A climate shield for India’s small farmers
Water evaporation and shortage apart, such long days of intense heat change how crops grow, their ability to absorb nutrients. In some cases, they burn off the plant itself.
These intensely hot days feel tortuous to city slickers, but they are worse for farmers. We experienced a terrifying heat wave in April and May across India. Scientists tell us typically, this was a once-in-a-100-years event, but now it is 30 times more probable due to climate change.
Water evaporation and shortage apart, such long days of intense heat change how crops grow, their ability to absorb nutrients. In some cases, they burn off the plant itself. All crops, from wheat to fruits and vegetables, are impacted. Given that about 80% of our farmers are small farmers, heatwaves will devastate their livelihoods. It will also deprive most of us of nutrition, if not food.
Climate finance, focused on renewable energy, must turn its focus to these small farmers. They produce most of our food. Engaging with them will help identify the most impactful strategies. For example, how to encourage more climate resilient crops, such as some millets? Farmers say they require an assured MSP to grow these. Why not give them this? Consumers too, must be influenced to ask for it.
Like parts of the Deccan, why not millets in mid-day meals? Several opportunities exist, for 2023 is the international year of the millets. But millets are only a very small case in point. The challenge is much greater, and more complex. From crop diversification to new farming strategies, we need to shield our food from climate change on a war footing.
(The writer is the founder and director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group)