Building ENSO-resilient agriculture in East Asia

Rice tiller damaged by severe drought in Tra Vinh province, Vietnam. Severe drought episodes and salinity intrusion hit the country due to the 2015-2016 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. Photo: Leo Sebastian (CCAFS)

To provide better solutions, various dimensions of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) preparedness and response in agriculture of five East Asian countries were evaluated.

East Asia remains one of the most severely affected regions in the world by the adverse effects of ENSO. Specifically, the agriculture sector of the region is often the most vulnerable to ENSO's impacts. In 20152016, extreme weather events caused by El Niño damaged agricultural production, resulting in lost livelihoods and food insecurity of communities across the region. In Vietnam, nearly 450,000 hectares (ha) of crops have been damaged by drought conditions in the Central Highlands, South Central Coast and Mekong River Delta. In the Philippines, the El Niño event resulted in total agricultural area losses of 556,721 ha, worth USD 325 million.

Aside from agricultural losses, other major challenges brought by ENSO events include a shortage of fresh water, increase in climate-related diseases, and less food, especially affecting children and women. The effects extend from the agricultural sector to livelihoods, food security, and health of the larger population.

In response, the World Bank’s Agriculture Global Practice is undertaking an Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA) program on agri-food resilience to ENSO in East Asia. The program aims to increase awareness among policymakers about ENSO and its impacts on agri-food systems in five selected countries, namely, Cambodia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Philippines and Vietnam. It also seeks to provide recommendations to these countries to enhance their preparedness for future ENSO events and other climate hazards. It will provide analysis of past and likely future impacts of ENSO on agricultural production and access to food, highlight relevant good practices, and develop recommendations for improving the agricultural resilience of each country.

From September to October 2017, the World Bank worked with the CGIAR International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to conduct bilateral meetings with government agencies and research partners, as well as consultation workshops, in the five countries. Government agencies, donor organizations, non-government organizations (NGOs), and private sector representatives shared their first-hand experiences of ENSO events, and the achievements and challenges in past ENSO responses, during meetings in the respective countries.

The panel discussions organized during the consultation workshops focused on: the evidence of the impacts of El Niño and La Niña on agricultural production, domestic agri-food supply chains, international trade, and food prices and consumption; the institutional capacity, policy responses, and international support; and the current knowledge and response gaps, and how to improve agri-food resilience to future ENSO-related climate shocks.

Country notes were also presented to participants to:

  • introduce the county’s agricultural sector, including its role in the country’s economy and how this is influenced by ENSO;
  • examine and present new analysis on the impact of ENSO on weather, agricultural production, food security and poverty, and assesses effects on the broader economy;
  • present the roles and responses of the government, private sector, and NGOs including development partners during extreme events;
  • summarize implications for policy and sustainable ways forward to improve the state of knowledge and enhance policymaking; and
  • recommend practical solutions to reduce the vulnerability of the agri-food systems to ENSO-induced and other climatic shocks.

Based on the feedback to the country notes and on in-depth information gathered during the workshops, IFPRI, together with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security in Southeast Asia (CCAFS SEA), evaluated institutions, actions, and the political economy of responses of the five countries. In the upcoming report, CCAFS SEA provided detailed discussions on institutions, mechanisms, and past and present actions to build resilience and provide emergency response to ENSO-related shocks, and evaluated the efficacy and efficiency of these responses.

Based on the results of the evaluation, recommendations were enumerated in the report. Recommendations were developed on the ways to: better understand ENSO; improve legal frameworks, institutions and coordination for ENSO responses; design and implement ENSO preparedness plans; improve capacity building for ENSO responses/early forecasting; and provide and manage emergency funds.

Attention has also been given given to women, children, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups who are the most vulnerable to natural disasters. All governments, development agencies, and NGOs are advised to target vulnerable groups in the ENSO preparation activities.

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Eisen Bernardo is the Senior Communication Specialist for CCAFS Southeast Asia.