New Delhi: A three-hour drive from the capital Delhi, in the Nuh district of Haryana, Arshad Khan Ali has been tilling his leased one-acre land for the last 15 years. Based on the farming cycle, Mr Ali toggles between growing tomatoes, and vegetables like bringal, green chillies, wax gourd and sponge gourd. But now his conventional cyclical cropping pattern has been disrupted.
“It rained heavily this year. I had planted tomatoes on one acre of land which I had taken on lease. Almost the entire crop got damaged,” says Arshad Khan Ali, disappointed and helpless. Due to unseasonal rains at the peak of summer in May, farmers like Mr Ali lost their crops just a few days before harvest.
For a father of eight children, crop loss meant severe financial implications that were difficult to recuperate. Walking over the ruined tomatoes, crushing the dashed hopes further, Mr Ali adds,
I won’t be able to recover even the investment of Rs. 1.1 lakh. For the past six years, we have been seeing a shift in climate; it begins to rain when the crop is at a nascent stage. Followed by fungi outbreak after rain eats up the crop.
Various other crops in India had a similar fate this year. Unseasonal rains, hailstorms and pest infestation have adversely affected mango production and quality in seven major mango-producing states, Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Agriculture Minister informed in a written reply to the Lok Sabha on August 1. The seven states are – Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
In Andhra Pradesh, the mango crop in 98.46 hectares of the area has been damaged due to unseasonal and heavy downpours, hail storms and gusty winds that occurred during March and the first week of May 2023, he said.
Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, persistent rains for about a fortnight during June and July caused difficulties in pest management and became a roadblock in the harvesting of fruits.
While a production loss of Mango crops by 53 per cent is estimated for Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra saw a dip of nearly 61 per cent due to adverse weather conditions.
Apart from fruits and vegetables, a storm may also be brewing in the quintessential tea cup. It should be a cause for concern since India is one the world’s largest consumers and exporters of tea in the world. Assam, the largest tea-producing state in India, accounts for roughly 52 per cent of the country’s tea production and 13 per cent of the world’s tea production. The plantation crop is heavily dependent on the weather and is now facing the brutality of rising temperatures and declining rainfall. According to the Centre for Science and Environment Report, “India 2023: An assessment of extreme weather events”, between January 1 and September 30, 2023, Assam reported 48,029 hectares of crop area damage.
In an interview with news agency ANI on December 18, Dinesh Bihani, Secretary of the Guwahati Tea Auction Buyer’s Association (GTABA), said that the temperature rise has impacted the quality of teas and sudden and uneven rainfall has resulted in a change in the volume of tea production. He added,
This has also impacted exports. This year is not good for the tea industry due to climate change and war (Russia-Ukraine). We have faced many difficulties, and the price has also dropped.
From staple beverage chai to staple food grains, the two major crops – rice and wheat – are also threatened by climate change. Mahendra Singh, a farmer from Gadana village in Modinagar, Western Uttar Pradesh, sowed wheat during the Rabi season. In the third week of March 2023, more than half of his crop was damaged by rain and hailstorms. He was preparing to harvest the crop in the next 20 days, before the disaster struck. He says,
Kheti ab bhagwan bharose hai (Farming is now in the hands of god). On some days, it rains and on some days, we face extreme heat. We don’t know what will happen next.
A similar trend was seen in the previous financial year. The production of wheat during 2021-22 (4th Advance Estimate) is estimated at 106.84 million tonnes as compared to 109.59 million tonnes during 2020-21 registering a slight dip of 2.75 million tonnes (2.5 per cent). This is the outcome of the heatwave from March 25-28, 2022, said Ashok Kumar Singh, Director and Agricultural Scientist at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. In an interview with NDTV, he said,
If we use the average temperature variation between 1990-2010 during the wheat growing season as a basis, we will see a one degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2040, during the season. If this happens, the wheat yields/production will fall by approximately 5 per cent, given that it is a temperature-sensitive crop and susceptible to climate change.
Climate Change: Projected Impact On Wheat And Rice Crops
A report by the Centre for Environment Science and Climate Resilient Agriculture under the ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute states:
- Wheat productivity is likely to be affected by 19.3 per cent in 2050 and 40 per cent in 2080 towards the end of the century. States like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal are particularly vulnerable.
- Rain fed rice productivity is predicted to reduce by 20 per cent in 2050 and 47 per cent in 2080 climate scenarios.
The Telltale Signs Of Climate Change
Agriculture accounts for around 19 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and about two-thirds of the population is dependent on the sector. Extreme weather events – be it long dry spells or heatwaves or heavy rainfall followed by hailstorms – are all a manifestation of climate change and influence all sorts of crops in varied ways.
India faced its hottest February in 2023 since record-keeping began in 1901, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). High temperature during the flowering and maturing period leads to a loss in yield. Heat stress causes flowers to dry out and wilt and disrupts a plant’s pollination.
Similarly, a delayed monsoon delays the sowing of kharif crop. This year, the onset of the southwest monsoon over Kerala happened on June 8, a delay of about a week. Weathermen believe that this could be because of El Nino, a global weather pattern during which the sea surface temperature of the Eastern Pacific begins to increase. This affects the Southwest monsoon negatively.
“Climate change reduces crop yields and lowers nutritional quality of produce. Extreme events like droughts affect the food and nutrient consumption, and its impact on farmers,” states a press release by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
For example, high temperature stress causes a reduction in the absorption and subsequent assimilation of nutrients. Excessive rain too washes away the nutrients from the soil, resulting in weak grains.
Apart from the impact on food production and its nutritional value, one of the major impacts of climate change is the escalating cost of food items. Failed tomato crops, for example, immediately spiked the prices from Rs 30 per kg to Rs 150-200 per kg across the northern states. According to the farmers, the damage caused by hailstorms to crops resulted in a decline in production output and a surge in prices – the classic example of the economics of demand and supply gap. Tomato crops didn’t bear the brunt of climate change alone. Wholesalers in the NCR region had to procure vegetables like green chilies and bitter gourd from other parts of the country including Bangalore, Nashik, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh which further resulted in a surge in price.
The rise in food prices also threatens people’s food security, as many cannot afford to buy nutritional food at a higher value. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states, “Decreased yields can impact nutrient intake of the poor by decreasing supplies of highly nutritious crops and by promoting adaptive behaviours that may substitute crops that are resilient but less nutritious.”
India saw extreme weather events almost every day from January to September 2023, as per the report “India 2023: An assessment of extreme weather events”, by CSE. Climate change is real. India, at the world at large, is likely to witness more such extreme weather events, affecting lives and livelihoods. Climate adaptation is the answer.
How is India adapting to climate change to secure its agriculture and ensure food security for all? We look into this in the second part of the story, releasing soon.
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