Printed version of the paper presented at an International Conference on "Livelihood Development and Sustainable Environmental Management in the Context of Climatic Change" at Thai Nguyen Univeristy, Vietnam on November 14, 2015
The consequences of climatic change on household economics and rural development
Climatic change is in the focus of the international scientific discussion due to concern about expected impacts in all regions in the world. Natural sciences concentrate on the causes of climatic change and measures to avoid or reduce it. This paper deals with the socioeconomic consequences of climatic change in the future. What may be the socioeconomic impact of climatic change on the living standard of rural families and what the implication for agricultural and rural development decisions? How is the scientific knowledge for research dealing with the long-term changes of climatic parameters and how can they are used to forecast tong-term socioeconomic development.
1. Climatic change and effects on agriculture
Climate and changes
Climate is commonly defined as the weather in a particular area averaged over a long period. The variables characterizing climate are measured by assessing the patterns of variation in mainly temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind and precipitation. While climate characterizes the long-term development of those variables, the weather refers to the short-term conditions of these variables in a given region. Farmers and rural development decisions are usually related and based on the weather. The climate especially if there is a change in long-term is an issue of research and policy decision-maker. The climate in given regions may differ according to latitude, terrain, altitude and nearby water bodies since the driving forces determining the climate change differ according to these local conditions. The climate always has been changing since knowledge is available from the past. The nature of earth and environment has its own natural sources for change. There was enough time for mankind to adjust according to the changes. In recent time, human activities have additionally influenced the changes of some variables in climate. Today, it is understood that climate change is a result of both, human activities and the earth's natural processes. Due to this, the term climate change is not synonymous with the term anthropogenic global warming as it is often used in development policy discussions.
General effects of climatic changes
Scientific analyses and simulation of future developments of climatic changes are extremely difficult, since all the relevant parameters and their interactive relations for given regions for very long periods in the past are not available at high quality level. The largest deficit is the quantification of the future probability of occurrence of individual parameter of climate and their relationship. It is for that reason why often very general effects on highly aggregated level are presented where one could assume that estimation error in all directions may be leveled out through averages. Accepting and following this very general and “rough estimate” approach the climatic change may be characterized and classified as follows:
1. Future climate change and associated impacts may differ from region to region simply following latitude with lower rainfall in subtropical zones and
higher precipitation in northern areas. In some areas there might be negative and in others positive effects.
2. In dryer zones head waves and desertification may increase, while in more favorable zones increasing rainfall may require more water control system.
3. The weather may show more extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, flooding influencing agricultural production and rural infrastructure needs.
In many scientific publications the effect of climatic change on agriculture is limited to a segment of the whole problem by mostly dealing with “how” would soil, vegetation, crop production, livestock production, use of mechanization be influenced if any weather parameter would change at several levels. What is needed is the linkage from changing climate variable to the following steps of the impact on soil, cropping, marketing, economics and decision-making of farmers.
The most important impacts of changing climate variable on farming economcis and rural development are as follows:
a) Impact on water
Climatic change may result in change of rainfall, surface water, ground water and humidity. In some regions of the world water may increase and in others degrease and sometimes even in higher peaks as before. Such changes will effect investments in water resources development as well as water controlling systems. Water will indirectly influence land resources through desertification and flooding, through land sliding, erosion and fertility and hence have an impact on land and water use decisions and family and rural economcis. Figure 1 gives a rough overview on potential change of water availability in the world.
b) Impact on production
Climatic changes, especially through change in water availability and sunshine intensity and duration, may result in change of yield levels, selection of crops grown, production costs due to diseases and irrigation/water control, performance of livestock, selection of animals, herd management through changing diseases and finally the quality of the product and potential for marketing. Different production techniques may be needed leading to higher levels of mechanization and higher production costs. At regional level changes in infrastructure may be needed. Figure 2 gives a rough overview on potential change of yields in agricultural production in the world.
The impact of climatic change on agriculture in developing countries has been estimated by the Overseas Development Institute (5) as likely to be mixed. However, the vulnerability of the poor in developing countries to short term impacts from climate change, notably the increased frequency and severity of adverse weather events is likely to have a negative impact.
Figure 1: Projected change in water availability in 2050 compared with average 1961-1990
Source (1), pp 31–52
Figure 2: Projected change in agricultural productivity (yields) between 2003 and 2080 due
to climatic change including fertilization effects of carbon emissions, Source: (2), pp 23-27
2. Consequences on household economics and rural development
Limitations through deficits in climatic knowledge
The global discussion on climatic change indicates that the scientific knowledge about the expected change of individual climatic parameters in terms of amount of change, probability of occurrence and the precise time in the future when it will happen is extremely limited. While the increase of temperature might be on somehow reasonable grounds, the forecast of heat waves, storms and rainfall may not go far beyond “it will happen”. This is even more relevant the smaller the area, the region or even the location of the farm.
To insure a solid scientific discussion of the consequences of climatic change on household economics and rural development the following has to be taken into consideration:
1. All forecasts of the variables of climatic changes cannot precisely say, whether changes of climatic variables at the location of the farm and in a given rural area will be relevant in 20 or 400 years. Where are the scientific solid studies which show that the mean average rainfall in Son La Province will decrease or increase by 10% from today until 2040?
2. The extent of the change of the climatic variables cannot be defined precisely and expressed in probabilities at the location of the farm and rural area. Providing probabilities of occurrence is even more difficult: where are the scientific solid studies which show that the average humidity in Bac Can Province will be reduced by 10 % with a probability of 75 % and reduced by 2 % with a probability of 20 %?
3. The interrelationship of one changing variable with other climatic or non climatic variables as well as natural adjustments cannot be quantified and hence incorporated in the forecast of the change of climatic parameters. This is even more complicated with parameters changed by people.
Even more confusing is the impression that in political discussions sometimes the argument of climatic change is used in cases where other reasons such as failure in decision-making and unsuccessful actions are relevant. There is an urgent need to bring the discussion on climatic change down to real facts and actual knowledge and focus more on research to provide better basic knowledge on climatic change.
Impacts and implication: examples
Current analyses and projections of the impact of climatic change on rural families living standard and rural development will have to be based on limited knowledge. What is possible is the description of a logical framework of the possible situation followed by simulation models. Such model result will show that under the assumption that “x” will happen with the climate at a climate variable level of “y” with a probability of change of the climatic variable of “z” at the time “t” the effect at family and rural level can be quantified.
The conclusions of current model results allow only indicating the general trends. This can be demonstrated in the simulation results from research in Northern Thailand (2009). The assumption that there will be an increase in rainfall in Phayao Province in Thailand leads to an increase in river flow (Figure 1) and hence an increase of domestic and irrigation water available at families’ house and farmer fields in different locations (Table 1). Alternatively, the additional water can be used for families not yet fully supplied by domestic water as well as for intensification at the already irrigated land. The increase of river flow indicates also increasing peaks of water with the need of better controlling water and use if additional hydrological infrastructure would be provided. Additional irrigation water provides higher income for family farmers.
From a rural development point of view the annual fluctuation of rainfall with a given constant demand for domestic and irrigation water creates deficits in some years which should be bridged by either natural or artificial reservoirs. Generally, it can be stated that, the higher the fluctuation of rainfall (from year to year and from season to season) the higher the required reservoir storage capacity. Consequently, the higher the investment in water reservoirs will be. Without reservoirs, farms located in areas without access to groundwater will have higher risk in farm production.
Within a larger region in a rural area there could be less rainfall and hence less water availability at the same time due to changing of the environment conditions e.g. through cutting of forests. As a consequence farming may move from irrigation to more rain-fed agriculture, being less profitable for farming families and goods supplied to the market may change in volume and type.
Impacts and response
All knowledge available today in climatic change and impact on agriculture allow the conclusion, that changes of the conditions for agricultural resources and production and their interrelation we see in farms and rural areas may happen in small steps and over longer periods. This has the following consequences:
Rural families’ households
1. In the past farming and rural development has adjusted to any changes in their environment and especially to changes in resources, production and marketing (especially price fluctuations), sometimes with a time lack. It can be assumed, that the change in climate will not be as drastically as the fluctuation of prices for farmers and hence, farmer may adjust by themselves. Even an increase of 2 Centigrade in temperature in Son La Province unrealistically in only one year (not 100 years) would allow farmers to respond in a proper way.
2. More difficulties can be expected in shocks of climatic variables. Extremes in rainfall, heads and wind may create flooding, land sliding, draughts, erosion and bring negative impacts on rural people. This happened in the past too, but had created some kind of catastrophes and needs for humanitarian help. If such events increase in frequency rural families will need short and long-term support.
Figure 3: Simulated river flows with rainfall in 2007 and with 20 % higher rainfall of 20 % in an
undefined time in the future in Phayao Province, Thailand, Source: (4), p. 209
Table 1: Increase of irrigated land through higher water availability as consequence of higher rainfall
through climatic change in Phayao Province, Thailand
Rural development policies
1. With respect to point at rural family level, rural development policy may focus on education and training to prepare rural families on the step-by-step development in climatic change. This is relevant for both the zone with increasing as well as decreasing water supply as a consequence of climatic change.
2. With respect to point 2 at rural family level, there is need for action in preventing strategies. Since water is a key issue water control management as well as water reservoir and supply systems have to take into account the potentially extreme conditions of too much or too little water in the region. This is relevant for both the zone with increasing water supply as well as decreasing water supply as consequence of climatic change. Proper water management is needed also for proper soil and land strategies.
Climatic change may happen in small steps over time and would allow research and educational institutions as well as the economy to respond in a proper way. Assuming the North of Vietnam will become as warm as the South in – may be 100 to 500 years – there is enough time to respond if it is to be seen in proper time.
With a more short term relevant increase of the frequency of heat and rainy waves, a strategy to prevent the consequences would be helpful. The most important one could be to prepare larger capacities in water control management and water storages, to bring markets and infrastructure in a position to cope with structural changes in agricultural production and processing. If new areas start in new cropping systems and others move out of a certain crop, markets will have to be prepared.
Vietnam has shown good experiences in the positive case of coffee. As soon as there was a good opportunity for coffee é export, large programs in Central Vietnam have responded quickly and in a proper way. From that point of view, changes in climate will give enough time to prepare for avoiding the negative impacts as well as to cope with the positive sides of climatic change.
3. Summary and conclusions
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