Considerations of Climate and Society in Asia: Farmers in Indonesia

StigterAgriculture, Articles, Climate Consensus Theme, Original

Prof. Yunita T. Winarto (with rain gauge) and Prof. Kees Stigter discuss rainfall measurements with farmers from Wareng, Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta Special Province, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of authors.

C. (Kees) J. Stigter1 and Yunita T. Winarto2
1 Visiting professor in developing countries, Agromet Vision, Bondowoso (Indonesia) and Bruchem (Netherlands) (
2 Academy Professorship Indonesia & Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social & Political Sciences, KNAW-AIPI, Universitas Indonesia, Depok, Indonesia (

Prof. Yunita T. Winarto (with rain gauge) and Prof. Kees Stigter discuss rainfall measurements with farmers from Wareng, Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta Special  Province, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of authors.

Prof. Yunita T. Winarto (with rain gauge) and Prof. Kees Stigter discuss rainfall measurements with farmers from Wareng, Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta Special Province, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of authors.

In this companion paper to “What Climate Change Means for Farmers in Asia,” we report on our work in Indonesia to try to build a rural response to climate change. Our approach started with meetings to answer farmers’ questions on climate change and its consequences. For the present, farmers in places like Indramayu, coastal West Java, must find more answers to the increasing rainfall variability, including increasingly severe extreme events presently are experienced and predicted to continue. We therefore proceeded with advocating and guiding daily simple rainfall measurements by farmers in their plots together with increased daily observations and analyses of their agro-ecosystems. This data is also recorded for comparisons in later years. We are also advocating for this approach to be used elsewhere in Asia.
In the first part of this paper, we considered what climate change means for farmers in Asia, particularly in Indonesia. It is true any changes as to successful mitigation of the impacts of climate change and adaptation to its realities will entail changes in individual behavior, technology, institutions, agricultural systems and socio-economic systems [1], but it is also true that this will have to be done from the bottom up [2].
After economic reasonings, climate disaster issues are the second great argument for national weather and other environmental services. Climate disasters also give way for research institutes and universities to jointly convince the Indonesian government of the necessity of getting away from a largely rice-only agriculture, and for funding the design of new cropping systems and testing them on-farm in various regions in a participatory approach [3].
II.A. Global warming
In [4] it was recently confirmed that as the daily minimum temperature increases, so as nights get hotter in general, rice yields drop. This is largely due to increasing respiration for growth maintenance purposes at night. This diminishes the daily photosynthetically assembled assimilates, which in turn lead to lower yields. This was the first study to assess the impact of both daily maximum and minimum temperatures on irrigated rice production in farmer-managed rice fields in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia. The study was unique because it used data collected in farmers’ fields, an important addition to what was already known from controlled experiments. About three billion people eat rice every day, and out of the world’s billion poorest and undernourished, more than 60 percent of those who live in Asia depend on rice as their staple food. A decline in rice production will mean that more people will slip into poverty and hunger. Up to a point, higher daytime temperatures can increase rice yields. Still, future yield losses caused by higher nighttime temperatures will outweigh any such gains because temperatures are rising faster at night. And, if daytime temperatures get too high, they too start to restrict rice yields, causing an additional loss in production. If we cannot change our rice production methods or develop new rice strains that can withstand higher temperatures, there will be a loss in rice production over the next few decades as days and nights get hotter. Many physiological processes are having optimum temperature ranges and climate change does result in getting over the top of these optima into areas where assimilates, so yields, diminish. The actual temperatures where this happens differ with varieties, but even the most heat-tolerant varieties will in the end get into situations of diminishing returns. This will only worsen as temperatures rise further towards the middle of the century [4].
The above-summarized work by researchers from the United States, the Philippines and the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) looked at the impact of rising daily minimum and maximum temperatures on irrigated rice production from 1994 through1999. It was pooling 227 fields in China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam [5]. Global warming threatens rice production throughout the tropics and crop diversification is one of the measures that may yield early results because new, more heat-tolerant varieties will take a lot of time to develop, if at all possible [3, 6]. Actually it is not extreme events that matter much but the long-term trends that influence physiological processes over longer periods of growth beyond the range of optimal temperatures for growing a certain variety. Minimum night temperatures changing in the order of 2 to 4 degrees will reduce paddy rice yields substantially for the present varieties, and rainfed rice can stand even less. Farmers in the lowland tropics of Indonesia must inform BMKG, the National Climate and Weather Services, of their interest in changing temperatures, averages, night minima and daily maxima over various periods of the growing season.
II.B. Increasing climate variability
One recommendation of a review of the successful agrometeorological pilot projects on operational meteorological assistance to rural areas in Mali, West Africa, over the past decades, was to continue the promotion of farmer rain gauges for each and every farmer [7]. Since 2007, we have been running and working to establish programs in Yogyakarta and West Java, Indonesia, to stimulate local farmers to take daily measurements of rainfall in their own plots[8]. However, this has never been a goal in itself, and should serve other purposes in a rural response to climate change.
Organizing daily measurements of rainfall by farmers may be the start of improving Climate Field Schools (CFSs). (See also further below.) Another reason for advocating rainfall measurements by farmers is that official data are very often not of much use, due to high differences in rainfall over relatively small distances. This means, that for each plot, actual increasing variability and more severe extreme events may work out differently in practice in each rainy season. Farmers’ data already show this clearly. Not what climate change brings, but how it brings it, will differ in its implications for local water balances and other water-related consequences. Official data are often deficient, and what exists is not made available free of charge, even for comparisons [8]. Climate change makes it even more necessary to do such measurements.
Farmers all over the world are reporting both the timing of rainy seasons and the patterns of rains within seasons are changing [9]. Generally, farmers have always responded to climatic variability, particularly to changes in rainfall, by adapting their practices throughout the season. This involves adapting their choices of crops, crop varieties, planting and other cultural measures, while at the same time managing and manipulating the soil, water and microclimate where possible. Climate change and its consequences as dealt with complicate this so-called “response farming,” but it does not change the principles of the approach [2, 10, 11]. Of course, the change in average climatic conditions is a relatively small drift compared with the increasing inter- and intra-annual variabilities, but may become devastating too, even if only gradually. In this context, daily on-farm rainfall measurements also help farmers to understand differences in their crop growth. The exercise may assist farmers in organizing better in other matters of common interest, such as supporting farmer meaningful agrometeorological preparedness and learning regarding consequences of increasing climate variability and change [9, 12, 13].
Overall, in Wareng/Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta Special Province, the farmers had an interesting learning experience. A combination of unexpected weather conditions, precise knowledge of the rainfall numerical analysis, and the direct impacts of related events on plants and fields, while also referring to their traditional knowledge made little sense in practice without any timely information officially provided to the farmers by state agencies that this part of 2008 and 2009 was a La Niña season. Farmers learned they would better anticipate similar future weather conditions, provided they would be systematically informed through reliable seasonal climate predictions [14]. Just as weather forecasts break down after four to five days and become mostly unreliable, seasonal climate predictions presently are given three times monthly but are renewed monthly. Reliabilities also here become quickly corrupted by large scale oceanic surface temperature and partly therefore atmospheric developments, disturbances and distortions, mainly due to the chaotic characteristics of ocean currents and atmospheric flows [14, 15].
II.C. More (and more severe) climate extremes
In March 2010, farmers in Indramayu asked us what we expected to happen, and whether the end of the rainy season could be any better than its disastrous very late start in December. From the NOAA ensemble predictions review [15], we indicated this to be very unlikely, but that the present developments were quite uncertain. That was, of course, of little help. Moreover, it was discovered as late as June that the forecasts in these months were all wrong.
Also BMKG was completely wrong about the usual end of the main rainy season of 2009 and 2010. They predicted for some areas an early dry season, between late March and May, with most areas likely to have a normal dry season in June. But the rains continued. Only at the end of May did BMKG start to warn for heavy rains and to blame these anomalies and unpredictabilities on global warming, even though it was a La Niña causing the problems [14].
We would never have been able to forecast what happened in the usually dry but now abundantly wet “dry” season in Indonesia in 2010, using the NOAA or other available predictions. Farmers remain confused, together with the scholars and the forecasters, in case of such rare fast changes from El Nino to La Niña [14]. On its own, this was not an extreme condition but an extremely fast change at an odd moment during the usual beginning of the dry season. However, such confusions are happening more and more [e.g. 16]. It may be expected that such capricious behavior, that may then develop into more prolonged and intensified droughts [17, 18] and floods [19, 20], will occur more often, together with the related confusions.
In a Table in [21], one can find what farmers, in most cases our farmers in Indonesia, actually may expect from projected likely, very likely or virtually certain changes in extreme events and associated effects. It must be realized that farmers in Asia and elsewhere will not be able to cope with the higher numbers of climate extremes further climate change is expected to bring, even apart from the fact these extremes may be also more serious than before. A completely new approach is needed (e.g. [19]) because farmers need better seasonal climate predictions and other early warnings. This paper ends with discussing such an approach in Section III.
II.D. Contributions from agriculture in diminishing greenhouse gases
The following was derived from [22]. Yansen argued in [23] that “our participation in nature based solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation is the right pathway to follow. (……) The development from REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) to REDD plus is a good sign of the changing paradigm on the plan itself. REDD plus does not just view natural forests as carbon stock, but far more importantly, as natural ecosystem service resources. (…..) Thus, a plan such as REDD plus not only gives us a chance to contribute to global warming mitigation, but also plays a significant role in conserving the tropical ecosystem itself.”
We are convinced that another additional step has to be taken in this reasoning, making use of agroforestry. By applying agroforestry we are mimicking nature, particularly some classical traditional tropical ecosystems (e.g. [10]). We have to go a next step to REDD plus plus, creating and mimicking in agricultural production such tropical ecosystems that not only sequester carbon dioxide, but at the same time considerably improve the agricultural environment by the massive use of trees, raising and nursing them in a participatory approach in the often degraded agricultural environment. This is at the same time an adaptation strategy to climate change [24, 25, 26]. The proposal must be seen as massive reforestation of areas where natural vegetation was slashed away in the green revolution that is generally considered worth the efforts as to the carbon sequestration concerned if such plantings are protected from other than age related clearing and renewals [22].
Agroforestry helps maintain ecological balances by also providing indirect benefits such as soil and water conservation and improved soil fertility [25], as well as improved microclimate conditions [27], and may therefore also play a key role in ecological restoration and poverty alleviation [28].
We need a REDD plus plus approach in which all the forest products are developed on agricultural lands. It implies that we develop timber, firewood and charcoal, meat and milk, minor forest products and medicinal plants all from the farm sector. Such a REDD plus plus system is a Tree, Crop, Livestock Joint Production System (TCLJPS) of agroforestry. TCLJPS is nothing new in the Indian context. This practice was vogue for centuries prior to the green revolution and we need to bring it back in the changed context. Indeed, TCLJPS agroforestry makes sense as a key instrument in fostering the REDD and REDD plus. As REDD plus plus, this helps us in recasting “farming as forestry by other means.” [22] A certification system will be tried where the amount of sequestrated carbon is calculated and thus can be sold to people or companies and institutions in developed countries. In this manner it is intended to attract increased and stable funding to support the program, while also strengthening awareness of the importance of supporting developing countries in their adaptation to climate change [29]. Indonesia has to consider increasing tree plantings too, also in and near rice fields.
Research on agrarian adaptation to climate change and variability needs a greater emphasis on farmers’ creative adaptive capacities and socio-cultural institutions [30]. Response farming in combating disasters does exist [31] and even more so in multiple cropping [32]. For scientists, the purpose remains to increase, with the farmers as decision makers, the awareness on potential climate and climate change-related hazards and their mitigation [31], with additional advantages of reduced vulnerabilities from multiple cropping and related cultural measures [32].
III.A Science/Climate Field Shops
We already noted the virtual absence of extension officers trained in what is needed under conditions of a changing climate. Given this situation, we have developed what we have called Climate Field Shops, when only weather and climate issues are discussed, and Science Field Shops, with a wider agricultural reach, meetings between scholars and farmers.
It is our experience over the past few years that the most useful and convincing preparedness sessions between farmers and scholars are those in which we are not only talking about rainfall measurements results and the related observations of crops and soil, but also taking ample time to explain the background of climate change and its consequences in terms that people can understand. We also discuss questions on these and other issues of their agricultural environment. Basically, we define such “Climate/Science Field Shops” as meetings in which scholars answer questions on vulnerabilities expressed by farmers. And where necessary, they follow this up at their institutes with supportive research and teaching to and with their students [14].
The idea was based on Dutch so called “Law Shops,” where defenceless people can consult lawyers free of charge about their rights and how to defend them. This gives lawyers and law students the opportunity to see and discuss where ordinary people got stuck in the process and what is needed to get them their rights. Both sides learn from this procedure [14].
Ideally, scholars and students should join to provide an initial overview of answers to vulnerability issues and questions of farmers. Such initial answers should then be discussed with the farmers as to what the possibilities, choices and options are available in solving their problems and how they see them from their realities. Through farmer research, they may find their own solutions, but a dialogue with scholars is advisable. Measurements and quantification leading to cause and effect relationships are what science has to offer to empirical answers sought or found by farmers (e.g. [10]). This must be considered an effective way to connect applied scientists and students with actual problem solving in rural areas and to prepare future Climate/Farmer Field Schools on these vulnerabilities [33].
Exposure to climate change is a farmer vulnerability issue. Mitigation of its consequences and adaptation to increasing climate variability and change must be seen as a rural response in which scholars can assist. We use Roving Seminars in agrometeorology to start to induce such understanding [34, 35]. We are convinced that Climate Field Shop or Science Field Shop sessions are suitable to get material for improved curricula of Climate Field Schools. We believe Climate Field Schools should not have fixed curricula, but a curriculum that is created with the farmers.
However, this definitely asks for well-trained extension intermediaries who should, over time, take over most of the tasks of the scholars. The latter should only be used for training and back-up. In our view, there is a sincere need for two kinds of extension intermediaries [10, 35, 36]. They were described for agrometeorology, but the same applies to many other fields, such as agrohydrology, agroecosystems, pests and diseases.
The first type of intermediary should be part of the extension department of the national weather services, agricultural faculties or universities and agricultural research institutes in under-industrialized countries. They should have two main tasks:

– Make products of their institutes more client-friendly and useful for farmers. In industry, products are made useful and attractive to clients, because competition determines sales. Why are products in science and technology from the above mentioned institutions not made more client friendly and attractive to be applied?
– Take care of training of trainers (TOT) for FFSs/CFSs by their institutes.

They should themselves be trained in service by their institutes. Members of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) could take part in this training as trainers or trainees.
The second type of intermediary, the trainers trained above by the first type, should replace the presently failing or already disbanded extension services. They should be the ones doing the FFSs/CFSs, throughout the growing season(s), with the farmers. Members of NGOs could be part of this picture if and when trained the same way.
It is very important to think about the kind of training both types of extension intermediaries need. In [10], and already earlier approved and taken over in [36], syllabi have been proposed for discussion and trial purposes, that could be used in such trainings. In the ultimate rural response to climate change, this support from well-trained extension intermediaries is crucial if we want an institutionalized attempt to face the consequences of climate change in a real rural response.
What we described will require a long process. Experimenting with Climate/Science Field Shops and publicizing their results are the initial phases. However, Asian agrometeorologists and other agricultural scientists, and the institutes where they work, will, together with already convinced funding organizations in the field of climate compatible development (e.g. [37]), see the importance and necessity of this educational approach. They will work with anthropologists to give more body to these collaborative learning processes with the farmers that need our support so badly [38].
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