Climate change is going to be the defining issue of our generation. With changes in weather patterns becoming more apparent we need to question the consequences of our actions. Drought, floods, and cyclones are becoming more commonplace. In 2018-19, as many as 2,400 people lost their lives due to extreme weather, and according to the Indian Meteorological Department’s predictions, this number is going to rise.
India has a population of above 1.36 billion people. That means our country has more than 1.36 billion mouths to feed. Climate change is one of the primary causes of low crop yield worldwide and this is because drastic changes in weather patterns do not allow for optimum temperature and salinity which plants require. The growth of plants is dependent on enzymes that require an optimum temperature to function properly.
Change in this temperature can cause stunted growth. Fluctuations in daily mean maximum and minimum temperature, which is a direct effect of climate change, adversely affect vegetable and fruit production, as well as hampers metabolic and biochemical activities which are temperature-dependent. Temperature fluctuations also cause symptoms such as bud drop, abnormal flower development, poor pollen production, ovule abortion, and more.
Extreme weather patterns have led to water scarcity which is one of the biggest causes of crop failure worldwide. This is because a lack of water restricts the growth hormones and floral organs of plants, which then leads to less yield and slower growth. Factors like these which are a direct sign of climate change drastically reduce crop production.
Due to an increase in temperature, most insects, being cold-blooded prefer warm temperature and their life cycle speeds up causing pest problems. Pathogens and insect populations can increase with a change in temperature and humidity which is already being observed.
The Indian economy is mostly agrarian-based and depends heavily on the monsoons. The year 2002 showed how Indian food grain production depends on the rainfall that occurs between June to September. An all-India drought was declared that year because it was reported that “The rainfall deficiency was 19% against the long-period average and 29% of the area was affected due to drought. The kharif season food grain production was adversely affected by a fall of 19.1%.” An ‘All-India drought’ is declared when the rainfall deficiency for the country as a whole is more than 10% of normal, and when more than 20% of the country’s area is affected by drought conditions.
Studies by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and other such institutes indicate greater expected loss in the Rabi crop. A study in the US scientific journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ (PNAS) said that “Every 1°C rise in temperature reduces wheat production by 4-5 Million Tonnes.” Small changes in temperature and rainfall have significant effects on the quality of fruits, vegetables, beverage crops like tea and coffee as well as basmati rice.
The link between climate change and food security can be best seen in crop productivity and food production. Experimental findings on wheat and rice indicated decreased crop duration and yield of wheat because of warming and reductions in yields of rice of about 5% °C−1 rise above 32 °C. These effects of temperature were considered extremely detrimental as they would greatly offset any increase in yield, a consequence of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration.
India’s grain production is also alarming vulnerable to climate change. Researchers from Columbia University in the USA found that “Climate change had a negative impact on India’s five major grain crops: finger millet, maize, pearl millet, sorghum, and rice, with rice being the least resilient and most adversely affected. These crops make up the majority of grain production during the monsoon months of June to September.”
According to a report by TheWire, “The Ministry of Agriculture has said in its written response to a parliamentary committee that crops such as paddy, wheat, maize, sorghum, mustard, potato, cotton, and coconut are likely to be adversely affected by climate change.”
The Ministry also stated that “Wheat production will decrease by 6-23% if measures to curb weather changes were not taken. Wheat production could decrease by 6,000 kilos for every 1°C increase in temperature by 2050, and the production of maize could fall by 18%. But if appropriate steps are taken, its production could actually be increased by 21%. Production of paddy could fall by 4-6% by 2020 due to climate change.” Here, with the right intervention, paddy production could also be increased by 17-20%.
The vulnerability of agricultural production to climate change also depends on the effects on the socio-economic systems of production to cope with changes in yield as well as other natural factors. The adaptability of farmers in India is severely restricted by their heavy reliance on natural factors such as rain.
It has been recorded how “the loss in net revenue at the farm level is estimated to range between 9% and 25% for a temperature rise of 2 °C to 3.5 °C. Scientists also approximated that a 2°C rise in mean temperature and a 7% increase in mean precipitation would reduce net revenues by 12.3% for the country as a whole.” Agriculture in the coastal regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka is found to be the most negatively affected. Also, small losses are indicated for the major food-grain producing regions in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh.
All these effects have a direct impact on fruit and vegetable vendors and farmers whose course of livelihood is being directly affected by climate change. As per an NSSO survey, the average monthly income of an agricultural household is ₹6,426 and their average monthly expenditure is ₹6,223. India has about 118.7 million farmers out of which 60% fall into this category.
It is of paramount importance that we protect our farmers who are already suffering and will continue to suffer as the effects of climate change continue to affect crop production. Climate change has about a 4-9% impact on agriculture in India each year. From this, we can infer that climate change has caused a 1.5% drop in the GDP.
Another direct impact that climate change has on farmers and vendors is through natural calamities. Landslides and floods can prevent the import and export of vegetables and fruits between states. In Hyderabad, due to floods destroying crops, vegetable vendors have not had enough product to sell and have to hike up prices. Over the last few years unseasonal rainfall and natural calamities have drastically affected business for vendors who rely on farmers for produce.
This monsoon there were landslides in Chorla ghat and floods in Kolhapur which halted the majority of the influx of fruits and vegetables that Goa is dependant on. The supplies that did make it through were often damaged by the rain and vendors were unable to sell them. This caused the price of vegetables and fruits to skyrocket which in turn, affected everybody.
Goa mainly gets its supply of vegetables and fruits from Karwar, Belagavi, and Kolhapur. Vendors resorted to taking ferried mini pickup trucks to Belagavi to make ends meet and try to supply some vegetables during the shortage. An increase in daily temperatures also reduces work productivity and also puts vendors in harm’s way as they can suffer from heat strokes due to high temperatures.
Climate change has a direct impact on crops, which affects the farmer, which affects the vendors, which, in turn, affects the consumers. It is an interlinked chain and if we break any part of it the entire system will suffer. We need to focus on stopping climate change before it’s too late.
Our actions today will determine our future. We must also work to uplift our farmers who have been paying the price for our reckless carbon emissions. Food shortage is already a huge problem in India and if we don’t work towards change, it is only going to get worse.