New Delhi: The relationship between climate change and food systems is bi-directional. The food systems are highly sensitive to climate, and are victims of the effects of climate variability and longer-term climate change. The impact of climate change on agriculture and the food system as a whole, has also been highlighted in the ongoing COP28 Summit in Dubai.
For the first time, food and agriculture took centre stage at the annual United Nations climate conference in 2023, with over 130 countries signing a declaration, committing to make their food systems, from production to consumption, a focal point in national strategies to address climate change. To meet those goals, countries have agreed to accelerate innovation and increase financing for agriculture-based climate solutions.
The countries will also work towards strengthening food systems, building resilience to climate change, reducing global emissions, and contributing to the global fight against hunger, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Talking in the context of India – how climate change has impacted agriculture, NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team spoke to Ulac Demirag, India Country Director and Representative, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The expert also discussed the measures required to make agriculture sustainable and water positive in the country. Here is what the expert had to say:
NDTV: What Makes Agriculture In India Unsustainable?
Ulac Demirag: When we talk about climate change, we are mainly thinking about macroclimate and of general global warming. However, climate change further translates to mesoclimate and microclimate. Microclimate is basically the climate that is influenced directly by the vegetation cover. Now, if inadequate use of agricultural practices removes vegetation cover, as for instance in a mono crop system, then we are severely transforming the microclimatic and soil conditions. Additionally, we are seeing that a lot of carbon is being reduced from the soil because we don’t rely anymore on the traditional and geo-ecological processes for renovating the soil. This leads to a reduction in the retention capacity of water in the soil and has detrimental effects, especially with high variations in weather conditions due to climate change.
NDTV: How Can We Move From Conventional To Sustainable Agricultural Practices?
Ulac Demirag: Indian agriculture is very diverse and has a wide range of agricultural production systems. But the largest part of the Indian production of major commodities, like rice and wheat, that are also fed into the Public Distribution System (PDS), is based on a conservative way of doing agriculture. Of course, this has its toll on the environment. We have to move towards sustainable agricultural practices. At the same time, we also have to bring in smallholder farmers into the production system. There are a lot of other approaches that exist to make agriculture more sustainable. For instance, promote agroecology for sustainable food systems. We, at IFAD, are focusing on implementing agroecological practices at the farm, landscape, market, and policy levels, all linked to climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives promoted through IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme. We are focusing on making agroecological value chains viable so they can link up to the market that has a demand for agroecologically produced commodities.
Another aspect of sustainable agriculture is the diversification of crop choices and opting for more climate-resilient crops, such as millets. In India, we are talking about the revival of millets with the International Years of Millets. Millets are not new in India; they have always been part of the traditional food items. Crops like millet are nutritious and very well adapted to climate change. It delivers to those who grow it. It has a resilient production basis because it uses fewer water resources and is tolerant of weather variations.
NDTV: How can we sustainably manage the water resources for agriculture and make them accessible to more households?
Ulac Demirag: Water is key to agriculture. Most farmers across the world have one or another problem with water. Either they have too little or too much water accessibility, or they are facing unpredictable rainfalls or long dry spells. So, irrigation is being seen as part of the solution for this. But irrigation can only work if you have crops that can finance the process, as it comes with a cost. We have to recognise that water has a cost. Currently, its cost is mainly to society. There are no regulations that incentivise the cautious use of water. Many farmers save money by opting for digging groundwater because the only cost of consumption is the cost of operating and maintaining irrigation wells and pumps. Farmers need real incentives to invest in water saving technologies and to protect the commons.
So, we have to work towards using this rare commodity in a judicious manner, and for this, we need to invest in water-saving technologies and also educate farmers on them.
For instance, flood and gravity-fed irrigation systems can be transformed into pressurised irrigation systems with sprinklers and drip irrigation. This will regulate the amount of water and adjust it to the actual needs of the crop. This way, we could expand our irrigation system, use more water for households, and contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change.
NDTV: How Can We Make Agriculture More Water Positive In India?
Ulac Demirag: There are a number of ways to make agriculture more water-positive. First of all, we have to look at the kinds of crops that we are growing. There are several crops that draw a lot of water from the soil. We need to switch to water-saving crops in areas with water deficits, such as pulses and millets. Besides, we must also focus on creating microclimates on farms by putting up a shade cover, combining trees with small crops, and much more.
India must also look up to countries that have set an example in making agriculture sustainable, such as Australia. The country has the highest amount of farming, which is rainfed. So, how do they produce? They have long ago shifted to conservation agriculture and have abundant tillage. They leave the soil in its natural geo-ecological condition, which gives it much better water retention capacity. These are some of the measures we can take into consideration that have good effects on agriculture, are adaptive to climate change, and also save water for other uses that humans may have.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.