstay of the global food supply, rice farming is at risk from the impacts of climate change-smallholder rice farmers especially so. This is evident in Thailand. Last year’s floods caused profound economic damage in Thailand’s Northeast, with farmers in Ubon Ratchathani severely affected. Just a few years earlier, in 2019/2020, central Thailand experienced one of its worst droughts in recent years.

Climate change will make these risk events more frequent. Simultaneously, a slow but steady rise in temperatures will lead to a gradual decline in rice yields. Researchers from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have found that for every 1-degree increase in average temperatures, rice yields may decline by 10% on average. Decades of progress in agricultural development may be undone by these changes.

A paradigm shift in how rice farming is conducted is needed to protect the livelihoods and resilience of farmers and to reduce the footprint of rice farming on climate and the environment. In order to achieve this, international support may be needed.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), established to assist developing countries in achieving their climate change mitigation and adaptation goals, is one vehicle that can provide this support. The fund recently approved its first-ever large- scale project focusing exclusively on rice in Thailand, with a commitment to make a grant of US$40 million (1.4 billion baht) available.

This initiative, titled “GCF Thai Rice: Strengthening Climate Smart Rice Farming”, is led by the Rice Department in cooperation with development partners, including Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the German Agency for International Cooperation

The project aims to strengthen more than 250,000 smallholder rice farmers in Thailand to adapt to the impacts of climate change while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. This will be achieved through measures such as technical capacity building and training of farmers on good agricultural practices, reducing reliance on chemical inputs, and enabling access to new, smart technologies from precision agriculture.

The project follows a bottom-up approach, empowering farmers to make more informed decisions based on their individual needs and lowering barriers to accessing technologies that can reduce their production costs. Accordingly, financial support is made available to smallholders investing in new technologies in the transition to climate-smart farming, with a significant share of the GCF funds channelled directly to farmers in the form of grants.

Suites of techniques that have the potential to increase yields and protect them from climate damage, reduce GHG emissions, diversify incomes (eg through utilisation of rice biomass residues), as well as improve soil and air quality, conserve water resources and protect biodiversity shall be further tested and rolled-out according to suitability and preferences of farmers. A wide range of practices and technologies are envisaged; laser land levelling, alternate wetting and drying, site-specific nutrient management, straw and stubble management, integrated pest management, rice variety diversification, crop diversification and rotation, dry direct-seeded rice, farm- level water management and agro-met advisory services. And markets for sustainable produce shall be strengthened.

These activities build on a solid foundation of practical experience and state- of-the-art research. With the Rice Department in the lead, GIZ has implemented agricultural projects for over a decade in Thailand. For instance, GIZ and the Rice Department trained more than 20,000 farmers in northeastern Thailand in sustainable and climate-smart practices, achieving an income increase of more than 20% on average for participating farmers while reducing chemical inputs and greenhouse gas emissions. These farmers, local communities, and women’s groups have also been involved in the multi- year development process that contributed to the design of the GCF Thai Rice project

A range of actors needs to come together to enable the transformational change required in the Thai rice sector- that means making it “climate-smart” Getting this project ready to kick off represents a significant effort by all parties involved. The implementation of n of the GCF Thal Rice project, currently envisaged to in the first quarter of 2024 will require input and begin in cooperation with all actors concerned to ensure that activities drive intended change and benefits are long-lived.

The project’s success will be measured by whether it can fulfil its targets and is dependent on the input by all stakeholders in the sector – from the farmer to the consumer. If widely adopted, this will be a huge benefit to farmers and Thailand’s rice sector to achieve its goals and address the global climate crisis.

Reinhold Elges is Country Director of GIZ Thailand. QR Code

Published Date: December 23, 2023

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