The climate crisis threatens Indian agriculture and livelihoods
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released on Monday, has highlighted the stark reality of global warming and its dire consequences — altered rainfall patterns, rising seas and temperatures, deadlier heat waves and glacial melts. The findings have serious implications for India and its political economy, particularly agriculture, which continues to be the largest source of livelihood.
India is already facing water stress, thanks to erratic monsoons, falling water table, and use of water-intensive hybrid seeds, and the rise in temperatures has made agriculture hungry for more resources such as water. According to an ongoing study of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, farming now consumes over 30% more water due to “high evaporative demand and crop duration due to forced maturity”. This will intensify. Increased temperatures and extreme rainfall can also affect soil fertility, increase incidence of pest infestation, and also impact allied sectors such as animal husbandry and fisheries. Higher temperatures also hamper productivity for outdoor workers such as farmers and labourers. The 2017-18 Economic Survey found that the climate crisis could cut farm incomes by up to 15% to 18%, and up to 20% in areas without irrigation. Nearly 60% of India’s net sown area isn’t irrigated.
India must work on a war-footing to mitigate the dire consequences of the climate crisis that could push millions into poverty, and also lead to food insecurity and under-nutrition. According to an Observer Research Foundation study, India must step up public investment in development and dissemination of crop varieties that are more tolerant of temperature and precipitation fluctuations, and are more water- and nutrient-efficient. Agricultural policy should focus on improving crop productivity, water management, and developing safety nets for farmers to cope with the risks of the climate crisis.