When organisers of an international conference on climate change and the food crisis first scheduled the event here for late September, little did they realise the event would be sandwiched by two typhoons buffeting the region. Ironically, the first typhoon, ‘Ketsana’, delayed the arrival of conference delegates from the Philippines.
A week after Ketsana struck the Philippines on Sep. 26 and then Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, it was the turn of Typhoon Parma to wreak havoc in the Philippines on Oct. 3. Now downgraded to a tropical storm, ‘Parma’ is still lingering over the region and initially entangled with another Pacific super typhoon, ‘Melor’, which then headed towards Japan.
Ketsana left a devastating trail after it dumped the equivalent of one month’s rainfall over Manila within six hours. Although Parma largely spared the country, it flooded large tracts of rice fields in northern Philippines and destroyed crops ready for harvest.
The typhoons in the region brought into sharp relief the issue of climate change as farmers struggle to cope with changing weather patterns. It is not just the sudden storms and heavy rainfalls that are disrupting farming but also the blurring of the seasons.
“If it rains, it rains heavily. In the past, there was less rainfall in September and October, but now there are heavy rains and strong winds,” says Che Ani Mat Zain, a rice farmer in Kedah in northern Malaysia.
“Our yield is fine if the weather is okay, but not if it is unpredictable,” he observes, adding that December and January used to be fairly dry months in Kedah, but now farmers experience more rain.
That is a pattern of disorientation that is being felt across the region. “The dry season and wet seasons are now blurred,” concurs Dr Charito Medina, national coordinator for the Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development (or ‘MASIPAG’, its Filipino acronym), a Philippine-based organisation bringing together 642 farmer organisations, representing 35,000 farmers, 60 non- governmental organisations and 15 scientists.