Though India technically is not an agrarian economy, with agriculture contributing only 20% to the GDP, almost 60% of its population depends on it for livelihood. Over time, policymakers have tried to correct this anomaly as they struggle to increase farm income. Lofty targets set recently by the government look at doubling farmer income and driving India to a 5 trillion USD economy by 2024. However, the vagaries of climate have been roadblocks to this vision.
As we know, Indian farming is highly dependent on rainfall, which continues to defy projections and has been increasingly erratic in recent years. Global warming is a major factor in this game as climate shocks impact food and water security. Adverse climate events have a major impact on all life, especially in developing nations, The need to address the issue of food security requires the promotion of an equitable and healthy food cycle, particularly for the most vulnerable countries.
A critical factor is this equation is that agriculture itself is one of the major contributors to the climate problem. Agriculture and development practices are estimated to contribute to almost 30% of greenhouse emissions, primarily due to the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and animal wastes. Agricultural development, thus contributes to, and is also a victim of, this long-term problem.
Climate-resilient agriculture practices look at adaptive agricultural methods that can withstand the shocks of climate change and weather extremes. These practices must be flexible enough to prepare and tackle long-term climate change as well as short-term weather shocks such as storms, hail, droughts, etc. Climate change often results in deficit or excess water, and adverse events require working around them to achieve a win-win situation.
The Triple-Win Approach
Climate-resilient agriculture is a composite approach to manage the components of agriculture and food security that are interlinked and directly affected by climate change. The World Bank promotes climate-resilient agriculture as a “triple win” to tackle and achieve the following three outcomes:
1. Enhanced productivity. Increase quality and quantity, leading to improved nutrition and farmer income. The target of this focus is on 75% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas and are agri-dependent.
2. Resilience. Reduce susceptibility to water scarcity, pests, and other climate-related adverse events, and improve the capacity to adapt and grow in the face of longer-term stresses like shortened seasons and erratic weather patterns.
3. Carbon sequestration. Reduce emissions in the process of food production, avoid deforestation, and promote methods to capture and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Some Climate-Resilient Agriculture And Development Practices
A planned approach to adaptation in agriculture and development practices are necessary to cope with climate change and make agri-production resilient to climate changes and shocks. India has a diverse ecology, and some regions have evolved and adapted practices over time to tackle vagaries. Judicious use of some of these practices has the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. Proper management and implementation of practices that have resulted in an increase in agri-produce in unfavorable conditions can also be used to adapt to climate change. These practices lead to increased resilience and consistency in yield despite varying climatic conditions. The best part is that they may require minimum intervention as they are already part of many cultures and systems.
Some practices being followed at the rural level in India:
1) Soil resilience. Improve soil health, a key property in building crop resilience under climate change. Building soil carbon, reducing erosion, and increasing water retention capacity of soil are important factors that improve resilience. Soil testing for balanced nutrient application and improved application techniques can lead to synergy in crop requirements and emission reduction.
2) Adaptation in crop varieties. Introduce seed varieties that are drought, heat, and flood-resistant to achieve consistency in yields and better productivity. This has to be done in conjunction with the farming community at a local level depending on weather projections and planning.
3) Water management. Augment water reservoirs and recharge water tables with rainwater harvesting, recycling of rainwater, and reduction of polluted groundwater using a host of methods. These can be creating new or restoring traditional rainwater harvesting structures, percolating ponds, check dams, etc. The objective is to enhance water storage and availability at the farm level. Emphasis is also placed on technologies that help in water conservation such as zero or minimum tillage.
4) Conservation tillage. Adapt to the use of conservation tillage practices for minimal physical loosening of the soil. This leads to an increase in soil organic matter and creates an ecosystem for crops to thrive. The net result is reduced greenhouse emissions, leading to a reduced carbon footprint.
5) Farm equipment hiring. Create hiring centers for farm machines and modern technologies to speed up plantation/sowing. Affordable availability of machines helps farmers to deal with adverse events like erratic rainfall patterns.
6) Adaptation of livestock systems. Create water reservoirs and invest in heat-tolerant breeds to enhance adaptation to heat stress. Enhanced fodder production and availability through use of community lands are key interventions. Rotational grazing and reduction in overgrazing will help in areas with degradation. Reduce disease through animal spacing, feed supplements, and preventive vaccination can help in building resilience.
The Guiding Light
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), specializing in agricultural development in India, is an implementing NGO that works in rural areas at the grassroots level. It has a mission to achieve a positive social, economic, and environmental change across rural India by addressing critical issues concerning food security, water security, local participation and information asymmetry, with a focus on the empowerment of women and children. Sehgal Foundation operates across ten states, in over 1,000 villages so far, reaching more than 3 million people.
Sehgal Foundation has partnered with Mosaic India Private Limited to support farmers in Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh through Krishi Jyoti. The endeavor has introduced small and marginal farmers to modern agricultural techniques. The farmers have benefited with better crop yields and helped them to achieve greater financial benefits.
As part of the agricultural development program, Sehgal Foundation works with the farmers in agricultural development work to enhance soil health, provide agricultural inputs, and provide expert advice. Farmers were provided with quality seeds, fertilizers, and macro and micronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, etc.
Water management, being the core of the project, involved farmer trainings in water conservation, building infrastructure, and encouraging water-efficient irrigation techniques. Building check dams and encouraging the use of drip irrigation facilities helped farmers to a large extent.
Positive changes were made possible through a collaborative effort of Sehgal Foundation and Mosaic India Pvt Ltd. Farmers struggling with issues of soil erosion, contamination of the water table, and dwindling farm income are now reaping the benefits with the expertise provided.
India with its vast population is one of the most vulnerable countries as climate change puts pressure on natural resources and mechanisms. The impact is likely to be felt in negatively fluctuating crop yields and can have a major impact on India’s food security. Addressing the issues of climate change and its consequential effects on agricultural development and productivity must be a priority. The most vulnerable in the chain are small farmers, and the effects could be severe, not only for them individually but also to India’s overall food security.
Realizing these challenges, the Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have taken up projects that are in various stages of implementation, like the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICAR).However, with global warming and GHG emissions becoming a reality, and beyond the farming community’s control, the need is urgent to take up these issues with war-like urgency.