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Jasmine rice yields at risk
Global warming may significantly dampen the production of jasmine rice, one of Thailand's best-loved crops, according to a recent scientific study. "The higher the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the lower the yield of jasmine rice," stated the study.
The conclusion was drawn from research conducted by Thai and Lao scientists over the past year to predict the most likely impact of climatic changes on the two countries' water resources and food production.
The study comes under the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research's (APN) CAPaBLE Programme CB-01, which uses hydrological records and other data relating to Thailand and Laos over the past decade to forecast future climatic trends and their impact on the two neighbouring nations.
It is the first study to show how such changes could affect Thailand at the micro level.
The simulation revealed that the decreasing trend in Thailand's rice yield would continue irrespective of the amount of rainfall and that the country would face serious repercussions from any climatic fluctuations. In terms of annual rainfall, the Kingdom is likely to see levels drop considerably in the next 40 years if the carbon-dioxide content in the air rises as anticipated to 1.5 times that of the referential baseline years (1980-1989). The trend is expected to reverse after 26 years when twice as much carbon dioxide will fill the air along with significantly more rainfall (assuming current figures follow the same pattern as the baseline years). Many parts of the Kingdom may then experience serious flooding, the study said. "The projected figures show a drop in the rice yield for both scenarios [drought and flood]," stressed Attachai Jintrawet, a member of the study team and a scientist at Chiang Mai University.
"The yield drop could reach as much as 20 per cent," he added.
"Even though the exact magnitude of the decrease would require a more detailed study, the general trend has been confirmed," said the study team.
Thailand currently produces 22 million tonnes of rice per year, which accounts for about 4 per cent of the world's total production. Of the 59 million rai nationwide devoted to growing rice, around 40 million rai are located in heavily rain-fed areas.
Attachai said samples taken from specific areas revealed that the yield in Sakon Nakhon would drop from 2,635 to 2,355 kilograms per hectare in the wettest years of the decade.
The findings were based on a simulation using a mathematical model called the Conformal-Cubic Atmospheric Model, or CCAM. Scientists then verified the trend by cross-checking it with their own observations at experimental sites in northern areas such as Thung Kula Ronghai, Sakon Nakhon, Sa Kaew, Chiang Rai and the Lao province of Savannakhet.
The low yield was self-evident in all areas except Sa Kaew, which is at a lower latitude and requires further research, said Attachai.
"Rainfall is one factor, but the reduction of the yield is also caused by other factors like flooding, soil erosion and more leaching of soil nutrients, which are related to climatic change," he added.
Apart from jasmine rice, the study also simulated the impact on other crops in Khon Kaen.
The team found that higher levels of carbon dioxide would cause yields of cassava to fall, but have the opposite effect on sugarcane and maize.
"These are just the initial findings of our broader study," said the coordinator of the CAPaBLE CB-01 programme.
Launched last January, the programme aims to answer three central questions: Which computer model can most accurately forecast the climate in parts of Thailand and Laos along the Mekong River; what impact will changes have on local water resources (the hydrological cycle); and how the weather will affect food production in the designated areas.
Despite the "impressive" results, further fine-tuning of the current models is needed in order to increase the accuracy of both the model and the simulated impact, said Dr Anond Snidvongs, APN's liaison officer for Southeast Asia.
"However, the forecast is a sign that we should do something now to prepare for the coming changes, such as make plans for better land use or better select what crops we produce," said Anond.
"We hope our findings will cause policymakers to cooperate more closely with the scientific community in order to develop our country and the region," he added.
"Some kind of warning system should be initiated for the public benefit," suggested Chiang Mai University's Attachai.
MGR Archive 13.8.2004
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