Just the smell of the air and a fistful of soil were enough for Dharamraj Chaudury (48) to know how good his potato crop would be.
Now he needs regular text messages from private weather stations and Reuters Market Light, an agro-advisory, to assess his yield. Despite that, he has been wrong many times in the past half a decade than in his entire 35 years of farming.
“I thought I knew the tricks of the trade, but I cannot depend on them anymore,” said Chaudury. For him, climate change has brought unknown pests, unexpected rain, frost and heat spells, turning cultivation into a gamble.
Cash crops like grape, apple and coffee have been hit the hardest. Since 2006, two weather risk insurance companies, the government-run Agriculture Insurance Company (AIC) and ICICI Lombard, have paid out Rs 132.2 crore in compensation, and 12.77 lakh farmers have insured themselves against the changing climate by paying a cumulative premium of Rs 247 crore.
“The weather has become extremely erratic, and it is showing in our balance sheet,” said M Parshad, AIC’s chairman and managing director.
“Despite being bullish on the insurance product, we have not made any money in the past two years. It has all been payouts,” said Pranav Prashad, head (rural and agriculture business group), ICICI Lombard. It was not quite the projections to begin with. “We developed a weather-based index as yield-based indices for crops involved a delay of six months for payouts in case of damages,” said K.N. Rao, deputy general manager, AIC.