India’s farms feel the heat | delhi | Hindustan Times
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India’s farms feel the heat

This year, a rainfall deficit of 23 per cent in India caused a food production decline worth Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) in the summer season, reports Chetan Chauhan.

delhi Updated: Nov 29, 2009 23:57 IST
Chetan Chauhan

This year, a rainfall deficit of 23 per cent in India caused a food production decline worth Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) in the summer season.

About 500 million people (45 per cent of the country’s population) are likely to be adversely affected because of this.

This is an indication of what changes in the Indian monsoon patterns, predicted by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), could do to the country’s agriculture in coming years.

The IITM had said climate change could make predicting rainfall more difficult and the frequency of extreme events (like the sudden rain in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh seen this year in late September) would increase.

About 64 per cent of the country’s population are dependent on agriculture and allied activities. Declines in farm productivity will affect this section of the population the most. This will lead to migrations to cities, which are already congested.

Agriculture contributes about 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

P.K. Aggarwal, national professor at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), said: “Climate change can jeopardise our food security with 6-8 per cent agriculture production loss predicted for 2020. Our studies have shown that the entire agriculture belt from the north to the south will be affected,” said Aggarwal, who heads the national network on the impact, adaptation and vulnerability of Indian agriculture to climate change.

India’s agricultural production has been stagnant for the past five years at around 200 million tonnes. By 2020, demand for food is likely to increase by 30 per cent from the present levels (169 million tonnes of wheat and rice).

The national network has come out with 32 studies (some of the findings have been highlighted in the graphics) on what will happen to Indian agriculture because of temperature increases, whose projections have been made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A United Nations Population Fund report released in November says changes in monsoon patterns will affect 51 per cent of India’s agriculture land (16,20,388 sq km), making 420 million people in rural parts vulnerable to climate change.

“Women will suffer more as they account for 70 per cent of the total agriculture workforce in India,” the report said.

However, the problem can be mitigated with an expenditure of Rs 7,000 crore (Rs 70 billion) each year to combat climate change, proposed by the International Food Policy Research Institute, an international food policy think.

“The money is less than 30 per cent of what production loss due to climate change can cause to highly vulnerable nations like India,” said Ashok Gulati, director (Asia), International Food Policy Research Institute.

Abhijit Sen, member (agriculture), Planning Commission, said: “Eastern parts of India could be the future food bowl provided proper investments are made for providing irrigation and rural infrastructure in the region.”

For this to happen, the government will have to substantially increase investment in agriculture from Rs 17,825 crore (Rs 178.25 billion) now.

“We need more investment both from the public and private sectors to prepare ourselves for climate change scenarios,” Sen said.

If policy-makers decide on appropriate investments in time, future generations of farmers can get relief and continue with agriculture as a viable option.