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Implications of climate change on Indian agriculture: Is it a food or famine situation?

Source: The Energy and Resources Institute - Fri, 28 Dec 2012 05:28 GMT
Author: The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India
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By: Suruchi Bhadwal (TERI)/New Delhi, India It is a well acknowledged fact that the impacts of climate change will be more severe in regions wherein the dependency on climate sensitive sectors for securing livelihoods is high. People associated with these sectors have a great deal to lose from exposure to increased variability in the climate, its extremes and changing contours. Most people in developing countries are tied closely to their natural resource bases to lead their lives. While a sense of the changes in climate gradually occurring over the years exists, the increase in the year-to-year climate variability and the non-linear nature of changes in the climate has made decision-making for many a challenge.  Interactions with the Indian farming community at the grassroots show how agriculture has become increasingly prone to risks, with the weather patterns being highly unpredictable and huge losses incurred at the household level. Slow onset of a drought basically allows for little planning that the farmers can engage in by the time they realise that it may lead to crop failure. The impact on incomes is obvious and the coping measures resorted to are in no way substitutes for provision of a good quality life. In case of floods and heavy intensity rainfall, the losses are immediate with the effects of it continuing over longer time periods. The affect is fall in acreage, productivities in many areas and overall production levels. World over there are quite some examples that show the different ways in which people have resorted to coping with such conditions, and in most cases the situation does not look very promising especially in the context of developing countries. Some interactions with the farmers in India throw light on how these communities have been facing these challenges at the micro level, given the prevalence of a hotter climate, variability in rainfall patterns and intensity, frequency of droughts, impact on soil moisture etc. In many areas, farmers are trying to compensate these losses by increasing the level of inputs into the farms, thereby increasing the cost of cultivation. The farmers have been bearing the losses at their end by investing in the micro-management of resources for better outputs, including experimenting with farm practices--which at times has a cost attached to it--,experiencing losses in production, out-migrating temporarily or permanently which in turn would have serious implications on the socio-cultural aspects and the way societies function etc. Interestingly, field interactions also indicate that if given an opportunity, the next generation of the farming community would prefer to move out of the occupation and get into other types of risk-resilient jobs. For a country like India, which has been largely agrarian and self-sustained in food production, this kind of a transformation would have widespread implications. While the country may try to move out from a risk-prone condition to a risk-resilient condition under these circumstances, food availability and access to food would become more primary issues. Import of food and its prices may make the food available but not accessible to all, given that only a small section of the society would be able to afford such prices. The very notion of achieving the millennium development goals or any further goals of alleviating poverty, reducing the number of malnourished people and addressing health issues looks gloomy. There is a strong need for India to make the agriculture sector resilient to these risks by not only focusing on the physical aspects at the crop level in containing the losses, but also on other aspects wherein opportunities can be created in farming to retain community interest in pursuing it not only as a livelihood option but as a strategy for career growth. This would require the entire system to be re-vamped and the way rural development has been foreseen beginning at the policy level to its implementation The focus must be on bringing about holistic development, beginning with education that provides practical knowledge in related areas including crop growth; tools and techniques that can be employed; financial support systems; policy support; accessibility; entrepreneurship development and, later on, assisting those interested in making this as a career opportunity by counseling them in the right direction. The country may have to bear the initial costs for implementing such a strategy, but the overall costs that it might end up paying for food imports and its access to a growing population may turn out to be far greater.   Author is Associate Director at TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) and views expressed are her personal.

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