Way out to Manage Climate Change in Indian Agriculture
Authors:
- Kanika - Senior Scientist, NRC Plant Biotechnology, LBS Building, IARI, Pusa Campus, New Delhi
- Shiv Kumar - Senior Scientist, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP), DPS Marg, Pusa, New Delhi


Monsoons play a vital role in Indian agriculture. Indian agriculture is also known as a gamble with the monsoons as more than half of Indian farms depend on rains. The agriculture sector contributes for 14 percent of the country's economic output. However, off lately weather patterns are shifting. There is a change in rainfall patterns also. This is only the beginning and unusual rise or fall in temperature, and unpredictable precipitation are likely to be the rule rather than the exception. These changes are real and their implications are going to affect all the ecosystems, especially the agriculture sector. The impact of this phenomenon includes warmer temperatures for longer periods and longer dry spells during the cropping season. Long-term trends in temperature and rainfall in the monthly temperature in different agro-ecologies of India were assessed for the period 1901-2002. In general, it emerged that Indian winters are becoming hotter. There was a statistically significant rise (>1°C<1.5°C) in the temperature in most of the months during October-April. In the humid zone, there was significant rise in temperature during January-March and then October-December. In the semi-arid tropics, the temperature experienced a rise during January-April and then during September-December. February, April, November and December were found to be hotter in the arid zone. In the semi-arid temperate zone also, there was a significant rise in temperature in temperature in February, November and December, while September experienced a statistically significant decline in temperature. However, we did not find any significant trend in the annual rainfall in any of the zone, except in the arid zone, that witnessed a rise in rainfall. As per a World Bank report, there is a possibility of nearly 12 % decline in the yields of major dryland crops in Andhra Pradesh and rice in Orissa's flood-prone coastal regions. The impacts of rise of temperature by one degree on gross productivity at agro-climatic zone level vary widely across periods and regions (NCAP Annual Report, 2012-13). Agriculture in the arid zone and semi-arid tropical zones is more vulnerable to climate change, and its effects have become stronger over time. In the semi-arid temperate zone, its impact is the least particularly after 1970s, probably because of developments in irrigation infrastructure and other adaptation strategies. Humid region is also likely to escape the severe brunt of climate change. It is, therefore, important to immediately implement a long-term and efficient strategy to cope with adverse effects of climate change on agriculture.

There is a direct link between water availability and poverty in the drylands. ICAR in collaboration with various national and international institutes is involved in developing strategies that will help vulnerable farmers cope with adverse effects of climate change. The worst effect of unpredictable weather pattern has been on small and marginal farmers (>85%). They have become victim of vicious cycle of poverty and land degradation. A drought index for each district (1970 base districts) for Kharif season (NCAP Annual Report, 2012-13), has helped in identifying these extreme events. During the 1970s and 1980s droughts were less frequent but were more widespread. These, however, became more frequent during the 1990s and 2000s, but less widespread. The nexus between water availability and poverty can broken by developing and adopting multi -pronged strategies immediately. These include:

(i), Growing drought tolerant and climate change resilient crops. Several drought tolerant varieties of sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeon pea and groundnut are now available for cultivation. Farmers should grow crops that mature earlier to escape drought. Short duration crops thrive and yield well even under limited moisture conditions. These crops mature before soil moisture gets depleted. Salt, heat and flooding tolerant varieties of several crops have also been developed and these should be cultivated to get maximum production even under adverse climatic conditions.

(ii), Nutritional status of Indian soils is poor and this results in low crop productivity. Most of the rain fed areas in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are critically deficient in micro and secondary nutrients such as zinc, boron, sulphur, nitrogen and phosphorus. Amendments with deficient micronutrients can lead to 30 to 70 per cent increase in crop yields and balanced fertilizer application can almost double the crop productivity.

(iii), Efficient management of natural resources, arresting land degradation, conserving soil moisture and water harvesting in the rainy season for supplemental irrigation and recharging of groundwater will also help the farming community in the longer run. This can be achieved by practicing integrated genetic and natural resource management. Efforts should be made to encourage conservation of natural resources through community participation.

(iv), Empowerment of stakeholders through capacity building, enabling rural institutions and formulating policies supportive of low input agriculture is another step in this direction. This will lead to strengthening of social capital through knowledge sharing and strategic partnerships. Development and implementation of suitable institutional mechanisms for inputs, outputs, credit, market linkages, rural infrastructure and other support services should be ensured. The effectiveness of mitigation strategies depend on institutional arrangements available to provide technical as well as financial assistance. Growing an array of crops together with livestock along with other income-generating activities will lessen the risks of total crop failure and enhance farm income. It will reduce vulnerability of the farmer towards losses in incidence of unfavorable climatic conditions.

With climate change, heat, moisture and salinity stresses are likely to become more severe. Policies and programs supportive of agriculture, especially under altered climatic conditions need to be carefully formulated and implemented immediately to manage available natural resources more efficiently and in a sustainable manner.. Among these are:

Improved public investments in agriculture especially low input, including higher funding for agricultural research and rural infrastructure
Accurate prediction and forecasting the weather especially in the context of climate change
Enabling collective action and rural institutions for agriculture and natural resource management
Reclaiming degraded lands and diversifying livelihood systems for landless and vulnerable groups.
Recharging depleted groundwater aquifers and enforcing strong regulations on groundwater extraction.
Pricing water and power to actually reflect their opportunity costs.
Government support in a big way for water conservation methods e.g., drip irrigation and dryland crops
Support of minimum guarantee price scheme for crops will also go a long way in making them economically viable.

In next 50 years mankind will consume twice as much food as mankind has consumed since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago. We need another revolution to make a quantum jump. However, significant investments in improving and conserving natural resources, technological and institutional innovations, along with appropriate policy can have a significant impact in increasing agricultural productivity even under unfavourable climatic conditions. India has taken a proactive role and has started working towards ensuring the long-term sustainability of the farming sector especially in view of climate change. This will enable the Indian farmers to win the gamble with the God of Weather.

About Author / Additional Info:
1. Anonymous 2012-13, Annual Report, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP), DPS Marg, Pusa, New Delhi-110012.