Just has food self-sufficiency has become an important national priority with the government working overtime to increase domestic vegetable production, a new report says that Bhutan will experience decreasing yields of rice and maize due to climate change.
However, all is not bad as the same report says that potato cultivation will thrive due to changes in temperature.
The prediction on the decrease in maize and rice yields and increase in potato yield was presented at the National Consultation Workshop for the Regional Economics of Climate Change in South Asia on May 10 by a consultant based on experiments conducted in Bhutan.
The report titled ‘Country Impact and Adaptation Assessment’ studied three places with three different crops like maize in Kanglung, rice in Bhur and potato in Phobjikha.
Complex climate models where used along with complex crop models and soil information in these areas to study crop behavior as temperatures warmed in the future. There were slight to moderate decreases in maize and rice yields but substantial increase in potato yields. The time period covered by the models was from 2010-2039 and 2040-2069.
The report says that the case studies approach demonstrates the vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climate change.
“It is obvious that with climate change and increasing carbon dioxide levels, agricultural crop yields are expected to change,” states the communication report.
The country today annually produces 71,300 MT of rough rice, 42,780 MT of milled rice, 57,455 MT of maize. In comparison more than 40,000 MT of potatoes are produced annually.
While the country largely produces enough maize for its use Bhutan’s biggest food import is rice. It increased from Nu 471.50 mn in 2006 to Nu 846.92 mn in 2010. This is compared to Nu 676.47mn worth of imports for vegetables and fruits combined.
The report suggests that adaptation and policy options should be implemented to take advantage of potential positive impacts. The report says that one major step would be in allowing for more potato production and securing export markets for it.
For the two other crops of maize and rice, the adaptation measures suggested are change in location of cultivation sites and improvements in water and pest management.
An agricultural officer said that the ministry is aware of the impact of climate change. He said that climate change and agricultural production will be one of the main themes of the 11th Five Year Plan of the ministry.
One positive impact of climate change is the production of crops in a much higher range where it was never found before. For instance, Bumthang successfully cultivated rice a few years ago and potatoes are grown in Phobjikha among other places.
The disasters related to climate change
Apart from the long terms impact climate change is already having a significant impact on local productivity.
The second national communication report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change notes that most farmers are totally dependent on the monsoons for irrigation and its delay can lead to drought while excessive rains cause natural disasters such as floods and landslides.
In 1996, farmers in the higher altitude lost anywhere from 80% to 90% of rice to rice blast epidemic.
The 2004 heavy monsoon downpour caused landslides which damaged 39 irrigation channels, affected 161 acres of wetlands and 503 acres of dry land. In terms of food items, 350 million tonnes of maize, 126 million tonnes of paddy, and 2,000 citrus trees were damaged.
A significant portion of Maize harvest was lost due to the outbreak of corn blight disease in 2007. In 2010, more than 5,000 acres of crops ranging from staple crops, such as maize, rice, potato, chili, buckwheat to others were affected by hail and wind storms.