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Farm crisis: Climate change shrinks productivity; agrarian life, rural economy under threat

As the monsoon draws to a close, the country has seen a familiar pattern of floods in some regions and droughts in others. With the union government recently admitting that climate change costs India up to $10 billion every year – as per this article in the Economic Times – there is an increasing acceptance of the role played by it in agriculture.

The following statistics shed some light on the capricious ways of the weather. The Vidarbha region in eastern Maharashtra has seen a deficit of as much as 27 percent this year, according to a report in The Indian Express. This is in astonishing contrast to the situation in the same region last year, when it enjoyed a surplus of 10 percent. On the other hand, states as geographically and climatically diverse as Bihar, Assam and Gujarat have been ravaged by floods.

Climate change's footprint on agriculture

climate change. Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In a recent statement to a parliamentary committee, the agriculture ministry has said that in a 'business as usual' scenario, the productivity of most crops will decline, while some crops will see better harvests, as reported by the Economic Times. A presentation by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) offers some interesting insights on this.

For instance, it has been predicted that the productivity rice, wheat and horticulture will be adversely hit, while some crops such as soyabean, groundnut, coconut and potato will see better days. If the productivity of food staples such as rice and wheat is predicted to be hit, then this needs to ring alarm bells. Clearly, policymakers cannot afford to sit easily on statistics about India being self-sufficient in terms of food production.

But, it's not just crop productivity that we need to be worried about. Climate change can also adversely impact soil productivity and the prevalence of pests. These are gradual changes and are less likely to make for startling headlines. But these can lead to long-term changes in agricultural productivity.

A study by Shakeel A Khan, Sanjeev Kumar, MZ Hussain and N Kalra examines these aspects. According to the study, climatic changes lead to faster decomposition of organic matter in the soil. This would release nutrients in the short run but will make the soil less fertile in the long run. 'Chemical reactions, that affect soil and minerals and organic matter, are strongly influenced by higher soil and water temperature,' the study points out.

Increasing temperatures can also mean a greater incidence of pests, leading to lower crop productivity. The study mentioned above argues that with increasing winter temperatures, pests will hibernate for shorter periods and thus will be active for longer. Further, regions in which pests did not thrive earlier could become more congenial for pests in the future as the mercury gradually rises.

Such changes in climate trends have also had an impact on other aspects of agrarian life such as livestock and employment. A ground report by Firstpost during the drought in Marathwada in 2016 had pointed to lack of fodder for cattle, lack of capital to start allied businesses, unemployment and distress migration as effects of climate change.

What can be done

The impact that climate change has on the economy and rural livelihoods makes it clear that urgent steps have to be taken to mitigate its effects. An article in Down to Earth quoted B Venkateshwarlu, former director at International Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) in Hyderabad on this issue. Venkateshwarlu suggested better water and nutrient management options and zeroing in on cheap methods to reduce methane emission in ruminants and in

Venkateshwarlu suggested better water and nutrient management options and zeroing in on cheap methods to reduce methane emission in ruminants and in rice paddy as measures to reduce climate change. Ruminants are plant-eating animals like cattle, goat and sheep which have a complex three or four-chambered stomach.

The Firstpost article mentioned above suggests better weather prediction systems, increasing the green cover, changing cropping patterns and developing allied industries such as poultry and dairy farming as ways to combat the vagaries of nature.

However, it is clear that no single measure can mitigate the effects of changing climate patterns. Concerted efforts are needed at various levels if we have to escape a major agrarian crisis.

Updated Date: Sep 14, 2017 19:03 PM

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