Saturday, May 14, 2011


Suman Sahai
As the world struggles with successive food crises and turbulence marks the countries that suffer from endemic hunger, there is the new factor of global warming and climate change to contend with. Climate change and its impact on agriculture and food production is being properly understood only now, as its anticipated impacts are being felt in agricultural ecosystems across the world.

The developing countries in the tropics are more susceptible to climate change damage than the temperate countries, many of which will be beneficiaries. The worst impacts of climate change on food production are anticipated in Africa and South Asia. For the latter where agriculture remains largely monsoon dependent, disturbances in the monsoon as we know it, could have grave implications for food and water security. If the monsoon falters, so does our food security as well as the livelihood security of large parts of the population.

Changes in rainfall patterns and temperature regimes, influence local water balance and disturb the optimal cultivation period for particular crops, known as Length of Growing Period (LGP). According to climate change data, land with good LGP will decrease by as much as 51 million hectare world wide.

Adequate LGP is needed to ensure that medium to long duration crops are able to grow to maturity. Some crop varieties ripen quickly and are ready for use in a shorter period ( short duration varieties), others, specially among cereals require a longer period to mature.When the LGP in an agro climatic zone is long,a variety of crops from short duration to long duration can be cultivated there, throughout the growing season. This means higher food production. When the LGP contracts, the growing season is shortened, with implications for food production. Most climate change models predict large increases of LGP in today’s temperate, and arctic regions. This means that temperate regions which are currently one crop zones will become two crop zones, thus increasing agriculture production there.

Tropical areas on the other hand are slated to see an expansion of arid zones accompanied by a contraction of 31-51 million ha of favorable cultivation areas. This will mean a significant reduction in food production in the most vulnerable areas where population density is high and food is already scarce. Nearly one billion people live in these vulnerable environments, dependent on agriculture. These vulnerable populations will suffer most from climate damage like land degradation and biodiversity loss.

Climate Change Impacts in India and South Asia
According to climate data almost 40 percent of the production potential in certain developing countries could be lost. In India and South Asia, dryland areas where agriculture is rainfed, will see cutbacks in productivity due to a shorter, more uncertain monsoon. The biggest blow to food stocks however is likely to come from declining production because areas where two to three crops are being cultivated today, as in Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh, the Northeastern states and certain coastal areas, are likely to turn into single crop zones, where only one crop can be taken in a year because the rest of the season will be too hot and dry to support cultivation.

The manifestation of climate change in India and South Asia finds many forms. There have been serious and recurrent floods in Bangladesh, Nepal and India since 2002 and unusually heavy rainfall and floods in Mumbai in 2005. Torrential rain in Jaisalmer and parts of Rajasthan in 2010 led to floods in this desert region, accompanied by more frequent and prolonged droughts as in the years 2008 to 2010. At the same time cyclonic activity has become high. Witness the increased cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea since 1970 and more recently Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 and Cyclone Aila in 2009. This weather turbulence is accompanied by increasing turbulence in India’s food lifeline, the South West monsoon.

According to monsoon modeling data, the total number of rainy days during the monsoon period will decrease by 15 days. Considering that most of the monsoon rainfall falls within 100 days, this will be a significant shortfall. The intensity of the rainfall is expected to increase accompanied by strong surface run off and loss of fertile top soil. The melting of the Himalayan glaciers will diminish the water flow in the major rivers of North India ,affecting the food production in the highly productive Indo- Gangetic plains.

The melting polar ice is causing the sea level to rise. Large parts of the Maldives could go under, as could the Ganges delta in Bangladesh. India with its coastline of nearly 6000 km, has cause for concern. Several million people practice agriculture and aquaculture along the coast, all of which will be threatened by the increasing salinity of ground water as sea water seeps into aquifers. Along with major staple crops, other food sources like livestock and fish , both marine and fresh water will be affected by rising temperatures. Sea level rise will impact the habitations of populations that live along the coast, as in Kerala or Bangladesh and loss of homesteads along with livelihoods will create a new class of climate refugees who will be forced to migrate inwards, seeking new avenues of survival, creating greater pressures on urban centres. Contingency plans will be needed to rehabilitate climate refugees from vulnerable areas.

To cope with the impact of climate change on agriculture and food production India will need to act at global, regional, national and local levels.

Global –India must negotiate hard to ensure that the emission reduction pledges in climate change negotiations are sufficient to ensure that the global temperature rise is capped at 20C. If this is not done, the impact on agriculture and food security in developing countries will be devastating.

Given that agriculture is the lifeline of the developing world and will bear the worst brunt of climate change, India must insist that developed countries must reduce their own agriculture emissions while at the same time paying for adaptation, especially in the agriculture sector, consistent with the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

Regional.- Regional cooperation at SAARC level and with China is necessary to protect the Himalayan ecosystems and minimize glacial melt. Negotiations on river waters emanating from the Tibetan plateau are urgent so that the river flows in our major rivers like the Ganga and Brahmaputra are maintained to support agriculture. Regional strategies for mitigation and adaptation across similar agro ecologies will help all countries of the region to protect their agriculture and food production.

National – The Prime Minister has established the National Action Plan on Climate Change with eight national Missions designed to cope with the impact of climate change in diverse sectors like energy, water, agriculture and biodiversity. Appropriate policy and budgetary support for mitigation and adaptation actions is needed. In agriculture, adaptation strategies have long lead times and need to start NOW. Multiple food and livelihood strategies are needed in rural areas to minimize risk. Food inflation must be contained at all costs. It will worsen with climate change as more frequent and unpredictable droughts and floods will result in shortfalls in food production. Just one bad monsoon in 2009 led to a reduction of 15 million tonnes in rice and 4 million tonnes in pulse production, causing prices to go through the roof. To prepare for climate altered conditions, practices in agriculture will need to shift from intensive, mechanized, water demanding agriculture to a more sustainable, conservation agriculture that grows crops using less water, extracting more crop per drop of water.

Local- Attention will have to be paid both to mitigation and adaptation to climate change, the real action for which will have to be at the local level. The pursuit of sustainable agricultural development at the local level is integral to climate- change mitigation and combating climate change effects is vital for sustainable agriculture.

Since approximately 17 percent of total GHG emissions are attributed to crop and animal husbandry , it is necessary to reduce this for the overall health of the planet. Mitigation measures can include minimizing mechanization; supplementing urea with biological fertilizer and using neem coated urea to minimize ammonia volatilization contributing to nitrous oxide emissions. An effective strategy to reduce methane emission from cattle is establishing biogas plants with animal dung which in addition provides a clean source of renewable energy. Building soil carbon banks to capture and retain carbon in the soil can be achieved by planting fertilizer trees

Mitigation of greenhouse gases from agricultural systems and building adaptation strategies must be anchored in the village panchayat system to enhance coping capacities of farming communities. Mitigating emissions from agriculture will reduce input costs for the farmer and make the production system more sustainable but the real challenge to the food and livelihood security of our people will have to be met by rapid and targeted adaptation strategies.

Adaptation will require strategies to reduce vulnerabilities, strengthen resilience & build the adaptive capacity of rural and farming communities. Industrial agro ecosystems damage environmental goods and services and so have weak resilience. The ecosystem approach with crop rotations, bioorganic fertilizers and biological pest controls, improves soil health & water retention, increases fertile top soil, reduces soil erosion and maintains productivity over the long term. The more diverse the agro ecosystems, the more efficient the network of insects & and microorganisms that control pests and disease. Building resilience in agro ecosystems and farming communities, improving adaptive capacity and mitigating GHG emissions is the way to cope.

Agriculture biodiversity is central to an agro ecosystem approach to food production. The genetic diversity in livestock and fish species and breeds is as important as in crop varieties . Genetic diversity gives species the ability to adapt to changing environments and combat biotic and abiotic stress like pests and disease, drought and salinity. A knowledge-intensive, rather than input-intensive approach should be adopted to develop adaptation strategies. Traditional knowledge about the community’s coping strategies should be documented and used in training programs to help find solutions to address the uncertainties of climate change, build resilience, adapt agriculture and reduce emissions.

An early warning system should be put in place to monitor changes in pest and disease profile and predict new pest and disease outbreaks. The overall pest control strategy should be based on Integrated Pest Management because it takes care of multiple pests in a given climatic scenario. A national grid of grain storages , ranging from Pusa Bins and Grain Golas at the household/ community level to ultra- modern silos at the district level must be established to store buffer stocks to ensure local food security and stabilize prices. A special climate risk insurance should be launched for farmers and the agriculture credit and insurance systems must be made climate responsive and more sensitive to the needs of small farmers.

Adaptation and mitigation support structures in the form of Climate Risk Research Centers should be established at each of the 128 agro-ecological zones in the country. The Centers should prepare computer simulation models of different weather probabilities and develop and promote farming system approaches which can help to minimize the adverse impact of unfavorable weather and maximize the benefits of a good monsoon. Gyan Chaupals and Village Resource Centers with satellite connectivity should disseminate value added weather data from the government’s Agromet Service to farmers through mobile telephony, giving them information on rainfall and weather in real time.

Uncertain weather will disrupt established cropping patterns, requiring a different set of crop varieties for which seed will have to be produced. Decentralized seed production involving local communities will help to produce locally adapted seed of the main and contingency crops. A network of community level seed banks with the capacity to implement contingency plans and alternative cropping strategies depending on the behavior of the monsoon will be a key adaptation strategy.

Finally, investments must be made in strategic research of both anticipatory and adaptive nature. This should cover all aspects of food production , starting with farming systems and including crop, fodder, livestock, fish and the key aspects associated with each of these.

1 comment:

  1. Yea now climates have changes and It must be require to protect our food and livelihood.

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