It’s October in India, and the summers have refused to leave. The weather seems bent on cooking us alive, and the humidity appears endless. Sitting in our AC offices, we might assume that we don’t need to think about climate change and its effects on the temperature. I have a task for you, though: the next time you order food, think about the man who is growing the wheat for your chappati, and rice for your risotto. Think of the cow who gave the milk for your coffee or tea. They don’t have air conditioners to cool their foreheads and find it difficult to get even one tumbler of water, to quench their ever-increasing thirst. What about them?
Crops require water; there is no doubt about that. But it’s not as simple as we might think. The amount of water a particular crop requires depends on the stage of growth it is in. Rice, wheat, and maize need water in ample quantities, at some points in their development, and at other times, close to none. So, if the clouds are in a good mood when rice or corn crop is fully mature, the entire season’s worth is wasted. Similarly, if an optimal quantity of water is not supplied when the seed is growing, the plant dies.
Climate change, as we all know, has had far-reaching effects on various facets of our environment. One of them is how the rising temperature has changed the monsoon schedules and decreased the amount of precipitation in many parts of India. The irregular and infrequent rainfall patterns that global warming has led to, has translated to exceeding operating costs for the cultivators, and not enough produce in return.
However, the shortage of output affects not only the farmers and their households but also the economy of the country as a whole. Let’s not forget, that agriculture, with its allied sectors, is the largest source of livelihood for India. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 70 percent of the rural households of our country are totally dependent on agriculture as their primary source of income. So, if there is a sector which will be the first, and worse victim of climate change and global warming, it is agriculture.
I mean, sure, millennia of focus on agriculture has given India superiority in the fields of food cultivation, and dairy products. We are, after all, the world’s largest exporter of milk, and one of the largest of raw foods. However, the expertise, per se, has also brought with it problems of over-dependence and failure to meet the ever-increasing demand. Climate change comes as the final nail in the coffin for the farmers, who devote their year-round income to the food that they grow.
A majority of farmers in India put their bet on a single crop, in a game of all or nothing. Continuous droughts in one part of the country and mega rainfalls in other regions have resulted in crop failures all around. Crop rotation might be considered a solution to this dilemma, but there are many places where it’s simply not possible. Take, for instance, the mountainous provinces of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. The primary source of income for these hilly states, and union territories is the production of export quality apples and dry fruits, including saffron.
Now, for the crops that need to grow on trees or in the case of saffron, which can’t be uprooted and sowed again, crop rotation is not possible. Moreover, rain is not frequent and comes in small doses, which not only makes the crop deteriorate in quality, but also makes it almost impossible to predict the weather patterns, and thus decide upon a crop rotation regime.
In the case of the Himalayan apple, a cold climate throughout the year is essential, and due to global warming, the summers have become longer and hotter. The change can be seen in the way that crop failures have started forcing apple cultivators to move further uphill, to find soil, and climate conditions suiting the high-quality apple, a crop that is as sensitive as it is costly. Crop failures in apple were a rare instance two decades ago, but now almost every year, the downhill crops are destroyed by the climbing temperature, forcing the farmers to either find an alternate source of income or take hefty loans from banks, neither of which is a solution.
Their inability to pay back the loans, devoids the nation of some hard-working workers and increases the nonperforming assets of the economy. If the glaciers keep melting at this rate, a day will come when there is no place left even uphill for the apple growers to move to.
Another relevant subsection, which is inherently attached to the agricultural sector, is livestock rearing. Livestock will be similarly affected by the increase in temperature and the decrease in rainfall. As if cutting the forests down and taking away animals’ homes was not enough, we have also made their lives more difficult. Livestock animals like cows, goats, chickens, etc. will feel the worse of the temperature jump as their time in the sun increases, and they suffer a string of negative consequences. The milk and egg production will plummet, as the animals find it difficult to adjust to the unsettling ecosystem.
This decrease in output, paired with more and more diseases, due to an unfavourable climate, will translate to an economic downturn, and a decline in GDP. At the same time, instead of dealing with the source of the problem, firefighting methods, like productivity-increasing medicines, and antibiotics, will be given to cattle, decreasing the output quality even further than it already has.
The bad quality will inevitably make people more prone to diseases, and the treatment costs will add to the indirect effects of climate change. Milk and dairy products are, after all, consumed in various forms in almost every household of India.
The only living beings positioned to benefit from this turmoil will be the pests. Insects and disease-causing pathogens like the tobacco mosaic virus and bird flu virus will benefit from the rising temperatures and temperature conditions. You know what that means, right? Crops, as well the livestock, will become sicker, further dwindling the produce and the health of the animals, as well as the plants. As the favourable conditions for the pathogens continue to strengthen them, and weaken the crops, and cattle, a question mark will be put on the food quality, and on the wide standing reputation of India as an Agricultural leader.
While cattle and plants are getting sick, their primary source of nutrition will also come under attack. As global warming reaches its peak, the seawater level will increase, and as it moves inland, the irrigation channels will be affected. The result? Salty water will destroy the crops, as it’ll become more and more difficult for the plants to get the nutrients they require to live and fend off diseases. And so, a further decrease in productivity will follow.
All these broken pieces will join together to nail a final blow to the already worn down nature and come as a slap on the faces of policymakers and, most importantly, the common man. In the future, as the population increases unchecked, the food demand will rise, and the supply will diminish, making it so, that a more significant portion of the country will sleep hungry at night.
Those of us who will be able to buy food will have to do so at higher prices because high demand and less supply means a sharp increase in the food prices. As food prices increase, the disposable income of an ordinary citizen will decrease, and the propensity to consume will fall. So you can say goodbye to the good times, as simple luxuries like cars, restaurants, and movies might also become a distant and rather pricey dream for the middle class. I don’t think I have to mention the negative impact this would have on the economy of the country, and our standard of living.
As we move down ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, the people will have to return to the old ways to fulfil their primal needs. Maybe then, the people will awaken. When we have returned to the stone age, and have ourselves become animals, fighting for one more grain of rice, and dreaming about the lost aroma of fresh milk, perhaps then we’ll realise that we can’t eat money.