Adaptive Agriculture: A mix of Millets, Corn, Legumes and Vegetables grown by tribals in the same plot. Photo: Aparna Pallavi, Down to Earth
When the farmers were losing their crop due to less or no rain, the government was still speculating about 2014 being a drought year. Now that the damage is done, we have seen some acknowledgement from authorities of the actual situation. One wonders then why is it that the government has to wait for calamity to strike when it already knows the dangers that lie ahead. In a burst of enthusiasm, it set up the eight missions under the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008, one of which is the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. But the ground situation seems to be the same with or without it.
The Indian network for climate change assessment (INCCA) report suggests that there is a probability of 10-40% loss in crop production in India by 2080-2100 unless we take mitigation measures and adapt to the global warming[i]. The 5th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimates that 60% more food will be needed by 2050 given the current trends in food consumption[ii]. It is also estimated that for tropical places especially like India and China, the length of the growing season and suitability for crops will decrease as it is determined by moisture availability and extreme heat, where both are being affected as a result of climate change. This means that there will be considerable losses in agricultural productivity in India, leading to negative impacts on food security in the country. In such a situation, it is important for the government to work towards safeguarding the livelihoods of its farmers, who contribute highly to the GDP (13.7%) and form a big part of the overall labour force in the country. In its National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, the government stated that there will be an estimated reduction in agricultural yield by up to 4.5-9% in the medium term (2010-2039), whereas a reduction of about >25% in the long term (2040 and beyond) if no measures are taken[iii].
Keeping in line with this, the IPCC report estimates that almost half of the wheat-growing area of the Indo-Gangetic Plains could experience significant amounts of stress due to heat by 2050s, along with the expansion of temperate wheat environments northwards as climate changes. ii The INCCA report said that projections indicated the possibility of loss of 4-5 million tonnes in wheat production with every rise of 1 degree Celsius temperature. i In an instance concerning wheat production in the Indo-Gangetic plains in 2004, the report sites that temperatures were higher by 3-6 degree Celsius, which is almost 1 degree C per day over the whole crop season. As a result, wheat crop matured earlier by 10-20 days and wheat production dropped by more than 4 million tonnes in the countryi.
Similar is the case with rice. In another report on Punjab, it was seen that with all other climatic variables remaining constant, temperature increases of 1⁰C, 2⁰C, 3⁰C would reduce the grain yield of rice by 5.4, 7.4 and 25.1 % respectively[iv]. The report by INCCA, in its projections for 2030, said that the yields of irrigated rice will be affected by about 10% in the coastal areas. Rain-fed rice yields are projected to increase upto 15% in many districts in the east coast, whereas they may fall by about 20% in the West Coasti. In India, rice is a widely grown crop. Its production determines livelihoods of majority of the farmers for one season. It is also the most water intensive crop. As temperatures rise, there is also increased stress on water required through the growing season. In India, 70% of our arable land is prone to drought, 12% to floods and 8% to cyclones[v]. In such cases, farmers who live with uncertainty have less money for food, farm investments and a reduced capacity and willingness to try out new technologies and practices.
To add to the rise in temperatures, in its Summary for Policymakers, the IPCC clearly stated that it is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent. Thus the uncertainty is bound to increase. These climate extreme events are being witnessed in India even this year. There has been high rainfall deficit at many places through most of the monsoon season, thus leading to crop losses. There is extreme rain in the hills, which lead to the floods in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Orissa and now in Jammu and Kashmir. But the government still does not acknowledge the role of climate change in these anomalies.
Adapting farmers: Even though the climate is changing, the farming practices have not changed at most places. But there has been evidence that at some places farmers have adopted different techniques in the face of climate change even if they do not address it directly, but only make decisions based on impacts. The small and marginal farmers, it has been noticed, do not have the capacity to go for fresh sowing in case the crop goes bad when rains fail.
The Baiga tribe of Mandia and Dindori districts in particular have reverted back to this technique of planting multiple crops, which are resilient to environmental stress and give assured yield. The Madia tribe in Maharashtra have reverted to a similar practice of penda. This is happening because the people have suffered huge losses due to unsuccessful paddy crop because of erratic rain. These practices are being implemented with the help of an NGO, Nirman. The problem facing the people today is that the land used for this is forest land and not agricultural land, thus causing land insecurity. However, these people are making the effort to save their livelihoods with no help from the government.
In the case of Bundelkhand region in Central India, over 70% of the population relies on rainfall for agriculture[vi]. The farmers here have started replacing wheat with barley as it is a less water intensive crop and this is a semi-arid region. It is also preferred because the input cost of barley is almost 50% less than wheat and its market price is 20% more. In this region, there have been efforts from organizations such as Development Alternatives which has formed farmers’ clubs to help the community adopt climate resilient techniques for agriculture, like drip and sprinkler irrigation, adoption of drought resistant seed varieties and integrated pest management.
In another report of a similar instance, basmati farmers in Karnal district are reverting back to an old practice of growing maize, which is a less water intensive crop[vii]. This is being undertaken even in large landholdings, as there is less water availability, with groundwater[viii] levels showing a decline in recent years. According to the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture document, irrigation requirements in arid and semi-arid regions are estimated to increase by 10% for every 1⁰C rise in temperature[ix]. Therefore, it is very important for farmers to adopt techniques which help in its conservation.
The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in collaboration with IFFCO India, has started the pilot for implementing climate smart agricultural technologies in three villages in Bihar. In an attempt to alter the cropping pattern, they re-introduced the sowing of mungbean, which is a short duration crop of the summer season. It is planted during the fallow season and increases soil fertility. For increasing yield, the ‘Pusa Visal’ variety of mungbean is used, which is a better variety compared to the previously used one[x]. The yield from the initial trials ranged from about 0.80-1.70 t/ha as against 0.30-0.80 t/ha under farmers’ practice. The yield for the pusa visal variety was also significantly higher than that of the farmers’ variety. Seeing such results, other farmers have also expressed the desire to follow suit.
The CCAFS is also taking initiative in Haryana, where about 26 villages are targeted. Various climate smart techniques like the laser-levelling technique are being implemented here. This technique, it is claimed, helps conserve about 25-30% of the water used otherwise in rice-crop plantation[xi]. Even the way of planting rice is different in that it is directly sown in the field where it then sprouts. This is known as “direct-seeded rice”. Apart from this, there is also the practice of using crop-residue to nourish fields, which saves the cost of extra fertilizer. To optimize the use of fertilizer, farmers are being taught to use a tool called “nutrient-expert”, which judges the amount of fertilizer application required in a field. These techniques help reduce uncertainty in the crop output. The earlier maize growing practice mentioned in the case of Karnal, is also one of the climate smart techniques.
Agriculture also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, in 2004, agriculture directly contributed to 14% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to the IPCC[xii]. There has been an increase in CO2 emissions by about 100 ppm since pre-industrial times. Emissions of CO2 are often accompanied by ozone (O3) precursors that have driven a rise in troposphere O3 that harms crop yields. Elevated O3 since pre industrial times has very likely suppressed global production of major crops compared to what they would have been without O3 increases, with estimated losses of roughly 10% for wheat and soybean and 3-5% for maize and rice. Thus it is necessary that the government builds its capacity to better understand and measure the impact this has on agriculture and take the required steps to control it.
National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): The focus of this mission under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is supposed to be to mainly improve the productivity of rain-fed agriculture. One might ask then, why it did not promote techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)[xiii] which requires much less water than conventionally grown rice. The mission recognizes that in the event of climate change, the vulnerability of India is more pronounced because it is dependent on agriculture, places excessive pressure on natural resources and has poor coping mechanisms.
It estimates that most of the crops are likely to witness a decline after 2020 which is when the temperature threshold of many crops might get breached. Studies suggest a significant decrease in cereal production by the end of this century. The situation will be most critical in areas which are rain-fed and have complex cropping systems. These constitute about 60% of the net cultivated area. But acknowledging it is one thing and doing something about it is quite another. The climate smart techniques are showing results at some places, but are still not being actively adopted by the government. In a recent press release, the ministry of agriculture announced that the sowing of kharif crop has crossed the 986.59 lakh ha mark, but this is still much less than the 1020.78 lakh ha which was sown last year around the same time[xiv]. Despite this, the government has expressed hope for a positive response in crop output next season, envisaging a growth of four percent[xv], while not acknowledging the impact of huge rainfall deficit in June July this year.
The mission acknowledges that since most of the agricultural production takes place in rural areas and engages people from the marginalized sections of the society, their coping capacity during climatic extremities are limited. But what has the government done since the inception of this plan? It has been almost 6 years since NAPCC was launched and the farmers still suffer the same fate without any compensation from the government. Even today, they are at the mercy of the weather. It will not work anymore to ignore the fact that this is now being aggravated by climate change. There is a need for more climate smart agricultural techniques in the country. The least the government can do is to acknowledge that the unpredictable weather patterns, especially the irregular monsoon is in fact a result of climate change. It will do good to also recognize that out of the 300 million undernourished in South Asia, about 250 million are in India[xvi] and any threat to agriculture is an added threat to their existence.
Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP, firstname.lastname@example.org
[viii] For more information on groundwater situation in the country, visit SANDRP’s blog https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/groundwater-falling-levels-and-contamination-threaten-indias-water-lifeline-urgent-need-for-community-driven-bottoms-up-management/