May , 2017
Combating climate change
14:13 pm

Ayantika Halder and Anustup Roy Barman


Monirujjaman Tarafdar toils hard to grow rice and vegetables on his two acres of land in a village in the Bangaon sub-division situated in the North 24 Paraganas district of West Bengal.  Harvesting has become exceedingly difficult for him due to the scorching heat and uneven monsoons. He told BE, “There is no trace of rainfall now. Pointed gourd and brinjals are threatened due to the intense heat. Those who are cultivating chillies are also facing high risk as these crops require rainfall. Moderate rainfall can sustain the crops. But we are burdened with either heavy rains or a dry spell each season.”

Tarafdar felt that the government is oblivious to the sufferings of farmers like him. He said, “We completely depend on our fate. We cannot do anything against the fury of nature. We take loans from cooperative banks. There are insurance schemes attached to these banks. But the procedures are lengthy and confusing, so we hardly receive any insurance facility.”

The farmers in this region depend on companies like Nagarjuna, Syngenta, Bayer, and Multiplex. These companies assist them with pesticides that safeguard the crops. Sahajan Mondal, another farmer from this region told BE, “Pointed gourd needs a lot of water for its cultivation. The heat is often problematic for its harvest and destroys the flowers. We often notice that the pointed gourd flowers are pale. These companies (mentioned above) recommend medicines and suggest effective measures and procedures that help us retain the crops.”

In 2016, India lost 15%-25% of its potential crop output to pests, weeds, and diseases. To address the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture, the government has undertaken several initiatives. The National Initiative for Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), a $63-million government pilot programme covering 130 villages in India, fosters water and soil conservation and enhances access to better seeds, infrastructure, and equipment to cope with obstacles. The aim is to minimise the vulnerability of farmers in drought or flood-prone areas.

Less attention on agriculture in climate change meets

Projected increases in temperature and variable rainfall are expected to affect most farmers in developing countries like India. Agriculture has received relatively little attention in international climate agreements and much of the deliberations have focused on greenhouse gas emissions. Only 4.5% of the 3,380 climate mitigation projects undertaken in 2011 under the Clean Development Mechanism were related to agriculture, according to the UN-funded Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

According to a government report, crop yields need to rise by 30% to 50% in India to keep pace with its growing population The Indian government should assist farmers in coping with current climatic risks by providing value-added weather services and aid them by advising them on shifting planting dates, choosing varieties with different growth durations, and on crop rotating techniques.

Arjun Debnath, a farmer of  Dholahat, West Bengal, told BE, “As marginal farmers cannot afford modern technology and machines, the government should distribute subsidised machineries. At present, we harvest paddy through power tillers and use spray machines.”

Mitigating measures

Farmers should select genotype in crops that have a higher per day yield potential to counter yield loss from heat-induced reduction. They should take preventive measures against drought by building on-farm reservoirs in medium lands, by shifting to pulses and oilseeds instead of rice in uplands, by using the ridges and furrow system in cotton cultivation and should also think of growing of intercrops in place of pure crops in uplands. Efficient water use such as shallow irrigation, drip and sprinkler irrigation for high value crops can also be important inputs.

Efficient use of fertilisers with technical inputs like the optimum fertiliser dose, split application of nitrogenous and potassium fertilisers, deep placement, use of neem, karan products and other such nitrification inhibitors, liming of acidic soil, use of micronutrients such as zinc and boron, use of sulphur in oilseed crops can help in maintaining the soil and ensure a healthy yield.

Digen Koleya, farmer from Khosalpur, Amta in the Howrah district of West Bengal, said, “We try to implement new measures that can tackle our problems. To avoid accumulation of excessive water in the roots of the trees, we construct drains in different directions so that the excess water can flow out. Shallow pumps are also used. We also dig deep tube wells to utilise the underground water.”

The farmers in this region are dependent on weather forecasts.  Digen elaborates, “Weather forecasts help us in planning. Depending on the weather report, we decide whether to undertake or withhold the sowing operation and on various other nuances of farming.”

The farmers of Nagenahalli, a village in Bangalore, might be oblivious to the intricacies of climate change. However, to tackle severe drought, they, with the assistance of officials, dug ponds upland to catch and store rainwater, and scooped trenches and bunds to conserve the run-off water. Such innovative techniques are being replicated throughout India to tackle the threat of climate change.

Farmers in Haryana are using new technologies. To tackle water scarcity, Lovepreet Singh, a farmer from Haryana introduced GreenSeeker - a handheld gadget that works as a crop sensor. By measuring the amount of each type of light that is reflected from the plant, the device can calculate and display the health of the crop. 

They are also using laser land levelling. Laser-controlled devices are mounted on tractors, and help farmers to level their land. This method of tilling helps them save 25%-30% of water during cultivation. Machine induced direct seeding for paddy can also help in saving water and reduce labour expenses.

Traditional farmers often pollute the environment by rampantly burning crops. To avoid such practices, “happy seeders” have been introduced. These are attachments mounted on tractors that help sow wheat even when the paddy residue is present. The government agencies are helping farmers buy this machine, as it costs over `100,000. Leaving the crop residue in the fields helps to increase the organic matter and better controls moisture and temperature levels.

Many villages in Gujarat have adop ed 100% drip and sprinkler irrigation systems. By June 2009, more than 93,000 farmers in Gujarat had adopted drip irrigation for 1.51 lakh hectares of land. Drip irrigation system and inter­linking of 21 rivers of Gujarat have substantially increased their sugar-cane production. The government is focused on improving agricultural productivity and is subsidising agricultural hardware. Bio-gas subsidies are also offered with loan application.

Irrigation methods in India and Israel

Vertical farming, drip irrigation, soil solarisation and the like were terms that mystified Deepak Khatker, a 40-year-old farmer, when he first visited the Indo-Israel Centre of Excellence for Vegetables in Haryana. Experts from Israel regularly visit the Centre and organise free training sessions for farmers, teaching them techniques of “protective agriculture” that allows them to increase their crop yields while using fertiliser and water judiciously. Methods like vertical farming help save space while drip irrigation can save almost 90% of water needed otherwise.

Though the concept of “protective agriculture” is expensive as it requires greenhouses and poly-houses, government subsidies have ensured that interested farmers can take the plunge. Farmers get 90% subsidy for installing a drip irrigation set-up and for an automatic irrigation system, while for the poly-houses, they get 65% rebate from the government.

Drip irrigation in Israel

Drip irrigation is a form of irrigation that saves water by allowing water to drip slowly onto the roots of the plants, either onto the soil surface or directly onto the root zone, through a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters. The main feature of drip irrigation is the system’s ability to efficiently water plants by a controlled delivery of water.

Simcha Blass, an Israeli engineer had brought forth this concept in the 1960s. Blass partnered with Kibbutz Hatzerim in the Negev desert to develop and refine drip irrigation systems. Netafim, the pioneering company in drip irrigation was a product of their combined efforts. 

Water is a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Agriculture often consumes a hefty percentage of water in many regions, indirectly causing a crisis for water that is to be used domestically. Converting to drip irrigation can substantially reduce the water needed for agriculture.

Micro–irrigation or drip systems are generally more efficient than conventional sprinklers, because they deliver low volumes of water directly to plants’ roots, minimizing losses to wind, runoff, evaporation, or overspray.

Finding new solutions

Existing conservation measures may help in the short term, but scientists and policy-makers need to collaborate to find new solutions.

The National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NAPCC) aims to support climate adaptation in agriculture through the development of climate-resilient crops, expansion of weather insurance mechanisms, and agricultural practices. While new pests and diseases have regularly emerged throughout history, climate change has resulted in emergence of a large number of unknown biotic challenges.

In 2016, the Agriculture Minister, Radha Mohan Singh, suggested the utilisation of cutting-edge technologies including transgenic crops to address challenges of unknown biotic stresses. He called for the development of biotic stress resilient crops. He also insisted on global quarantines to prevent movement of infected products to pest-free areas and countries.

On November 30, 2015, investors led by the tech billionaire and philanthropist,  Bill Gates, launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition at the ongoing Paris climate talks. By investing billions of dollars to support development of climate-friendly technologies, the coalition aimed to close the gap between the promise of a new energy concept and its eventual commercialisation.

According to the Indian government estimates, at least $2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices) will be required to meet India’s climate change actions between 2015 and 2030. Vinod Kala, the Managing Director of Emergent Ventures India, an integrated sustainability and clean energy consulting company, said climate change awareness is “very high” among Indian businesses. He stated, “Possibly, 80% of large businesses think about the impact that climate change-related regulations may have on their business models.”

Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General of the Confederation of Indian Industry said Indian Industry, has taken several voluntary actions to combat climate change and cited instances of various business entities voluntarily adopting various international reporting standards like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). GRI is an independent international organisation that helps businesses, governments and other organisations understand and communicate the impact of business on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and others.

He also said that currently, the private sector accounts for over 80% of the installed renewable energy capacity in India and has made commitments to set up projects for achieving India’s target of 175 GW of renewable capacity by 2022.

An Asian Development Bank study in June 2014 on the costs of climate change adaptation in South Asia indicates that approximate adaptation cost for India in energy sector alone would be roughly $7.7 billion in 2030s. The report also projects the economic damage and losses in India from climate change to be around 1.8% of its GDP annually
by 2050.

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