April , 2024
Climate change and threats for agricultural sustainability in India
11:44 am

Kuntala Sarkar

Climate change has transitioned from a distant concern to an urgent reality with profound implications. Its impact on India’s agricultural sector is particularly acute, manifesting in erratic rainfall, prolonged droughts, destructive floods, and extreme temperatures. These unpredictable weather patterns disrupt agricultural schedules, leading to crop failures and economic hardships for farmers.

Water scarcity is another critical issue exacerbated by climate change, especially in regions dependent on monsoon rains. Depleting groundwater levels pose challenges for irrigation and livestock management, resulting in reduced crop yields and heightened vulnerability to climate-related risks.

Approximately 30% of India’s cultivated land, totaling 146.8 million hectares, is classified as degraded according to the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning. This degradation stems from factors such as excessive fertilizer use, inefficient irrigation practices, suboptimal water management, pesticide overuse, inadequate crop residue management, and flawed crop planning.

Changing climate patterns have significantly increased crop losses in India due to temperature shifts, altered rainfall, and the proliferation of pests and diseases. Farmers across various regions, from rice fields in West Bengal to cotton farms in Maharashtra, grapple with these challenges. Moreover, the emergence of pesticide-resistant crop diseases further diminishes yields.

Recent data from the World Economic Forum highlights extreme weather events in India, such as a 40% decrease in August 2023 rainfall compared to the historical average, marking it as the driest month since 1903. Additionally, February of the same year recorded the highest temperatures since data collection began in 1901. These extremes pose a substantial threat to the country’s food production system.

For many Indian farmers, climate change isn’t merely an environmental concern but a matter of economic survival. Crop failures and income reductions plunge farmers into cycles of debt and financial insecurity, compelling some to abandon their land or migrate to other professions.

A 2023 study by The Rockefeller Foundation underscores the gravity of the situation, with climate emerging as the primary concern for 63% of smallholder farmers, and 70% reporting crop losses due to weather fluctuations. Government interventions such as promoting drought-resistant crops, investing in irrigation infrastructure, providing access to climate-resilient technologies, and implementing sustainable farming practices can alleviate some of these challenges. However, comprehensive action at the policy level is essential to address the multifaceted impacts of climate change on India’s agricultural sector.

According to a report by the Press Information Bureau in March 2023, without adaptation measures, rainfed rice yields are projected to decrease by 20% and irrigated rice yields by 3.5% by 2050. Similarly, wheat yields are expected to decline by 19.3%, and kharif maize yields by 18% by 2050 due to climate change.

The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA), under the Department of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, Government of India, is actively engaged in addressing these challenges. Initiatives such as the National Workshop on ‘Digital Forecasting Techniques and Decision Support System for Climate-Resilient Agriculture in Rainfed Ecosystems’ aim to identify innovative solutions, enhance forecasting models, and establish comprehensive frameworks for effective risk mitigation. These efforts include providing crop advisories, managing nutrition, issuing weather alerts, addressing pest and disease management, disseminating market information, and offering post-harvest guidance. The National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), focuses on evolving and implementing strategies to enhance the resilience of Indian agriculture to climate change.

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