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Farmers already facing heat

Across India’s farmlands, higher temperatures are causing wide problems for farmers who have little help or knowledge to cope with them, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: May 02, 2008 01:46 IST
Neelesh Misra

The locusts used to fly in here one upon a time, coming in waves, devastating crops as farmers desperately created walls of fire to kill them.

But when Omkar Singh’s wheat crop began shrinking last year in the UP countryside, it was something far bigger touching his life: climate change. Across India’s farmlands, higher temperatures are causing wide problems for farmers who have little help or knowledge to cope with them, even as the government and scientific community juggle with futuristic predictions of climate change doom.

“We are seeing so many differences around us due to the rise in temperatures, it is hurting our lives. New insects are being created, crop productivity is less, there is much less water now,” said Singh, a postgraduate in sociology from Kanpur who had to stay back and look after the family’s fields after his parents died.

In an average year, he used to earn about Rs. 1 lakh; now, Rs. 50,000 is his best guess. “We use as many insecticides as we can, but nothing works. These new insects just don’t die,” said the 30-year-old, who lives in Raipur Babu village, 40 km north of Lucknow.

"With climate change, we are witnessing new forms of pests, insects and diseases. The disease and pest spectrum are changing," said Mangala Rai, director-general, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

According to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the proliferation of viruses in agriculture and horticulture has been alarming over past years. In 1939, there were 89 known viruses; in 1991, they were estimated at 700 and in 2005, at 1,200. So for farmers like Singh, the buzz on climate change does not count; the change is already setting in.

G Srinivasan, director, Indian Meteorological Department, lists some other trends that could have to do with climate change. Wheat production has been going down annually by up to 6 million tonnes over the past years due to higher temperatures in February-March; a slight rise in minimum temperatures has been linked to a decrease in rice yields in the Indo-Gangetic plains; higher temperatures in Himachal reduced apple productivity and the apple belt is gradually shifting upwards to higher latitudes.

Last year, Singh’s crops began showing strange signs of poor growth. “We wondered if we hadn’t used the right amount of sulphur or if there’d been a loss of zinc in our soil. We did everything we could. We finally realised it was a new virus that had caused knots at the bottom of the stem, causing it to shrink.”