South-East Asian Farmer Perceptions of Climate Change

Published August 2017 in World Scientific

A survey of farmers in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam reveals that farmers are keenly aware of even slight changes in their climate. Over 90% of the farmers interviewed perceived small changes in temperature or precipitation patterns where they lived. Over half claimed to have changed their irrigation, timing, or crop choices because of climate change. Although the link between perceived changes and stated adaptations is weak, farmers are aware of the types of changes they need to make in response to climate change in South-East Asia. Adaptation responses must be firmly grounded in not only local conditions, but also the views of participants at the front lines of climate change impacts. The knowledge base of farmers grappling with the challenges of climate change must be taken into account when policy responses to support adaptation are formulated.

One important dimension of climate change that is poorly understood is climate adaptation. Specifically, will remote actors such as farmers adapt? Will they able to detect climate change? Will they have any idea what to do in response? This paper seeks to address these questions by interviewing farmers. The survey asks farmers whether they are aware of changes in local temperature, precipitation, drought, floods, and pest and disease rates. The farmers were asked if these rates changed up or down. If farmers perceived one of the above changes, they were asked a follow up set of questions concerning how they adapted to that specific change. For example, for crops, farmers were asked whether they altered planting dates, crop type, crop varieties, or irrigation. This paper is based on a United Nations Development Programme initiative to understand the economics of climate change in the agriculture sector in Asia, where in a survey of 1615 small holder farmers across Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam were asked many questions in 2015/2016. Large plantations were not included in this sample. The results indicate that 99% of South-East Asian farmers reported a change in their climate and 95% reported warming temperatures. It appears that farmers are completely aware that their local temperatures are warming. Almost half of the farmers state that they changed their growing season timing, crop choice, variety choice, or irrigation in response to these changes. Empirical analysis of these responses could not find a close link between stated adaptations and specific perceived climate changes. Nonetheless, the results indicate that farmers are very sensitive to climate change and they are aware of the kinds of changes that they might have to make when climate change intensifies.

Authors: Babatunde Abidoye, Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, Robert Mendelsohn