Farmers switch crops amid concerns over climate crisis
India is among countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which can roil its farm sector, still the biggest source of employment, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report.
Farmers in India are alarmed by risks posed by the climate crisis and most have gotten into the practice of keeping some backup plan in view of increasingly extreme weather patterns, data from a national farm-advisory helpline and a major study show.
India is among countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which can roil its farm sector, still the biggest source of employment, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report. Farmlands have been called the frontlines of climate change because the most visible impacts of the crisis are often first apparent in crops.
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Adaptation, or the process of adjusting to climate-change impacts, in some cases, is altering the country’s farm landscape. For instance, farmers from Uttarakhand have been forced to convert “conventional apple fields into vegetables” due to “temperature warming”, the study found.
Big famers have been quicker to adopt newer technologies to fend off challenges than small ones, an overwhelming majority in the country.
Farmers’ perception and response could be classified into three categories, showed the study by Pritha Dutta and Bhagirath Behara of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, along with Dil Bahadur Rahut of the Asian Development Bank Institute, Tokyo, released in September last year. The study is now available in an open-access form.
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Growers with better resources are going in for systemic as well as transformational changes, while others are adapting by introducing smaller, incremental steps.
“Results show that majority of the Indian farmers have perceived a rise in temperature, erratic and decreased rainfall, which is consistent with the meteorological data,” Dutta said.
Examples of incremental changes include crop switching. In Tamil Nadu, a large number of cultivators are growing sesame instead of groundnut in the face growing water scarcity. “We also noted that some farmers increased the number of family labourers to avoid waged labourers,” a cost-cutting move, Dutta said.
Others are taking drastic steps such as leasing out the land, liquidating land and livestock and reducing the farm size, pointing to a scaling down of farm operations due to the climate crisis, the study found.
The national Kisan Call Centre helpline for farmers, accessible toll free on 1800-180-1551, receives on average nearly 3.2 million calls a year. It has scaled up operations, increasing its presence to 21 location countrywide and doubling farm tele-advisers to handle higher call volumes.
In 2020-21, nearly two-fifths of the calls pertained to matters related to weather uncertainties, plant protection, seed and planting materials and crop insurance, data accessed by HT show.
As the need for precision farming grows, agri-tech firms are hawking an array of high-tech interventions. From Trimble Inc’s Greenseeker, a hand held device that instantly reads soil-nutrient levels, to CropIn Technology Solutions’s cloud-based SmartFarm platform that remotely detects crop damage, the marketplace is full of technologies for those who can afford them.
“The main challenge in technology diffusion (in agriculture) is that landholdings are so small that even using a tractor makes no sense. Secondly, all our technologies, like high yielding seeds, are for irrigated lands, although 48% of our sown area is dry land (those outside irrigation cover),” said Tamil Nadu Agricultural University’s agricultural economics head K Mani.