Changing Climate and Indian Agriculture: Adaptation Strategies and way forward
Authors: Pinaki Roy1, R Roy Burman2, R N Padaria3 and J P Sharma4 and Anirban Mukherjee5
Junior Research Fellow1, Principal Scientist2, Professor3, Joint Director (Extension) 4 PhD Scholar5
ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi-1100121

Indian agriculture is highly significant on a planetary scale, occupying 37 percent or as much as 40-50 percent of the Earth’s land surface but it is currently facing many challenges. Stagnating net sown area, stagnating yield levels, degrading soil quality, reduction in per capita land availability and the undesirable effects of climate change are the major challenges for Indian agriculture. Climate change impacts on agriculture are being witnessed all over the world, but countries like India are more vulnerable in view of the huge population dependent on agriculture, excessive pressure on natural resources, and poor coping mechanisms. Therefore, it is critical for ensuring food and nutritional security for all, particularly the resource poor small and marginal farmers of developing countries like India. To address this challenge, the ICAR launched NICRA in 2011 to develop model CRVs which enhance farm productivity and profitability, particularly during years of weather aberrations and extreme climate, through adaptation to different climatic stresses. The 151 villages selected are in areas vulnerable to different stresses such as drought, cyclone, flood, heat/cold wave, seawater intrusion etc.

Impact of climate change:

The Indian agriculture production system faces the daunting task of feeding 17.5% of the global population with only 2.4% of land and 4% of water resources at its disposal. India is more vulnerable to climate change in view of the dependence of huge population on agriculture, excessive pressure on natural resources, and relatively weak coping mechanisms. The warming trend in India over the past 100 years has indicated an increase of 0.6°C, which is likely to impact many crops, negatively impacting food and livelihood security of millions of farmers. The impacts of climate change on agriculture may not be felt evenly. At mid to high latitudes, moderate warming would benefit cereal and pasture yields, but even slight warming decreases yields in seasonally dry and tropical regions. Global food production potential is likely to increase with rise in global average temperature up to about 3°C, but above this it is very likely to decrease. Smallholder agriculture was affected by direct impacts at the level of communities, landscapes and watersheds such as decreased availability of water in the irrigation systems of the Indo-Gangetic plain; impacts on soil processes from complex global warming impacts and associated hydrological changes (accelerated decomposition of organic matter, depression of nitrogen-fixing activity), soil fertility and water-holding properties affected, and overall soil erosion exacerbated by increased erosivity of rainfall. The above impacts on agriculture will be combined with impacts on human health reduces productivity of labour for agriculture work. Impacts on important secondary non-farm livelihood strategies, i.e., tourism, for many rural people in developing countries. Impacts of climate change in other distant areas may create changes which affect a smallholder system. For example, decreased supply of grain in one location might affect specialist cash-crop producers in another area as the latter are net grain buyers. There are already evidences of negative impacts on yield of wheat and paddy in some parts of India due to increased temperature, water stress, and reduction in number of rainy days. Significant negative impacts have been projected under medium-term (2020–39) climate change scenario, for example, yield reduction by 4.5–9%, depending on the magnitude and distribution of warming. Since agriculture currently contributes about 15% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP), a negative impact on production implies cost of climate change to roughly range from 0.7% to 1.35% of GDP per year.

Adaptation strategies:

Adaptation of potential strategies include effective and efficient use of natural resource such as water which is highly critical for adaptation to climate change. Along with developed cultivars tolerant to heat and salinity stresses and resistant to flood and drought, modifying crop management practices, improving water management, improving pest management, better weather forecasts and crop insurance and harnessing the indigenous technological knowledge of farmers. Cropping systems may have to change to include growing suitable cultivars, increasing cropping intensities or diversification. There is an urgent need for diversification of the conventional puddled transplanted rice and tilled wheat to other cropping systems such as maize-wheat, pulse-wheat, maize-pulse, oilseed-wheat and direct seeded rice-wheat and use resources more efficiently thereby increasing farmers’ income and exerting less pressure to the natural resource base. Conservation agriculture and the resource conservation technologies (RCTs) have proved to be highly useful to enhance resource or input use efficiency and provide immediate, identifiable and demonstrable economic benefits such as reductions in production costs, saving in water, fuel and labour requirements and timely establishment of crops resulting in improved yields

Way forward:

Adaptation measures are being implemented by a range of public and private organisations through policies, investments in infrastructure and technologies, and behavioural change. Already farmers in developing countries are using their existing experience, knowledge and resources to manage climate risks on their own account and these actions are not easily distinguished from a range of other factors (social, demographic and economic) influencing livelihood decisions and development trajectories. Planned adaptation initiatives are also often not undertaken as standalone measures, but are embedded within broader sectoral initiatives. Planned adaptation to climate change is moving up the international development agenda. From an initial focus on top-down analyses of climate change impacts, attention has shifted to vulnerability assessments and more recently to both top-down and bottom-up adaptation planning i.e. National Adaptation Programmes of Action or NAPAs. Subsequently, policy frameworks and tools are being developed to guide adaptation planning, embedding a vulnerability or resilience focus. The previously overlooked interactions between mitigation and adaptation are also receiving greater attention, because of the potential synergies and/or trade-offs implied for policy decisions. Some adaptation interventions focus on generic vulnerability, whereas others seek to specifically confront the impacts of human-induced climate change. In between these two extremes, there are various activities that seek to build response capacity in general or that aim to manage specific climate risks. There will be trade-offs in the options chosen, and these trade-offs are likely to become increasingly complex, with equity implications. However, there is also the question of how far climate change challenges ‘business-as-usual’ economic models of agricultural development. For agricultural adaptation, there is the need for changes in technologies or generation of new technologies, and also changes in the broader institutional arrangements Farm-level changes will include modifications of farming practices aimed at maintaining the existing system, but there may also be need to address the broader inequalities, e.g., in land distribution, which may be more significant and systemic in nature. Changes in governance may be needed to create an enabling environment for adaptation i.e., how to achieve adaptive management. Agricultural adaptation can be thought of as modifications to an existing system or a wider set of changes, but in fact both will be required, alongside new approaches and social learning. ICAR jointly efforts for developing institutional structure like community seed bank, fodder bank, custom hiring center (CHC) for farm machinery, etc. were established in the villages depending on the need, through active involvement of farmers, and by making use of the existing democratic structures operational at the village level.

The ICAR, focal organization for agriculture research, technology development, and transfer of technology, has accorded high priority to understanding the impacts of climate change and developing adaptation and mitigation strategies to meet the challenges posed by climate change on the agricultural system. The ICAR launched a Network Project on Climate Change in 2004 with 15 centers which were expanded later covering 23 centers across the country. The results of the project through crop modeling have helped in understanding the impacts of changes in rainfall and temperature regimes on important crops and livestock. In 2011, the ICAR launched a megaproject called NICRA with four main modules—natural resource management, improving crop production, livestock and fisheries, and institutional innovations to make the farmers self-reliant for adaptation under changing climate. A good convergence among research organizations and various government programs such as national/state action plans, NMSA, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), National Agriculture Development Programme, soil health schemes, water mission, and green climate fund etc. will further contribute to scaling up for climate smart agriculture.

Not only climate change is having an impact upon agriculture, but agriculture is also a significant contributor to climate change. The agricultural sector is a source of GHGs, which contribute to global warming. Agriculture has the potential to contribute to mitigation through: (a) reducing GHG emissions, (b) enhancing removal (storing or sequestering/capturing) of carbon, and (c) avoiding or displacing fossil-derived emissions through production of biofuel feed stocks. Deployment of new mitigation practices for livestock systems and fertiliser applications will be essential to prevent an increase in emissions from agriculture after 2030. The most promising options for mitigating GHG emissions in agriculture include:

  • improved crop and grazing land management (e.g., improved agronomic practices, nutrient use, tillage, and residue management) restoration of organic soils that are drained for crop production, and restoration of degraded lands.
  • Lower, but still significant, mitigation is possible with:
  1. - improved water and rice management
  2. - set-asides, land use change and agroforestry
  3. - improved livestock and manure management.

    Conclusion: Many mitigation opportunities are based on existing technologies and could be implemented immediately, but technological development will be a major factor influencing the efficacy of additional mitigation measures in the future. Soil carbon sequestration offers most of the mitigation potential, with an estimated 89 percent contribution to the technical potential. Mitigation of methane and nitrous oxide emissions from soils account for 9 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of the total mitigation potential. The price of carbon is a key determinant of mitigation strategies. At low prices, farmers may adjust existing production practices such as tillage, fertilizer application, livestock diet formulation, and manure management. Higher prices are needed to provide sufficient incentives for major land-use changes. Agricultural mitigation measures often have synergy with sustainable development policies. Further mitigation and adaptations in agriculture can overlap, but macro-economic, agricultural and the environmental policies may have a greater impact on agricultural mitigation than explicit climate policies per se. Despite significant technical potential for mitigation in agriculture, there has been relatively little progress made in the implementation of mitigation measures also.

About Author / Additional Info:
Currently doing PhD work at ICAR-IARI, New Delhi