May , 2017
Shifts in climate impact agriculture
13:32 pm

Varsha Singh and Ankita Chakraborty


Gour Hari Gayen (77) has been farming his 1.2 acres of land near the East Calcutta Wetlands for about 40 years now. He informed BE, “The main problem I have been facing lately is the scorching heat and the inadequate rainfall, which are affecting the crops.”

He added, “We have to irrigate the field with water from the nearby canal. The water is getting increasingly saline and is negatively impacting the productivity of the soil. Adequate rain can help us in reducing our dependence on the canal water.” 

Arjun Sainik, who hails from Bihar, also owns about 2 acres of land in the same area. He mostly sows corn and said that the unnatural rise in temperature is detrimental for the crops. Similarly, Bilas Mondol, a farmer of Dholahat village in South 24 Paraganas, expressed his concern over the drastic changes in climate. He yields moth beans, sunflower, and lady’s finger, apart from  paddy. He said, “Due to heavy rainfall in spring, moth beans and sunflowers are getting damaged. Roots of these crops are rotting due to excess water in the soil.” However, he is using lady’s finger as an alternative. He added, “Climate change is impacting our yield. Crops are dying. We are spending too much to recover and maintain the crops.”

Impact of climate change on crop productivity

A good monsoon heralds a favourable harvest and financial security. Indian agriculture has always been predominantly dependent on monsoons. Harsh climatic conditions and increase in temperature have posed immense challenges for farmers. As farmers and crops are highly dependent on the climate, increase or decrease in temperature and carbon dioxide can also increase or decrease crop yields in certain places.

Gopal Halder, a farmer from Dholahat, said, “If nitrogen and carbon are mixed together and used in an appropriate quantity in a season, natural fertility of the field can be retained for the next season and a good harvest can be assured.”

Higher temperatures and changing precipitation patterns severely affect the production patterns of different crops. A 10%-15% increase in monsoon precipitation in many regions, decline of 5%-25% precipitation in drought-prone central India, and decline in winter rainfall may change output of winter wheat and mustard crops in north-western India. These climatic changes are expected to increase the vulnerability of Indian agriculture.

While an increase in carbon increases yields of rice, wheat, legumes, and oilseeds by 10% to 20%, a 1°C increase in temperature is likely to reduce yields of wheat, soybeans, mustards, groundnuts, and potatoes by 3% to 7%. Higher temperature many lead to higher losses in productivity.

Crops and regions most affected

Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh lost about 40% of rice production during severe drought with an estimated loss of around $800 million. Maharashtra, which faced drought in 2003 and flood in 2005, had to use more than what was allotted in the budget (Rs.175 billion), than the entire planned expenditure (Rs.152 billion) on irrigation, agriculture, and rural development from 2002-2007.

Impacts of climate change have also been noticed in northern India during the rabi cropping season, with a change in temperature of 1°C or more affecting agricultural production. Punjab and Haryana’s wheat-growing regions have experienced temperature rise of around 2.3°C. – 4.5°C.

A temperature rise by 0.5°C in winter temperature is anticipated to moderate rain-fed wheat yield by 0.45 tonnes per hectare. This may lead to certain improvements in the yields of chickpeas, rabi maize, sorghum, millets, and coconut on the west coast. Loss of potatoes, mustard, and vegetables in north-western India can also be reduced by reducing frost damage.

Studies by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) show that every rise in 1°C reduces wheat production in India by 4-5 million tonnes. Other major crops like paddy are also experiencing severe loss in productivity owing to climate change. IARI also indicates the possibility of a loss of between 4 and 5 million tonnes in wheat production with every rise of 1°C temperature throughout the growing period. Agriculture will be affected in the coastal regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra, as fertile areas are vulnerable to inundation and salinization.

Arid areas like Rajasthan may suffer a huge decline in pearl millet by 10% to 15% with a 2°C rise in temperature. Madhya Pradesh may experience shrinkage in soybean production if temperature and carbon dioxide increase jointly in the atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that a 0.5° rise in winter temperature would reduce wheat yield by 0.45 tonnes per hectare in India. As rice and wheat have an important share in total food grain production in India, any change in rice and wheat yields may have a drastic impact on the food security of the country.

The economic aspect of agricultural losses due to climate change

According to a recent study report published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health, India may face a loss of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of climate change to the tune of 4.3% by 2030. The study points out that in 2010 the GDP loss due to climate change was less than 1%. In the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh alone, losses in rice production during severe drought has been huge. A November 2015 World Bank Report says that climate change could effectively negate India’s economic progress, pushing 45 million Indians into extreme poverty over the next 15 years. The report recommended the use of more climate resistant crops and livestock to counter a predicted drop in agricultural productivity.

Climate change will have an impact on agriculture. It would induce changes in the form of profitability, prices, supply, demand and trade. According to a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) report, the impact of extreme weather events on India’s agriculture is growing. In early 2015, as many as 15 states were affected and 33% of the cropped areas were damaged. The loss to farmers was in excess of Rs.20,000 crore ($ 4 billion).

Shakti Baidya of Dholahat Village, South 24 Paraganas, who belongs to a farming family, told BE, “At present, the pertinent problem we are facing is the labour charge, which is very high. Farmers who yield all the crops with hired labour are not getting any profit. The total expense of yielding paddy per bigha is Rs.10,000, and the return ranges from Rs.9500- Rs.11000. However, if we harvest the field with machines, we can cut down on the labour cost.  But since we cannot afford machines, we have to harvest with the labourers. This increases the total expense. Labour charge per day is around Rs.300. Sometimes farmers also tend to use pesticides and chemical fertilizers in rented farms for more returns and profit. Unscientific chemicals like ammonium sulphate are also used to increase the crop yield but have harmful effect.”

A research paper on “Climate Change and its Impact on Agriculture” by Anupama Mahato states that world
agriculture faces a serious decline within this century due to global warming. Global agricultural productivity is projected to decline between 3% and 16 % by 2080. Developing countries, many of which have an average temperature that is already near or above crop tolerance levels, are predicted to suffer an average 10 to 25% decline in agricultural productivity by 2080. Rich countries, which have typically lower average temperatures, will experience a much milder or even positive average effect, ranging from an 8% increase in productivity to a 6% decline. Individual developing countries face even larger declines. India could see a drop of 30% to 40%. The most serious climate change risk to the Indian economy is the increased intensity, frequency and geographical coverage of drought. Higher temperatures, increased evapo-transpiration and decreased winter precipitation may bring about more drought. The severity of flooding in many Indian river basins may increase due to climate change.

Climate change and its affects

The environmental impact from climate change is seen in the form of global temperature increase, sea level rise, increased or decreased rainfall. Climate change is believed to alter weather patterns on the regional scale, giving rise to extreme weather events. The impacts from extreme weather events are definitely more acute and traumatic in nature, leading to deaths and injuries. A warmer climate gives rise to extreme weather, which threatens to increase deaths from malnutrition, diarrhoea, and air pollution. Changing climate will affect the basic requirements for maintaining health, namely, clean air and water, sufficient food, and adequate shelter. Globally each year, about 3.5 million people die from malnutrition, 1.8 million from diarrhoea due to poor sanitation, 8,00,000 from causes attributable to urban air pollution, and approximately 60,000 from natural disasters.

There are three ways in which the “Greenhouse effect” may be important for agriculture. First, increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations can have a direct effect on the growth rate of crops. Secondly, CO2-induced changes of climate may alter levels of temperature, rainfall and sunshine that can influence plant and animal productivity. Finally, the rise in sea level may lead to loss of farmland by inundation and increasing salinity of groundwater in coastal areas.


Aziz Elbehri, Senior Economist - Trade and Markets Division, Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, said that “Climate change is likely to exacerbate growing global inequality as the brunt of the negative climate effects is expected to fall on those countries that are least developed and most vulnerable.”

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