The issue of climate change and its impact on agriculture is a matter of concern. In an interview with BE’s Kishore Kumar Biswas, Purnendu Bose, Minister-in-Charge, Agriculture, Govt. of West Bengal, has touched upon several issues, like the government’s outlook on this matter. Bose clarified the government’s role in combating climate change and its preparedness to deal with any unforeseen adverse circustances relating to weather irregularities. Excerpts follow :
Quite a large number of scientists have raised their concern on climate change and its severe impact on the environment and human beings. What is your government’s outlook in this matter?
A. We are concerned with the ongoing climate change and its impact on agriculture and other sectors. In 2015, we experienced the most severe flood and drought within two and a half months in several districts of West Bengal. This was, perhaps, unprecedented in a century. It implies that climate change is happening and they have impact on human beings. We have to look for more plantation of trees, water harvesting, restricted use of ground water, and other different measures as antidotes to climate change.
Q. What measures have been taken by your department?
A. About 100 automatic weather stations have been set up in the districts of the state. These predict possibilities of rain, sunny days, thunder, cloudy or clear sky, humidity, etc. In the district headquarters, weather-related quality machines have been set up with a central cell at Kolkata. From Kolkata station, every piece of information of the entire state is available. As a result, our farmers can get information about timings of sowing of seeds, watering the fields, cultivation, harvesting, etc.
Q. How has the state been affected by weather changes?
A. As far as our main crop, that is, rice is concerned, production has not diminished but has increased, particularly in the last six years or so. It is despite the fact that we have faced climatic adversaries like flood and scanty rain during this period. The farmers of West Bengal have got suitable seeds, fertiliser, etc. from the government free of cost in the adverse situations. We also paid ` 1050 crore to 27 lakh affected farmers in 2015 alone as compensation for crop failure. In all the mouzas of Purulia district, the most severely drought affected district at that time, farmers got rice at ` 2 per kg. They were engaged, as far as possible, in the well-known MGNREGA scheme. In the next year, we supplied a huge number of farmers seeds, fertiliser, etc. free of cost. Therefore, the hardship of the affected people was lessened by government policy and production was not affected by the amount as would have been otherwise.
Q. Is the government ready to face any climate adversities?
A. We are prepared with arrangements. But last year, we had better rain, more sunny days, less fog. But we are not sure about the weather situation in the coming year. But the government is ready. We have to keep weather variations under observation. Areas like water storage and its quality, soil testing, water harvesting, judicial application of water and some other matters are being taken care of. We supply small implements to the poor farmers, which are useful in agriculture.
Q. Kalyani Agricultural University scientists have developed heat tolerant and salinity tolerant variety seeds to combat drought and tsunami like situation in the coastal areas. Have you adopted these measures at the ground level?
A. We are fully aware of these seeds development and in many areas, we are implementing it. We have such rice seeds, which are sown in areas where the plants will not die even if they are submerged under water for a continuous 10 to 15 days.
Q. Scientists think today that the increased carbon dioxide (CO2) level has actually helped rice production. But if CO2 level crosses a bench mark, rice production will be affected. It is thought that we are going to reach the critical level. As the major rice producing state, what is your precaution?
A. Different steps are being taken to lower the CO2 level. Government is also trying to increase the use of non-convention energy like biogas, solar and wind power. We are also taking several steps like afforestation.
Q. Is there any national body to deal with climate change?
A. There are arrangements where data exchanges take place. Representatives of different state governments meet with representatives of the union government to discuss several issues in this area.