As one of the speakers in an international panel who presented in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), DA-BAFE Asst. Director Engr. Juana Tapel, PhD. presented gender-inclusive agricultural and biosystems engineering solutions to climate change from a Philippine perspective.
The COP26 is a two-week conference held in Glasgow, United Kingdom from October 31 to November 12, 2021 where stakeholders across the world collectively grapple with the climate crisis on top of the global agenda. The COP 26 presents an opportunity for world leaders to put women and girls at the center of global efforts to adapt and build resilience to climate change.
Engr. Tapel made an online presentation on November 7 in the STEM for all and the Climate Crisis, a gender-inclusive global conversation about the role of the young in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) on addressing climate change. The hybrid (online, onsite, offline) event (live streamed in YouTube STEM for all and the climate crisis | #COP26) for the young, across countries and cultures advances entrepreneurship as a way for younger people to lead mitigating actions.
In her introduction, Engr. Tapel stated that the Philippines is an archipelagic country situated along the typhoon belt with 15 to 20 typhoons hitting annually, making it the third most vulnerable country in terms of climate change risks. Climate change has severe impacts in the agri fisheries sector. The Philippines is experiencing flooding (La Niña phenomenon), drought (El Niño phenomenon), desertification and strong typhoons resulting in crop damage and lower farm productivity. The country is also experiencing a rise in sea level and some coral loss. In these impacts, women and young people are the most vulnerable, she added.
Agricultural and biosystems engineers (ABEs) play an important role in addressing the impacts of climate change. As of September 29, 2021, there are 10,909 agricultural and biosystems engineers (ABEs) in the Philippines, placing them on the 7th rank among the 12 regulated engineering professionals. Each engineering profession has its own niche, and agricultural engineers in particular are the ones “tasked to feed the world which is a very strong marching order,” Engr. Tapel emphasized.
Engr. Tapel presented ten (10) agricultural and biosystems engineering solutions or strategies that can be undertaken to address climate change impacts – zero waste agricultural production system, precision agriculture, efficient ABE technologies and practices, renewable energy, bio-renewable products, innovative structures, post-harvest handling, waste management and wastewater reuse, contiguous/block farming, and farm tourism or “agritecture.”
First is the zero waste agricultural production system, a system that recycles waste materials from plants going to animals within the farm through aquaponics, hydroponics, and fish farming. In using the system, there will be no waste dumped in bodies of water and going outside the farm.
The next is precision agriculture, a method that must be employed whenever synthetic chemical farm inputs are used. Precision agriculture ensures that there are no excess chemicals and synthetic materials polluting the soil and water. Whenever precision agriculture is impracticable, Filipino farmers employ organic agriculture using fertilizers, pesticides, and other organically derived farming inputs, Engr. Tapel explained.
Engr. Tapel underscored the importance of maximizing the use of efficient ABE technologies and practices in farming systems such as radiation systems, laser land leveling, and drones. Waste materials such as hay must be reused to generate biogas and mechanization must be employed in order to attain higher farm yield and to shorten harvesting time.
Utilizing renewable energy for the agri fishery sector is another proposed solution. The Philippine government is implementing solar powered irrigation systems to increase rice production during the dry season. Rice hull and other agricultural waste materials are utilized as fuel for furnaces used in heating, scalding, and other farm processes.
Another practice is the production of bio-renewable products out of agricultural wastes. Bio-renewable products are beneficial and have a higher economic value. An example of a bio-renewable product is the coco coir, made of coconut fiber that is used in controlling soil erosion and other industrial applications.
Innovative structures made of bamboo and other indigenous materials are used in farming systems (greenhouse) and hydroponics to produce goods and products with better quality.
Efficient post-harvest handling ensures best quality products are delivered to consumers. The Philippine government invested in essential post-harvest facilities such as cold storage for meat and poultry products, ice plants for fishery products, and silos for animal feed. These post-harvest facilities minimize waste that is being dumped in the environment.
Another strategy is waste management and wastewater reuse, where waste products are processed into another form. For example, rice hulls and coconut shells are processed to produce briquettes (used as heating materials) and organic fertilizers. Wastewater can be used in fertigation systems that combine irrigation and fertilizer application, thus lessening production costs.
Engr. Tapel shared that contiguous/block farming is implemented by the Philippine government in its pursuit of mechanizing the agriculture sector. With landholdings ranging from less than one to five hectares owned by each family, the use of appropriate farm machinery and equipment is a serious challenge. The contiguous/block farming strategy is effective in addressing this challenge by lessening inputs like fuel thereby reducing the carbon footprint in agricultural production.
The last strategy is adapting farm tourism or “agritecture.” “Agritectured farms” are considered as learning sites and training centers for Filipino youth to engage in agriculture. It also serves a platform for marketing where people who visit usually buy available products of the farm, thereby reducing the carbon footprint contributed in logistics (marketing and distribution).
According to Engr. Tapel, the major commitment of agricultural and biosystems engineers is to meet the demands for food. As the population increases, the demand for food also increases amid limited arable land, water, and other inputs. However, there is also a need to strike a balance between protecting the environment and meeting food demand using a biosystems approach.
There is also a need to protect plants and animals which are the main sources of food. These plants and animals should not develop diseases. The soil where plants and crops are cultivated must be kept healthy. Soil health must be maintained by limiting the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that causes the soil to become acidic. Lastly, the recommendations boil down to protecting human beings. “If we have healthy food, then we become healthy people. If we have a healthy environment, then we can have healthy people. We have to balance all these and maintain the ecology while providing food for the people,” concluded Engr. Tapel.
Engr. Tapel’s message to lawmakers and decision-makers worldwide is for them to “walk the talk,” as they are great influencers, especially to the youth. Sustainable solutions to climate change must be implemented. Although the Philippines has a minimal contribution to the carbon footprint, the country suffers the extreme impacts of climate change. On behalf of the Filipino people, Engr. Tapel appealed to all global decision-makers to work hard and treat the situation seriously so countries like the Philippines will not suffer the impacts of the climate crisis. ###Marshall Louie Asis (Published on November 11, 2021)