A warming world is affecting Indian agriculture, industries

Updated on Aug 11, 2021 12:17 AM IST

A bleak report by the UN on Monday on the “science of climate change” said the impacts of global warming were intensifying and widening

Representational Image. (File photo)
Representational Image. (File photo)
By, New delhi

Changes wrought by the climate crisis will have economy-wide repercussions in India if not mitigated, shrivelling both agriculture and industry, experts have warned. Poverty could rise, they said. A bleak report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday on the “science of climate change” said the impacts of global warming were intensifying and widening. Some changes were “irreversible”, it added. The next climate negotiations, known as COP26, are scheduled to be held in Glasgow in November.

For India, the first of the four Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports being released over the next 15 months highlighted hard evidence of a changing monsoon, rising seas, deadlier heat waves, intense storms, flooding and glacial melts.

Risks to agriculture tend to be more acutely felt because they are most visible, but shocks to manufacturing could also be huge, studies have shown.

Rising temperatures have already made Indian agriculture more resource hungry. According to ongoing studies by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), farming now consumes up to 30% more water due to “high evaporative demand and crop duration due to forced maturity” in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan.

Apple orchards in Himachal Pradesh are shifting to higher altitudes for lack of sufficient cold weather. “Temperature in apple-growing regions of Himachal Pradesh showed an increase, whereas precipitation showed a decrease in recent years in Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur,” one of the ICAR studies said.

Higher temperatures can cut productivity or output per worker. For one, it’s simply uncomfortable to work on a hotter day. Sweaty weather can slow down a worker on the factory floor. Outdoor workers, especially farm labourers can fall sick, losing wages.

These risks are evident already in sectors such as textiles. India is the world’s second-largest producer of textiles and garments, with an export value totalling over $13.7 billion.

Garment manufacturing depends on high concentration activities such as sewing. Achyuta Adhvaryu, who teaches at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, studied a garment factory floor in Bengaluru, where warmer days have increased.

“We found that on hot days, if the average temperature increased by 1 degree Celsius, productivity in the Bangalore garment factory decreased by about 4%,” he said.

Adhvaryu was inspired to do these experiments by earlier landmark work by experts such as Anant Sudarshan of the University of Chicago.

Sudarshan and co-authors from New Delhi’s Indian Statistical Institute concluded in a study earlier this year that “for every one-degree Celsius (°C) rise in annual temperatures over average temperatures for the 1980-2000 period, Indian industrial plants likely produced 2% less revenue”.

“The trends that we see in our data make us think that warm countries in the developing world may face a pervasive ‘heat tax’ that could damage the competitiveness of their manufacturing sectors and further hurt the wages of poor workers,” Sudarshan’s study states.

The government’s 2017-18 Economic Survey said extreme weather and drought, when rainfall loss is greater than 40% than the median, will cut farmer incomes by up to 14%.

“We know what will happen. The key question is what is to be done? We know that too,” said Pramod Aggarwal, a top scientist and a co-author of the fourth IPCC report .

Some of the programmes India has taken up will help to mitigate climate change, such as the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bimal Yojana (a farm insurance scheme), Sinchai Yojana (irrigation scheme), and the rural job guarantee scheme MNREGA, Aggarwal said, adding: “But the problem lies in governance and implementation.”

“Clearly, the monsoon has been shown to be impacted. We will need hardier, quickly maturing crops. Investments in research must increase sharply,” said Arvind Dharmapal, a former professor of agronomy at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

“The next of the IPCC’s reports slated to be released in the coming months will talk of what actions to take and we must take those seriously,” Aggarwal said.


    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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