Combating the El Nino in Southeast Asia

drought Cindy flickrThe El Nino is expected to increase in intensity in the next couple of months, and experts say Indonesian farmers must step up efforts to combat drought

El Nino, the warm phase of the Southern Oscillation, has changed the weather in Southeast Asia at large by increasing temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. According to Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), the El Nino will strengthen and reach its peak this month and the next

Undoubtedly, there will be a series of changes to farming patterns, said M Ikhsan Shiddieqy, member of the Indonesian Agricultural Economic Community and researcher at Indonesia’s agriculture ministry. There are long stretches of cracked earth and dried up rivers as a result of the El Nino. Anticipating the extent of change, the agriculture ministry’s strategic plan for 2015-2019 entails several steps such as spreading awareness, use of technology, drought adaptation techniques, rain harvesting and such.

The government has installed around 21,000 water pumps, developed reservoirs and dug shallow wells in various regions. Tertiary irrigation systems have been built to cover 1.3 mn hectares of paddy fields, he said.

Technology could go a long way in preventing the effects of drought, and Indonesian farmers are adapting various methods such as drought-adaptive rice seeds. The use of soil additives for enrichment, as well as advanced irrigation systems and rain harvesting can lead to effective drought management.

One of the main ways to ensure the above methods are implemented is through awareness. Farmers have to be educated of the various benefits of modern agriculture. When they are taught how to manage drought conditions, their chances of abandoning their fields are lesser, said Shiddieqy. Consequently, it provides the next generation a reason to continue farming professionally, as several first generation farmers in the country fear that their children will not do so.

Finally, financial support is key as most of the proposed plans will not work without a solid financial plan, concluded Shiddieqy.

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