Variability in rainfall and increased incidence of pest attacks and diseases are the top challenges faced by the small holder farmers, according to a study by The Nudge Institute. Over 76 per cent of the farmers practising rain-fed farming and 55 per cent irrigated farmers have lost half their crop in the past three years, primarily due to rains, the study revealed.

The study was conducted among over 201 farmers in eight districts, across six States and five ecological zones, such as Jalna, Satara, Dharwad, Kalaburgi, Narsinghpur, Hanumakonda, Satya Sai, and Mahendragarh. Small farm holders are categorised as those having between 1 and 3 acres of irrigated lands or 3-7 acres of rain-fed land and who typically earn a sizeable proportion of household income from farming and did not own tractors.

Ashish Karamachandani, Director of Transforming Agriculture for Small Farmer programme at The Nudge Institute, said the objective of the study was to understand the impact of climate change on farmers and to bring the voice of the small farmer to the table.

About 76 per cent rain-fed farmers have experienced significant crop loss of at least 50 per cent and mentioned rain as the primary reason for the loss whereas 55 per cent irrigated farmers have experienced significant crop loss and mentioned rain as the primary reason, closely followed by pests/disease. “Both of them cited rains as the problem. Clearly, there is a climate issue,” he said.

Karamchandani said the study found that 74 per cent observed a rise in pests and diseases, while 77 per cent noticed an increase in weeds. As a result, 76 per cent of smallholder farmers increased their pesticide usage, and 54% increased their chemical fertilizer usage.

About 48 per cent have started using new categories of chemicals such as weedicide and plant growth hormones in the last five years, while some smallholder farmers felt that chemical usage in the last five years has had a positive impact on them.

About 59 per cent felt their soil fertility had decreased, while 37 per cent noticed no change, the study revealed. About 61 per cent of farmers mentioned that earthworms have either decreased or completely vanished in their fields, 28 per cent saw no change.

The study further revealed that over 60 per cent of the smallholder farmers are aware of and are already implementing practices such as crop rotation and farm manure to improve soil health. Three out of five small holder farmers are actively seeking and utilising weather information to plan their farming activities, the study revealed.