Climate Change and its Impact on Indian Agriculture

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Climate Change and its Impact on Indian Agriculture

Climate change is caused by a change in the total amount of energy that is kept within the Earth’s atmosphere. This change in energy is then spread out around the globe mainly by ocean currents as well as wind and weather patterns to affect the climates of different regions or the whole planet. Climate change also describes as a change in the average conditions such as temperature and rainfall in a region over a long period of time.

The Earth’s climate has never been completely static and in the past, the planet’s climate has changed due to natural causes. Natural process are volcanic eruptions, variations in Earth’s orbit or changes in the sun’s intensity. However, humans’ activities can also cause changes to the climate for example by creating greenhouse gas emissions or cutting down forests. Global warming and the climate changes seen today are being caused by the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions by humans. Human activities like the burning of fossil fuels, industrial production, means of transportation, etc. increase greenhouse gas levels. This traps more heat in our atmosphere, which drives global warming and climate change.

The Indian economy is largely agrarian, with around 65 percent of the population dependent for their livelihoods on agriculture and allied sectors that generate 15 percent Gross Value Added (GVA) (GoI, 2017a). It may be noted that Indian agriculture is the home of small and marginal farmers (80%). Therefore, the future of sustainable agriculture growth and food security in India depends on the performance of small and marginal farmers.

The green revolution that has brought the major increase in crop yield during the 1960s and 1970s in India is now showing signs of slow growth in productivity gains. Intensive agriculture practiced without maintaining ecological aspects has led to degradation of soil health, the decline in the availability of freshwater resources and agro-biodiversity. The negative impacts of climate change have been seen to disrupt the balance between food supply and demand by shifting abruptly from its surplus to deficit. Climate change affects food security in complex ways. It impacts crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and can cause deep social and economic consequences in the form of reduced incomes, eroded livelihoods, trade disruption and adverse health impacts. The increasing global temperature and water scarcity will fuel it by affecting crop production. So, managing food security and sustainable development is one of the biggest challenges in India. Within the framework, crop diversification or crop shift is a new paradigm of sustainable livelihood.

The impact of climate change on water availability will be particularly severe for India because large parts of the country already suffer from water scarcity, to begin with, and largely depend on groundwater for irrigation. The decline in precipitation and droughts in India has led to the drying up of wetlands and the severe degradation of ecosystems. About 60 percent part of India faces high to extremely high water stress. Large parts of north-western India, notably the states of Punjab and Haryana, which account for the bulk of the country’s rice and wheat output, are extremely water-stressed.

Groundwater levels are declining across India. About 54 percent of India’s groundwater wells are decreasing, with 16 percent of them decreasing by more than one meter per year. North-western India again stands out as highly vulnerable. With increased periods of low precipitation and dry spells due to climate change, India’s groundwater resources will become even more important for irrigation, leading to greater pressure on water resources. According to the World Bank projections, with global mean warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, food water requirements in India will exceed green water availability.

In India, about 60 percent of the total net sown area comes under rainfed lands and ranks first among the rainfed agricultural countries of the world in terms of both extent and value of produce. Climate change amplifies the economic drivers of food insecurity. Variation in the length of the crop growing season and higher frequency of extreme events due to climate change and the consequent growth of output adversely affect the farmer’s net income. India is particularly vulnerable because its rural areas are home to small and marginal farmers who rely on rain-fed monocropping, which provides barely a few months of food security in a normal year. The mismatch between demand and supply of water is likely to have far-reaching implications on food grain production and India’s food security. Indian agriculture, and thereby India’s food production, is highly vulnerable to climate change largely because the sector continues to be highly sensitive to monsoon variability.

Wheat and rice, two crops central to food security in India, have been found to be particularly sensitive to climate change. Wheat growth in northern India is highly sensitive to temperatures greater than 34°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 2007 echoed similar concerns on wheat yield: a 0.5°C rise in winter temperature is likely to reduce wheat yield by 0.45 tonnes per hectare in India. Acute water shortage conditions, together with thermal stress, will affect rice productivity even more severely. The productivity of rainfed pulses is often threatened by climate change due to unusually high temperatures and drought, especially during the podding stage.
The majority of the pulse-growing regions are vulnerable to climate change as the maximum threshold temperature for tolerance of pulses has already been reached beyond 35°C. Some researcher says that crops like potatoes, soybean, chickpea and mustard will be benefited due to a higher concentration of CO2 but unseasonal rains, high & low temperature, frost and hail storm will significantly destroy the crops.

Demand for livestock products is expected to increase, mainly due to improvement in our standard of living and export. Meanwhile, climate change is a threat to livestock production because of the impact on quality of feed crop and forage, water availability, animal and milk production, livestock diseases, animal reproduction, and biodiversity. Livestock production will be limited by climate variability as animal water consumption is expected to increase and demand for agricultural lands going to increase due to the need for food production.

Climate change will also have an adverse impact on the livelihoods of fishers and forest-dependent people. Landless agricultural labourers wholly dependent on agricultural wages are at the highest risk of losing their access to food. The impact of climate change on vector-borne diseases is fairly well documented. Climate change will lead to the emergence of new patterns of pests and diseases which will affect human health and lower the capacity to utilise food effectively, thereby posing new risks for food security. For instance, more people will be exposed to vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya.

Climate change can have a dramatic impact on our natural resources, economic activities, food security, health and physical infrastructure. India is one of the countries most affected by climate change. The threat is especially severe in places where people’s livelihoods depend on natural resources. In such areas, climate adaptation measures take on a special significance for safeguarding rural livelihoods and ensuring sustainable development. However, natural resources management (land, water & vegetation) and improved agricultural practices can reduce agricultural emissions and sequester carbon while helping to improve the livelihoods of farmers, through increased production, marketing and additional incomes from carbon credits under the mechanisms that have emerged since the Kyoto Protocol. The government must strict on Agri insurance companies to flow GIS/Remote sensing route to evaluate claims and release time-bound payment to poor farmers as catastrophic claims are increasing day by day.

*Author is an Agriculture Professional and Consultant
By Rishi Narayan Singh

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