Strengthening Thailand's Agricultural drought Resilience

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Water Resources (Wallingford)

Abstract

Droughts impact lives and livelihoods around the world, particularly in those regions with limited resilience to extreme events. In South-East Asia (SEA), pressures from climate and land use change, increasing populations and development impact water resources, even in Thailand which is considered to be one of the wealthier countries in the region. A number of recent drought events in Thailand have impacted food supplies, energy production and the wider economy, underlining the vulnerability of the country. The agricultural sector is particularly affected by water shortages and a better understanding of drought in Thailand would underpin mitigation actions that improve resilience and livelihoods.

Drought monitoring can improve preparedness and management, and whilst drought information provided through existing operational services provides a useful tool for water managers, there is limited understanding of how these indices relate to impacts. This appreciation of the links between drought indicators and impacts is limited by the availability of both consistent hydrometeorological datasets and impacts data collected from agricultural stakeholders. An improved understanding of this indicator-impact link would enhance the management and communication of drought, increase resilience and reduce vulnerability.

The STAR project will address these research needs through the following objectives: 1) engage stakeholders in informing and co-designing drought monitoring practices, ensuring collaboration during and post project; 2) develop new drought monitoring and characterisation indicators for Thailand based on stakeholders' needs; 3) improve understanding of drought impacts on agriculture and assess adaptive capacity in a case study catchment; 4) increase drought resilience and capacity through better communication of drought risks and associated impacts.

STAR aims to enhance resilience to drought for all of Thailand although some activities will take place within a catchment-based context. The Ping catchment is a major tributary of the strategically important Chao Phraya river, identified for its importance within the agricultural sector and vulnerability to drought. Approaches are likely to be scalable within Thailand and the SEA region more generally.

The project is structured in four Work packages (WPs), with stakeholder engagement embedded in each of them: WP1 will identify those principally responsible for drought management and communication. The PingSTAR Network, a collaboration of diverse stakeholders within the Ping catchment, will be initiated and run through the duration of the project and beyond. WP2 will assess the drought hazard in Thailand, utilising and co-developing a range of hydrometeorological indicator datasets for drought identification and characterisation, a major legacy of STAR that will be disseminated as per the Pwthways to Impact. WP3 will work within the Ping catchment to better understand and quantify the agricultural and socioeconomic impacts of drought. Through a combination of social network analysis, collating existing sources and undertaking interviews in the field with farmers, a rich record of impacts will be databased and analysed. Finally, WP4 will bridge the national and catchment scales, establishing the relationship between drought indicators and impacts through a case study in the Ping catchment before assessing the scalability of such approaches more widely in Thailand and South-East Asia. Visualisation tools will be developed to allow stakeholders to better understand the link between drought indicators and impacts, and a capacity-building, knowledge-sharing workshop with national and regional stakeholders will consolidate the research outcomes of the STAR project and consider how the developed approaches could be applied more widely for enhanced drought resilience.

Planned Impact

The STAR project will deliver new information and insights about the relationships between drought severity, timing and duration, and its impacts on Thai agriculture, as well as guidance on how drought risk can be better communicated from policy planners to farmers, increasing the resilience of agriculture to this natural hazard. Although the scope of the project is national, more detailed work will be undertaken in the Ping catchment. At the local level, the immediate beneficiaries will be growers and the policy planners working in the area as they will have access to more sophisticated drought indicators and information about the associated impacts for agriculture in the catchment. The PingSTAR Network that will be established as part of this project will bring together stakeholders related to agricultural drought management from the local to the national level, facilitating the flow of information and support between them. At the national level, this project will increase Thailand's capacity regarding drought monitoring and early warning, by providing a wide range of drought indicators for the country and guidance on how to replicate the drought indicator-impacts approach (that will be tested in the Ping catchment) in other areas of the country. Different ministerial bodies and institutions related to agricultural water management (e.g., Royal Irrigation Department) will be directly involved in the project and the Network, and will benefit from its outputs.

All these beneficiaries will co-design the project, e.g. through the identification of gaps in the current drought monitoring system, the PingSTAR network providing constant feedback to the project, and supporting the surveys and focus groups organised in the area. This has the potential for long-term transformational impact to arise from the project with more appropriate drought monitoring and communication as an intended legacy of STAR.

At the international level, this project will engage with organisations who are undertaking large-scale operational drought monitoring in south and south-east Asia (notably, the International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka), ensuring that the impacts of the project are realised on a regional scale. STAR will also engage with the US National Drought Monitoring Center who undertake drought monitoring in many developing world settings, ensuring the outputs and insights from this project could be use elsewhere. A wide range of dissemination activities has been designed as part of the project to ensure maximum impact and uptake, from focus groups and the PingSTAR Network, to workshops and a final showcase event at the national level.

The overall ambition of this project is to improve Thai agricultural preparedness and resilience to droughts by providing policy planners with the necessary information and guidance for promoting adaptive behaviour. For individuals, better drought monitoring and proactive drought management means more stable crop production and hence food supply, less variable farm income and less distress to growers impacted by this natural hazard. For the country, it means increased food security, lower impacts on the economy and enhancement of the development of the nation.

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