As the world awaits the drastic consequences of climate change, there is a section of society upon which the changes have come down as a double-edged sword. With ever-rising temperatures and predictions for further worsening of climate, farmers, who form the backbone of the Indian economy, await crisis from all angles. Like every other citizen, they would be affected by the impact of the climate crisis on their health, and additionally on their livelihood as well.
The agriculture sector, which accounts for around 49% of India’s employment, would be the most-hit due to the drastic effects of climate change. Agriculture and its allied sectors represent 35% of India’s Gross National Product. The sector, which is already marred with low pay rates and poor working conditions will be further affected adversely, as the job insecurity is expected to grow proportionally with the increase in temperature.
The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), a New Delhi-based research organisation under Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), conducted a study to understand the impact of climate change on agriculture both by region and by crop. Their study suggested that the increase in temperature, an estimated 2%, has reduced potential grain yields in most places of the country. With the temperature set to rise, it is further going to reduce yields, and eastern regions of the country are predicted to be more impacted leading to even lesser grain yield in the region. The study predicted that the reduction in grain yields would be more pronounced for rain-fed crops such as maize and wheat, as India has no coping mechanisms in place for rainfall variability. Rainfall variability, an important characteristic in deciding the climate of any given area, is the degree to which rainfall amounts vary across an area or through time.
India’s water supplies are predicted to decline in the near future. An area is considered water-stressed if the water supplies drop below 1700 cubic meters per person, and India is currently managing with 1700 to 1800 cubic metres every year. The policymakers will have to majorly focus on two areas, water policy and adaptive measures to reduce the damage. The policy designers will have to come up with a sustainable plan regarding water availability to agriculture for both rain-fed and irrigated crops, given water shortage is an imminent reality. The impact of climate change on agriculture is going to change the shape of policy designs in future with likely policy changes in areas of food security, livelihood, trades and water policy.
The multidimensional policy implications demand some crucial adaptations to be taken for addressing issues related to loss of livelihood in agriculture. One of the biggest areas where the country needs to invest to cope up with the inevitable climate change and its impact on agriculture would be researching. There isn’t enough research done on the pros and cons of possible agricultural measures at hand. The domain of research has to go beyond that and come up with new and sustainable forms of agrarian pattern suitable for every region of the country.
Policymakers will also have to take new and flexible adaptive measures for coping with the changing agricultural patterns. This could be anything between using alternative crops to changing irrigation techniques. The agricultural research landscape of India misses a crucial component: availability of a database. The country needs to invest more in preparing a database on the impact of climate change while segregating areas into the land type and water availability in the region. The IARI study suggests higher precision while predicting climate change is required.
A recent study conducted by Nature Communications suggests that organic farming, which is considered to be a better alternative to contemporary agricultural practices, would actually contribute more to climate pollution than other available mediums. The study suggested that organic farming could have been considered a better alternative if they took up lesser space to produce the same amount of food. It is the additional land used up for organic farming which makes it a non-variable option in the long run to save the environment.
However, the farmers in India lack the expertise and technical support to switch to advanced methods of practising agriculture, and they are far away from any new research done in the field. The sheer enormity of India’s population makes it too deciding to be ignored. The policy decisions that the country takes, especially in the field of agriculture, will have a huge impact on climate change globally.
The key to reducing the negative impact of climate change on agriculture is to successfully bridge the gap between advanced agricultural predictions and sharing this information with the farmers. The farmers in India, who mostly depend on their indigenous wisdom for practising agriculture, are mostly unaware of the researched knowledge and have zero access to any new technology used in the sector. Unless these farmers, who form the backbone of the Indian agricultural sector, are involved in the process of finding a solution to climate change, little or zero results would be achieved on the ground. To keep the farmers of India challenged in terms of availability of information would cost the country and the world at large.