Sun smart: The increasing frequency of hotter days has prompted Fijian papaya farmers to protect their delicate fruit from sunburn.
By Andy McElroy
GENEVA, 31 October 2013 –
Fijian papaya farmers and exporters whose businesses were devastated by a 2012 cyclone are emerging from near bankruptcy with better protected livelihoods thanks to a stronger approach to disaster risk management.
Last December’s Cyclone Evan decimated crops and slashed papaya exports by almost 90 per cent prompting an industry-wide rethink on how such a catastrophic experience could be minimized in future.
As a result, beleaguered farmers and exporters are changing practices to address increasing climate extremes: production is spreading away from traditional crop heartlands; budgets increasingly factor in contingency for disasters; planting is on smaller blocks and a more regular basis; seed trees are selected to suit local conditions more; and bigger stocks of seed are in store to accelerate post-disaster recovery.
“The short of it is if you have been a papaya farmer in Fiji over the past four years you would not have made any money and, indeed, some farmers have gone under,” said Kyle Stice of the Fiji Papaya Project.
“Our analysis is that climate change is likely to impact agriculture by amplifying pressure of existing threats, primarily climate extremes: cyclones, flooding, and drought.”
Farmers are now making investment decisions that factor in an expectation of more very hot days and warm nights, higher annual rainfall, more days that experience heavy and extreme rain, and fewer cyclones but those that do occur being more severe.
“We found that previous approaches tended to ignore current threats and focused on ill-defined climate change issues,” Mr Stice said.
“What we are trying to do now is enable farmers to adapt to climate extremes in the short and medium term, this will ensure future generations of farmers will be better placed to adapt to climate change.”
As well as changes by individual farmers, the industry as a whole has shifted significantly. It now embraces a multi-sectoral approach to planning underpinned by quarterly meetings that prioritize issues and agrees who will do what.