Food security threat: Sarawak, Kelantan and Pahang farmers most vulnerable to climate change

KUALA LUMPUR: Small-scale farmers in Sarawak, Kelantan and Pahang are at higher risk of extreme weather events that could pose a threat to the country's food security, Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) said.

Specific districts and states, including Semporna, Beaufort, Kota Belud in Sabah; Sarikei, Sibu, Bintulu, Belaga in Sarawak; Gua Musang, Pasir Mas in Kelantan; Temerloh, Cameron Highlands, Lipis, Kuantan, Pekan, Jerantut, Bera in Pahang; and Hulu Perak, Kuala Kangsar, Perak Tengah in Perak, were flagged as very high-risk areas, followed by Sabah and Perak.

A study carried out indicated that smallholders in these areas are exposed to extreme weather and struggle to adapt, making them vulnerable. This poses challenges to their livelihoods which is made worse due to socioeconomic constraints.

Based on the data obtained from 3,300 agrifood smallholders nationwide, 75.6 per cent of smallholders reported a decrease in farm production attributed to changes in rainfall patterns.

Among the subsectors, crop growers were the most concerned about changes in rainfall patterns compared to livestock and aquaculture.

Interestingly, the survey revealed regional disparities in climate change awareness, with smallholders in Peninsular Malaysia claiming to be better informed compared to those in Sabah and Sarawak.

The climate risk exposure factors, including extreme precipitation, drought, river flooding, and coastal flooding, were evaluated using four decades of historical weather data.

Meanwhile, vulnerability factors such as education level, smartphone ownership, infrastructure access, social associations, and reliance on farming as the primary source of income were surveyed to gauge the resilience of smallholders.

While extreme climate changes were reported by 50 per cent of smallholders as a challenge, an even higher percentage at 84 per cent cited an increase in input prices as the top concern.

In the top three, pest attacks were also identified as a significant challenge, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the obstacles faced by smallholders.

The report added that while extreme weather is inevitable, farmers can become more resilient by addressing avoidable factors like poverty, poor communication, weak infrastructure, lack of climate-resilient crops, and absence of insurance.

KRI recommended focusing on climate adaptation in Sarawak, Kelantan and Pahang, particularly in high-risk districts. From there, offer incentivized training programmes for climate readiness, financial assistance and access to education and technology.

Socioeconomic factors of these states should be improved including boosting household income and providing alternative sources of non-farming income.

Lastly, it recommended that at the national level, there should be a boost in research and development for agriculture climate resilience, focusing on creating plants, technologies, and practices that can withstand climate challenges.

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