India is witnessing a historic mass mobilization of farmers against three new farm laws. The country’s government maintains that these laws are the cure for a longstanding agrarian crisis. While this claim has been analysed from several angles, the environmental angle has often been overlooked. This is no small oversight since the agrarian crisis in India is underpinned by strong environmental vulnerabilities, including those associated with climate change.
India’s Agriculture: A Backgrounder
Agriculture in India is a livelihood for a majority of the population and can never be underestimated.
Despite the fact that it accounts for as much as a quarter of the Indian economy and employs an estimated 60 per cent of the labour force, it is considered highly inefficient and incapable of solving the hunger and malnutrition problems. Despite progress in this area, these problems have continued to frustrate India for decades.
(1) Legacy issues
- Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58 per cent of India’s population.
- Most of them have been facing several major constraints such as input supply, credit availability, proper transport, and market facility, etc.
(2) Land Crunch
- India accounts for only 2.4 per cent of the global land.
- The average size of landholding per state is 1.08 hectares, according to the latest agricultural census.
- Farmers in half the Indian states are marginal (with land less than 1 ha); the remaining are small farmers (landholdings of 1-2 ha).
(3) Population explosion
- India’s population touched 1.38 billion in 2020 —17.7 per cent of the world’s population — according to global population data.
- The country’s population has increased 3.35 times since Independence; by 2027, it will surpass China to become the most populated country in the world.
What holds Indian farmers on a backfoot always?
Major constraints in Indian agriculture are:
- Farming for subsistence makes the scale of the economy in question with a majority of smallholdings.
- Low-access of credit and the prominent role of unorganised creditors affecting decisions of farmers in purchasing of inputs and selling of outputs
- Less use of technology, mechanisation and poor productivity for which the first two points are of major concern
- Very less value addition as compared to developed countries and negligible primary-level processing at farmers level.
- Poor infrastructure for farming making more dependence on weather, marketing and supply chain suitable for high-value crops.
Climate Change and Agriculture
- One of the critical challenges for a country’s food security is climate change and its impact in form of extreme weather events.
- The predicted 1-2.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise by 2030 is likely to show serious effects on crop yields.
- High temperatures may reduce crop duration, permit changes in photosynthesis, escalate crop respiration rates and influence pest population.
- Climate change accelerates nutrient mineralization, hampers fertilizer use efficiency (FUE) and hastens the evapotranspiration in soil.
Agri sub-sectors and climate change
- Cultivation practices are completely based on climatic situations.
- For example, in India, an increase in temperature by 1.5°C and a reduction in the precipitation of 2 mm can reduce the rice yield by 3 to 15 per cent.
- High temperature causes moisture stress situation, directing to sunburn and cracking symptoms in fruit trees like apricot, apples and cherries.
- The temperature increase at the ripening stage causes fruit burning and cracking in litchi plantation.
(3) Animal husbandry
- Dairy breeds are more prone to heat stress than meat breeds.
- An increase in metabolic heat production breeds leads to higher susceptibility to heat stress; while the low milk giving animals are resistant.
- Poultries, no doubt, are severely sensitive to temperature-associated problems, particularly heat stress.
- Increasing environmental temperature may cause seasonal betterment in the growth and development of fishes.
- But it also enhances the dangers to the populations living away from the thermal tolerance zone.
Burden on Agriculture
(1) Food Security
- Nearly 14 per cent of the population (189.2 million) is still undernourished in India, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020 report.
- The Global Hunger Index 2020 placed India at the 94th position among 107 countries.
- Food production must double by 2050 to match the country’s population and income growth.
(2) Demand for nutrition
- Changing demand due to an increase in incomes, globalisation and health consciousness is affecting and going to affect more the production in future.
- Demand for fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fish and meat is going to increase in future.
(3) Trend for processed food
- Researches, technology improvements, protected cultivation of high-value greens and other vegetables will be more.
- There will be more demand for processed and affordable quality products.
(4) Technology intensiveness
- More competition will be there among private companies giving innovative products, better seeds, fertilizers, plant protection chemicals, customised farm machinery and feed for animals.
- There would be a requirement of cost-effective ways at competitive prices giving more returns on investment by farmers.
One point solution: Climate-resilient agriculture
What is Climate-Resilient Agriculture?
Climate-resilient agriculture (CRA) is an approach that includes sustainably using existing natural resources through crop and livestock production systems to achieve long-term higher productivity and farm incomes under climate variabilities.
Most countries have been facing crises due to disasters and conflicts; food security, however, is adversely affected by inadequate food stocks, basic food price fluctuations, high demand for agro-fuels, and abrupt weather changes.
- CRA practice reduces hunger and poverty in the face of climate change for forthcoming generations.
- It can alter the current situation and sustain agricultural production from the local to the global level, especially in a sustainable manner.
- Improved access and utilization of technology, transparent trade regimes, increased use of resources conservation technologies, an increased adaptation of crops and livestock to climatic stress are the outcomes.
Strategies and technologies in CRA
(1) Tolerant crops
- Patterns of drought may need various sets of adaptive forms.
- To reach deficient downpour conditions, early maturing and drought-tolerant cultivars need to be developed.
(2) Tolerant breeds in livestock and poultry
- Local or indigenous breeds have the notion to forage for themselves. Indigenous breeds have unique characters that are adapted to very specific eco-systems across the world.
- They are resistant to droughts, thermo-regulation, ability to walk long distances, fertility and mothering instincts, ability to ingest and digest low-quality feed, and resistance to diseases.
- These breeds may not be highly productive in terms of meat or milk production, but are highly adaptive to the unpredictable nature and have low resource footprints.
(3) Water management
- Water-smart technologies like a furrow-irrigated raised bed, micro-irrigation, rainwater harvesting structure, cover-crop method, greenhouse, etc. can support farmers to decrease the effect of variations of climate.
- Hence, many researches across the world have been focusing their efforts on the design, development of cost-effective and environmentally friendly water-conserving devices to enhance water use efficiency.
- Response farming is an integrative approach; it could be called farming with advisories taken from the technocrats depending on local weather information.
- The success of response farming, viz., decreased danger and enhanced productivity has already been taken in Tamil Nadu and many other states.
(5) Soil organic carbon
- Different farm management practices can increase soil carbon stocks and stimulate soil functional stability.
- Conservation agriculture technologies (reduced tillage, crop rotations, and cover crops), soil conservation practices (contour farming) and nutrient recharge strategies can refill soil organic matter by giving a protective soil cover.
- Feeding the soil instead of adding fertilizers to the crop without organic inputs is the key point for the long-term sustainability of Indian agriculture.
GoI moves in this direction
The convergence of various policy programmes and sectoral plans has been undertaken by the GoI to ensure synergy and effective utilization of existing resources.
- The National Mission of Sustainable Agriculture was implemented in 2010 under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC).
- It aimed to promote the judicious management of available resources and this was one of the eight missions under NAPCC.
- The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) was launched in 2015 to address the issues of water resources and provide a permanent solution that envisages Per Drop More Crop.
- The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana mission was executed to extensively leverage adaptation of climate-smart practices and technologies.
- To protect soil health, GOI has launched the Soil Health Card scheme with the main objective of analysing cluster soil samples and advocating farmers regarding their land fertility status.
- Additionally, Neem-Coated Urea was also introduced to minimise the excess addition of urea fertilizers, thereby protecting soil health and supplying plant nitrogen.
- To encourage farmers with more income benefit and ecosystem protection, programmes such as the National Project on Organic Farming and National Agroforestry Policy was introduced in 2004 and 2014 respectively.
- The most important pillar of realizing CRA in India is capacity building at all levels.
- For mobilization and allocation of climate finance, we must follow the principles, such as people’s vulnerability-and livelihood-centred approach, polluter-pays principle and a programmatic approach for implementation of the plans and strategies.
- Though environmental sustainability is typically a public good, public investments alone will not suffice to effectively address climate change.
- Achieving climate resilience will require all kinds of professionals, lower and higher, must undergo basic training on how to tackle climate change, from the perspective of each profession and trade.
- In fact, a whole of society approach is needed—from awareness to education and skill development of all types, with skills, expertise and policy research along with finance, for tackling climate change.
- The increase in agriculture-sector expenditure in recent years has been on account of schemes like PM-KISAN, PMFBY, interest subvention and price support and loan waivers, with a focus on providing direct monetary benefits.
- Apart from efforts aimed at helping the agrarian economy recover, the government should enhance expenditure on agricultural infrastructure.
- A number of reports have highlighted that farm operations suffered due to infrastructure bottlenecks such as supply chain distortions, non-availability of credit, lack of quality inputs and marketing infrastructure.
- Instead of cash-based schemes, India needs expenditure enhancing infrastructure for a climate-resilient future.