Farmers are the most vulnerable group of people who are affected by climate change. Agriculture in India depends heavily on favorable weather conditions. According to an annual review by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), a wing of the agriculture ministry, crops, plantations, even livestock in 151 districts, or slightly more than one-fifth of the total districts in India, are susceptible to the impact of climate change.
Yuvraj Kadaley is a farmer in the Nanaj region of Maharashtra. He owns ten acres of land on which he grows grapes. He is worried about this season's production because of the increase in the temperature. He says, "Grapes cannot grow well in high temperatures. The leaves get curled and block the pores. This doesn’t help plants to germinate.”
High temperatures induced by climate change can significantly hurt farm productivity. A study published in the Journal of Climatology & Weather Forecasting found that crop yields in India’s two crop production seasons, the Kharif (influenced by the southwest monsoon) and Rabi (influenced by the northeast monsoon), would face nearly three percent to five percent reductions in crop yields for every 1° F increase in the temperature.
The rise in temperature has different degrees of repercussions on different crops. The study, published in the Journal Environmental Research Letters, found that the yields from grains such as millet, sorghum, and maize are more resilient to extreme weather. Their yields vary significantly less due to year-to-year changes in climate and generally experience smaller declines during droughts.
However, yields from rice, India's main crop, experience larger declines during extreme weather conditions. At present, rice accounts for 44% of annual grain production and 73% of grain production during the monsoon season (Kharif)." By relying more and more on a single crop- rice- India's food supply is potentially vulnerable to the effects of varying climate," said Kyle Davis, an environmental data scientist to Economic Times.
To reduce the effect of climate change on temperature, farmers are suggested to grow more heat-resistant crops, like sorghum or maize instead of wheat and rice. Ravi Sawant a farmer in the Kokan region of Maharashtra says, “No one in this region (Kokan) would ever switch their main crop (paddy) to any other crop.” That does not happen because the minimum support price (MSP) is only offered on crops like rice and wheat. This demotivates the farmer to switch to any other heat-resistant crops. If there has to be a change in the cropping patterns, there needs to be a change in the MSP system. A slew of other changes needs to be brought in to be able to make a noticeable difference in the cropping patterns adopted by different states.
The adverse impacts of lower crop yields caused by climate change result in income losses for farmers. The Economic Survey 2017-2018, said farmer income losses from climate change were estimated to be around 15 percent to 18 percent on an average; 20 to 25 percent in unirrigated areas of the country. Extreme temperature shocks reduce farmer incomes by 4.3 percent and 13.7 percent during Kharif and Rabi season respectively. Kadaley says, “If the temperature goes up, grapes lose their quality, they are sold for really low prices in the market. I have incurred a huge loss because of that in the past.”
A study conducted at the University of California ( Berkeley) concluded that 60,000 Indian farmers and farm workers over the last 30 years committed suicides because of climate change. Many small farmers get trapped in a vicious cycle of debt because of the loss in crop yield. Climate change is majorly responsible for lower yields. This causes them to commit suicide. Maharashtra has one of the highest farmer suicides across the country. In the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, more than 7000 farmers in the last six years, have committed suicide because of droughts and extremely less rainfall.
Climate change is not only responsible for high temperatures, but also causes uneven rainfalls, water scarcity, and extreme calamities like droughts, cyclones, and floods. Given the insurmountable impact of climate change on the agricultural sector in India, there is an immediate need for climate-resilient policies in the country. In particular, the government should also invest money in agriculture and agroforestry for conservation. The government should study other such climate-resistant crops' viability, and work with researchers, manufacturers, and farmers to provide affordable access to these seeds.
Edited by Aviva Baig and Karmistha Bhimwal