How are research topics arrived at? One of the ways on how to identify a phenomenon worthy of research investigation is to go out on field and ask questions.
This article discusses how research topics in environmental science can be generated through interaction with community members as clients of the research outputs. Specifically, it examined the issue of sea level rise as a pressing issue threatening the rice production capacity of a community living next to Malampaya Sound, a marine biodiversity rich body of water located northeast of Palawan Island. It was once dubbed the ‘fish bowl’ of the Philippines.
The trip yesterday to Abongan, a farming community in the municipality of Taytay located 167 kilometers northeast of Puerto Princesa, Palawan (Figure 1), was a fruitful one. I discovered an environmental issue that could be a good research topic to explore. The rice farmers in that community experience the negative effects of sea level rise – a manifestation of climate change. This issue arose as our research team conducted a focus group discussion with agriculture stakeholders.
Salt water inundated and changed a portion of the farmlands into mangrove stands. The phenomenon started way back in 1994, according to the barangay chairman of Abongan.
Reminded of the environmental economics perspective on evaluating environmental issues, a question popped in my mind: “How much in terms of money is the value lost by farmers each year because of the advancing sea waters?”
The Economic Loss of Rice Farms Due to Sea Level Rise
To objectively examine the issue discussed earlier, let us enumerate and assume the value of the different variables at play in this phenomenon:
- Area of farmland affected by sea level rise: 200 hectares
- Number of cavans of unhusked rice grains (palay) produced per hectare: 100
- Percentage of rice (bigas) produced in a cavan of palay: 25% or 1/4
- Price per kilogram of rice: PhP42 or $0.92
- Kilograms of rice per cavan: 50
- Number of croppings per year: 2
- Percentage of return from farm investment: 50%
The net loss of income on annual basis, therefore, can be computed by converting the net income from rice produced per hectare to the number of hectares affected. This is obtained by multiplying the number of kilos of rice produced per hectare to current price. This is equal to 25 cavans or 1,250 kilograms times PhP42 ($0.92); that gives a total of PhP52,500 ($1,150) per hectare.
If 200 hectares are affected by sea level rise each year, the total value of rice yield per hectare will be PhP10,500,000 ($48,300) per cropping season. Since there are two cropping seasons per year, total annual loss in income will be double this amount.
The annual loss in income of farms in Abongan, therefore, will be PhP21,000,000 or $96,600. Since the percentage of return from investment is roughly 50%, the annual loss in net income is half this final value which is the same value obtained for one cropping season, i.e., PhP10,500,000 ($48,300).
The value given above assumes that the area of affected farmland is the same. But farmers observed that saltwater goes further inland each year. This causes anxiety among farm owners especially those whose land lie next to rivers.
Adaptation of Rice Farmers to Sea Level Rise
Currently, some of the farmers build dikes to prevent saltwater from flowing into their farms. There’s also a plan to increase the flow of freshwater from the watershed to their farms.
Further reflecting on the issue, three questions came to my mind:
- What species of mangroves successfully settled in the upper reaches of the river next to farms?
- What are the other adaptations measures did farmers make to mitigate the advancing waters aside from dikes and increased freshwater flow?
- What is the salinity of river water next to farms?
Now, can you appreciate the value of having to go out in the field and identify environmental issues that hound communities? In the process of finding answers to questions, the outcome of your study will be helpful inputs that will empower communities.
Figuring out your research topic in the four corners of the classroom will offer you less ideas to pursue. Get up and explore the world.
©2015 January 11 P. A. Regoniel