Crop yield forecasts for 2014 and beyond

Crop forecasting methods often rely on extrapolating past figures into the future. It would also be useful to try and identify the many possible factors that combine to affect the yield per hectare and the total production figures. For this assessment the main factors can be grouped under the following headings ‘Weather & climate change’, ‘Cultivation & Market’ and ‘Pollination’.

Mango and coffee yields

The immediate problem with such a simple model is that it is extremely difficult to apply a realistic weighting to each factor, and that within each overall factor there are a great many possible contributing factors. However, when there is a steady decrease (or increase) over many years in crop trends such as mangos and coffee, it can be reasonable to look for year on year important contributing factors that also occur over that period, which to some extent may over-ride more ‘random’ factors that may occur over shorter periods.

Weather & ‘climate change’ factors

There are a large number of often conflicting studies on the affect of climate change on various crop yields. If a crop is currently being grown on the ‘edge’ of its climatic zone then changes in overall temperature, rainfall etc may affect yields, in either a positive or negative direction depending on the particular situation. Increasing occurrence of extreme weather will probably negatively affect yields. Published predictions have indicated decreases in rice, sweetcorn and fisheries (1) in regions such as the Philippines. Has the past ten years included verifiable climate effects on crop yields for mangos and coffee etc in the Philippines?

Published prediction studies on mango ‘phenology’ such as (2) (3) do not demonstrably indicate an overall change in yields due to climate change in the Philippines. Indeed the following is stated (3) …

These regions [including Philippines] are excellent for mango production when the annual rainfall is less than 2500mm. The suitability decreases as precipitation goes above 3000 mm. … Under changing climate scenario the decline in precipitation in this zone will increase the possibility of off-season production.

Vietnam is the closest neighbour geographically and climatically to the Philippines and so some comparisons can be made. Vietnam currently produces 40 bags per hectare of coffee (5 times more than the Philippines) and yields do not appear in the past decade to have been unduly affected by climate change issues. There are concerns however (4) for declines in future coffee yields in the Vietnam and Philippine region which may be attributed to climate changes.

In summary therefore climate change issues over the past decade are not assessed as having had a noticeable consistent effect on mango and coffee yields. (Factor weighting for mango and coffee each year of Weather given as 1, where 1 is no change).

Cultivation methods & marketing factors

This is potentially a very large group of factors and to try to narrow this down the negative factors mentioned by the Philippine ‘High Value Crops Development Program’ website (5) are listed for mango and coffee yields. Amongst these we are looking for factors that are likely to have significantly changed in one direction over the past decade or more, and also perhaps factors that would affect the Philippines more so than Asean countries that do not have a similar downwards trend in these crop yields and production.

Mango ‘Weakness’ factors cited by HVCDP
Predominance of backyard farms posing quality control problems
Erratic and relatively low yield
Susceptibility to a range of insect pests, diseases and disorders
Short storage life
High freight cost
Insufficient supply
Disaggregated sector and multi-layered marketing resulting in inefficiencies
High cost of production
Lower yield due to pest and diseases, [climate change] and poor farming practices resulting in the wrong application of technologies (fertilizers and insecticide)

Mango ‘Threat’ factors cited by HVCDP
Strong competition from imported fruits
Stiff competition from other mango producing countries (Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam)
Predominance of Florida types in the world market
[Climate change]
Emergence of new pests and diseases
Massive cutting of mango trees
Declining number of mango growers/spray contractors/financiers

(Note: the HVCDP do not cite ‘pollination issues’ and do not appear to have considered this factor for mangos.)

The Cultivation factors for mango that may negatively affect yields and production over the long-term need to be identified. A number of these factors are market and finance driven, and this feeds back into limited investment which is itself largely a result of low yields – hence a vicious cycle occurs.

Are the pests, diseases and disorders different from Vietnam and other competing Asean suppliers? The cutting of mango trees and declining number of growers etc is likely to be an effect of erratic and relatively low yield, and this may be a result of poor farming practices resulting in the wrong application of technologies?

The HVCDP cites an ‘Ageing coffee farmer population’ but this is also true for mango farmers and in many other areas of farming. (Many of the brightest and the best of young rural people seek opportunities in the cities or abroad, and are otherwise increasingly disconnected from farming.)

Hence likely underlying Cultivation factors that may exist over the long-term are ‘poor farming practices’ which includes the lack of awareness of pollination issues, leading also to limited investment and marketing, plus the loss of potential young agricultural talent which might improve the situation. (Factor weighting each year for mango of Cultivation & Market given as 0.99, where 1 is no change).

Coffee ‘Weakness’ factors cited by HVCDP
Insufficient supply of quality/certified planting materials
Lack of accredited/certified mother clonal gardens and nurseries
Limited information, education and communication on nursery establishment and proper seedling handling
Farmers suffer from high cost of farm inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, as well as high logistics costs due to poor farm to market roads
Lack of unified effort for the development of coffee industry
Lack of market access resulting to low yield and low-income for the coffee farmers
Inaccessible technologies
Ageing coffee farmer population
Lack of information on coffee value chain
Weak linkage between buyers and suppliers
Unsynchronized and inaccurate databases between the government and private sector
Unorganized production and marketing initiatives
Severe lack of long-term financing for tree crops

Coffee ‘Threat’ factors cited by HVCDP
[Erratic agro-climate condition/climate change]
Competition with other crops
Small farmers lack access to quality and affordable planting materials
Inadequate physical and organizational infrastructure
Cheaper and better quality imports
Fluctuating coffee prices in international market
Strong competition from imported beans
Land conversion

(Note: the HVCDP do not cite ‘pollination issues’ and do not appear to have considered this factor for coffee.)

The Cultivation factors for coffee that may negatively affect yields and production over the long-term need to be identified. A number of these factors are market and finance driven, and as with mangos this feeds back into limited investment which is itself largely a result of low yields – hence a vicious cycle occurs.

Farmers suffer from high cost of farm inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, as well as high logistics costs due to poor farm to market roads. This is also true for mangos and other crops especially as there are many islands in the Philippines.

Fluctuating coffee prices in international markets and other factors also are true for Vietnam and other competing Asean suppliers? Vietnam coffee growers have strong governmental support and effective marketing and other organizational structures in place.

Land conversion and declining number of growers etc is likely to be an effect of lack of market access resulting to low yield and low-income for the coffee farmers. Low yield and low-income also results from some poor farming practices.

The HVCDP cites an ‘Ageing coffee farmer population’ and this is also true in many other areas of farming. (Many of the brightest and the best of young rural people seek opportunities in the cities or abroad, and are otherwise increasingly disconnected from farming.)

There are several longer term negative factors, plus the underlying Cultivation factors that appear to exist over the longer term being ‘poor farming practices’ which includes the lack of awareness of pollination issues, leading also to limited investment and marketing, plus the loss of potential young agricultural talent which might improve the situation. (Factor weighting each year for coffee of Cultivation & Market given as 0.98, where 1 is no change).

Pollination factors

There are two main types of pollination – wind and insect pollination. Yield increases in wind-pollinated crops like rice in the Philippines over the past decade is quite comparable to other Asean countries. However, yields of highly bee pollinator dependant crops like mango and coffee are not comparable and are clearly declining. Two questions arise. Firstly, are there declining bee populations over this period? Secondly, if the answer to the first question is true, then are there correlations between areas of declining crop yields and areas of declining bee populations?

Firstly, there is much evidence from human activity in the Philippines that bee populations are declining, but even more data would be valuable to confirm which regions are most affected by pollinator losses. Secondly, if such data can be obtained it would be possible to assess the degree of correlation between pollinator losses and declining crop yields.  Logically, it is highly likely that a correlation exists, after taking into account the various factors and the numerous pollination studies that have been done. Until such bee population data is available however it is not yet possible to ‘confirm’ that this close correlation exits in the Philippines. (Factor weighting of mango and coffee for Pollination is given as 0.99, where 1 is no change).

(The [p2p type=”slug” value=”honeybee-survey”]Honeybee survey[/p2p] contributes towards up-to-date bee population data.)

Summary crop yield forecasts for 2014 and beyond

Weather multiplied by Cultivation & Market multiplied by Pollination equals 1 x 0.99 x 0.99 = about 0.98 for mangos, and 1 x 0.98 x 0.99 = about 0.97 for coffee. This would mean about 2% or 3% reduction each year, or about 20% or more over 10 years. This is also approximately what has happened over the past 10 years, and therefore it is likely that the trend will continue downwards.  If the combined factor weighting were assessed as anything more than just about 2% each year then even steeper declines would occur, since it is not clear that the cited HVCDP strengths and opportunities could adequately counter such fundamental downward forces.

Mango and coffee yields

Assuming that viable mango and coffee agricultural sectors still exist in years to come, is there any prospect that this downwards trend might stop? If the needless removal of the bee pollinators continues then the downwards trend may continue for some time until it ‘bottoms out’.

Mango producing countries of the world 2010

Philippine mangos yields are already the lowest amongst the mango producing countries and may be showing signs of bottoming out, but coffee does not yet appear to have bottomed out. However, there will probably be no recovery in yields and production until the causal factors are recognised and remedial action taken. The case is made that a widespread lack of awareness of pollination issues is a primary causal factor and this fundamental problem has to be adequately corrected to create an environment within which crop yields can start to improve.

Currently, it is possible to meet fruit farmers who are also honey hunters – and evidently unaware that this is a road to self-destruction since the essential crop pollinating bees are being destroyed. However, with suitable [p2p type=”slug” value=”honey-hunting-and-honey-gathering”]’honey gathering’[/p2p] and [p2p type=”slug” value=”traditional-beekeeping-methods”]beekeeping techniques[/p2p] it is possible to allow the bees to increase in number which will lead to improved crop yields and also more honey to harvest!  It is surely right and necessary to provide appropriate advice to schools and rural communities, which can lead to sustainably improved incomes and security for many families.

As described in this website, in addition to mangos and coffee evidently there are other bee pollinated crops affected by depressed yields. These crops will also have yields that stubbornly refuse to increase to varying degrees until the general pollination environment improves. This will depend on how long it takes for this issue to be recognised by the Department of Agriculture and the citizens of the Philippines, and how soon improved prospects materialise for farmers and the younger citizens in the rural communities.

References …

1)  Climate change creating ‘new poor’ in PH
http://www.rappler.com/science-nature/specials/54392-climate-change-new-poor-philippines

2)  Climate change and its probable impacts on mango production and cultivation – International Mango Symposium, 2013
Keynote presentation 1-01 Dr. Normand

3)  Tropical Fruit Tree Species and Climate Change
Chapter TFT CC Tropical_fruit_tree_species_and_climate_change

4)  Coffee Barometer Report 2014 – Hivos.org
coffee_barometer_2014_report

5) High Value Crops Development Program (RA 7900) Department of Agriculture in Philippines http://hvcdp.da.gov.ph/

About Julian

Julian Wright is a British agricultural scientist married to a Philippine teacher, who has a house and some land planted to coconuts and other crops near Dumaguete in the Philippines.
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