Bhutan faces crop losses from erratic climate


Source: SciDev.Net

Agricultural experts in the Himalayan country of Bhutan — a least developed country — are concerned at increasing crop losses in recent years, attributable to global warming.

The losses, which began around 2004, are the direct result of increasing pest attacks and disease, erratic rainfall, windstorms, droughts, flash floods and landslides, officials said.

The country’s latest crop losses were in May and June 2011 when a dry spell in Pemagatshel, one of Bhutan’s poorest districts in the east, destroyed hundreds of acres of maize.

Maize farmers in Pemagatshel said the dry spell was unprecedented and that they were now facing a seed shortage for the next crop of maize, a staple.

An upcoming regional meeting on climate change in the Himalayas, to be held in Bhutan in November 2011, will see experts discussing water, energy and biodiversity and devising strategies to build climate change resilience for food security in the region.

Bhutan’s ministry of agriculture is ready with a country paper that addresses policy issues around the impact of global warming on genetic resources, pests, diseases, soil, water and infrastructure.

According to the paper, maize production decreased from 90,568 metric tonnes in 2004 to 71,062 metric tonnes in 2006.

In 2007, more than half of Bhutan’s maize harvest was lost to ‘northern corn blight’, a fungal disease, Tirtha Katawal, Bhutan’s national maize coordinator and principal research officer at the department of agriculture, told SciDev.Net.

Katawal blamed erratic weather patterns and temperature and humidity changes for a “dramatic rise in pest and disease outbreaks in many crops.”

Bhutan’s agriculture department director Chencho Norbu said the country urgently needed drought-resistant varieties of rice and maize, as well as horticultural crops.

Norbu said this calls for additional money and human resources, regional cooperation, exchange of plant material and formalisation of institutional linkages with the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research — a network of governments and organisations that funds 15 major research centres around the world.   

Only two out of the 38 maize varieties grown in Bhutan are blight-resistant. Traditional varieties account for half of Bhutan’s maize crop, suggesting “very low adoption rates” of improved high-yielding varieties by the farmers, Katawal said.

Local environmentalists and farmers worry that if dry spells continue, local food production would decline.

Yeshi Penjor, climate change advisor with the United Nations Development Programme in Bhutan, expressed concern that Bhutan’s farmers would not be able to adapt to changing farming needs imposed by global warming.

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