FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

El Niño exit leaves a lasting impact on Southeast Asia's agricultural systems, stressing the need for preventive measures

01/05/2024 Bangkok

As El Niño, a recurring climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean, bids farewell, its lingering effects are leaving a significant mark on agriculture across Southeast Asia. A new brief by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Scaling Anticipatory Action across Southeast Asia, highlights that since February 2024, drier conditions have emerged in various pockets of the region, posing a threat to rice and wheat harvests and potentially delaying the onset of monsoon rains expected in June/July.

The first quarter of 2024 has witnessed a rapid shift in Southeast Asia's climate. Regular monitoring through drought forecasting systems has provided a detailed understanding of the situation, with the Philippines, particularly Isabela Province, experiencing concerning levels as early as February 2024. Subsequently, in March 2024, specific provinces in Viet Nam, Cambodia, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic also reported similar conditions.

Strengthening resilience

Rather than waiting for the situation to escalate, FAO and the European Union, in collaboration with national governments, are advocating proactive measures to mitigate the potential impact of ongoing dry conditions, expected to persist for the next 4-5 months.

Hang Thi Thanh Pham, FAO’s Senior Resilience Officer, emphasizes the importance of collective and anticipatory action, "We now have predictive systems in place that allow us to understand what could happen, with a degree of certainty, and we need to act on this. FAO is currently working with the national governments to provide a range of actions including unconditional cash injections, agriculture tools, seeds, and supplies to boost production, livestock feed, and supplements among others."

Davide Zappa from the European Union highlights the need for preventive measures at scale, "Over the past years, anticipatory action systems have been implemented in Southeast Asia. Now, we see countries reaching the activation threshold and triggering of drought measures. This demonstrates how acting before the disaster strikes can be an effective tool to mitigate the devastating impacts of droughts on vulnerable communities."

The aftermath of El Niño underscores the unpredictability of such events and the urgent need to enhance early warning and anticipatory action systems. Interventions by FAO, the European Union, national governments, and other partners are improving resilience to climatic challenges. These interventions will be systematically evaluated to guide future policies. The experience highlights the importance of ongoing investment in these systems to ensure a more resilient Southeast Asia in the future.

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