Adapting agriculture to climate change

Vinaya Patil
Wednesday, 17 October 2018

At a recently-held international conference on climate change in the city, speakers discussed the impact of temperature rise on agriculture in a country like India, along with water management and more

If there’s one issue that’s truly universal, it is climate change and the numerous ills of it. Shortage of drinking water, and its negative impact on agriculture are just two of the major ones. Summer temperatures in India have been rising over the last few decades, resulting in increased heat-related mortalities too. The impact of weather variability and climate change in India is expected to be largely adverse, resulting in serious losses.

A conference held in the city recently discussed exactly this. International experts and policy makers spoke of the impact of climate change on Indian agriculture. Pune-based WOTR had organised the international consultation on ‘Adapting Agriculture in Semi-arid India to a Global Temperature Rise of 1.5°C’ to discuss the gravity of the issue and find solutions, particularly in semi-arid areas that are heavily dependent on monsoons.

The world has already passed one degree of warming and the 1.5 C mark could be breached by the end of the next decade if carbon emissions are not reduced. A global increase of 1.5 C would mean even higher changes — 2 or 2.5 C — at a regional scale and would lead to heightened weather variations, erratic rainfall, agricultural losses and other climate induced disasters.

There is an urgent need for more sustainable agriculture practices and efficient management of our water resources. The conference threw light on the implications of climate change on landuse and landcover changes, water resources, agriculture production systems, and climate financial services.

Major drivers of change
The last two decades have seen many changes in our agricultural practices too, said Anuradha Phadtare at the event. “We have turned from food crops to cash crops, our livestock patterns have changed and we are rapidly turning fallow land into agricultural land, which all impact environment,” she said as part of her presentation on changes in ecosystems and impacts on gender roles and relations. She also spoke about the major drivers of change in the gender aspects of agriculture — technology, government policies, weather and other human factors like education etc.

Participants also discussed the ills of our obsession with hybrid seeds that have a negative impact on our soil and the resultant low agricultural productivity. Temperature rise also has a massively degrading impact on most crops except very few which show rapid growth with higher temperatures. Also exceptions are extreme cold regions where agricultural produce increases with some rise in temperature. But for a tropical country like India, the effect is largely in the minus.

Among the worst affected by climate change are the small and landless farmers along with the tribals and women, agreed the panel discussing Agricultural Production Systems.

The consultation brought together experts from agricultural research institutes, international universities, relevant department in Government of India and Maharashtra, NGOs and farmers to discuss urgent needs and suggest ‘pathways of change’.

There is momentum building around the world to address climate change and build resilience in vulnerable areas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) too met last week in Incheon, South Korea, to release its special report on a 1.5 C global temperature rise.

The event generated discussions, and brought up questions on the challenges arising out of a rising temperature and unreliable monsoon scenario. Among the speakers at the event were Deepak Singla, Commissioner, Soil and Water Conservation, Government of Maharashtra; Dr SD Attri, Deputy Director General, IMD; Shankar Pande, CGM Farm Sector Policy, NABARD; Dr Christian Siderius, Research Fellow, Grantham Research Institute, London School of Economics; Col V N Supanekar, YASHADA; and Dr Dipankar Saha of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB).

Sustainable agriculture
When we speak of water, there are various issues with groundwater salinity, said Dr Saha on the sidelines of the event. “Artificial recharge can’t be the solution,” he said, adding that groundwater levels are dipping rapidly. He gave an example of Bhuj in Gujarat where the water level has gone down from 25 m to 150 m in the last few decades. A former member of the Ministry of Water Resources, Gujarat, Saha also spoke to us about the ambitious inter-linking of river projects of the Government of India. He, however, stressed on using it for agricultural purposes. “Inter-linking of rivers is inevitable and must be used for irrigation to have maximum gains from it,” he stressed.

The two-day event concluded that sustainable agriculture and sustainable lifestyles can be the only solutions. WoTR, on its part, has been working in this direction. Its watershed development programmes, adaptive sustainable agriculture (ASA) initiatives, Integrated Water Resources Management and Sustainable Rural Livelihood Projects are designed in this direction. Also stressed at the event, was the need for more urgent, wider and in-depth study in this area. 

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