- How India’s agricultural policy has made us structurally vulnerable to climate change?
India, a climate change hotspot
- India is uniquely vulnerable to rising temperatures — it ranks in the top 20 in the Climate Change Vulnerability Index.
- Our average surface temperature, over the past four decades, has risen by 0.3° Celsius, accompanied by a rising incidence of floods, droughts and cyclones.
How does climate change impact agriculture?
- Climate change would impact soil health, with increasing surface temperatures leading to higher CO emissions and reducing natural nitrogen availability.
- Mitigating this by increasing chemical fertilizer usage could impact long-term soil fertility, leaving the soil open to greater erosion and desertification.
- Meanwhile, migration patterns, farmer suicides and stagnating rural incomes, along with increasingly ad hoc land acquisition in the name of public goods, have politicised the idea of climate mitigation.
- Marginal farmland will increasingly be useless for agriculture.
- Our regional crop patterns assume a specific range of weather variability, failing to cope with the recent high periods of heavy rainfall with long dry intervals.
- India’s flood-affected area has doubled since Independence, despite generous state spending on flood protection schemes.
- Climate change will impact the entire food production chain, affecting our food security.
- Livestock production, often considered to be a substitute to farming for marginal farmers, would face reduced fodder supplies given a decline in crop area or production
- Research has highlighted the deleterious impact of climate change on crop production.
What should be done?
- Indian agricultural policy has made us structurally vulnerable to climate change.
- A rural spending plan, focussed on investments in agriculture infrastructure, particularly in irrigation, rainwater harvesting and a national network of soil-testing laboratories is needed.
- Simple water harvesting and conservation measures (micro-irrigation, watershed management and insurance coverage) can reduce the majority of the potential loss due to drought.
- Drought strategies should be extended to the village level — for example, each village should have a village pond, created under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
- Conservation farming and dryland agriculture should be promoted.
- Each village should be provided timely rainfall forecasts along with weather-based forewarnings regarding crop pests and epidemics in various seasons.
- Afforestation, in a biodiverse manner, should be encouraged to help modify regional climates and prevent soil erosion.
- Our agricultural research programmes need to be retooled towards dryland research.
- Changing planting dates could have a significant impact; research highlights that planting wheat earlier than usual can help reduce climate change-induced damage.
- Zero tillage and laser-based levelling can also help conserve water and land resources.
- Crop planning can be conducted as per the climatic zones of different regions, while utilising better genotypes for rain-fed conditions.
- We should focus on expanding our formal credit system to reach all marginal farmers.
- Insurance coverage should be expanded to all crops while reducing the rate of interest to nominal levels, with government support and an expanded Rural Insurance Development Fund.
- A debt moratorium policy on drought-distressed hotspots and areas facing climate change calamities should be announced, waiving interest on loans till farming incomes are restored.
- The Centre and States should launch an integrated crop, livestock and family health insurance package while instituting an Agriculture Credit Risk Fund to provide relief in the aftermath of successive natural disasters.
- With India’s population rising, demand for diversified crops will be hard to square with diminishing yields.
- Agricultural investments in food crops, along with systemic support for irrigation, infrastructure and rural institutions can help move India beyond climate change-induced food insecurity, strengthening our stressed food production systems.
- Through adaptation and mitigation measures, we can overcome this gigantic crisis.