The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, released over the month ago, delivered a wake up-call to narrow the widening “adaptation gap” and build resilience against “unfamiliar” climates.

The second tranche of the set of three reports being published every 6-7 years by the IPCC, for the first time, made regional and sectoral level assessment of climate change impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities. The report observes with confidence the adverse impact of these climatic changes on availability and prices of food, exacerbating undernourishment in the South Asian region. The latest IPCC report on climate change mitigation, released on April 4, further draws attention to the close linkages between climate change mitigation, adaptation and development pathways and the associated trade-offs.

Among worst affected

According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, India is among the top ten countries most affected by climate change. At a broader level, the country may keep pace with the food requirements of a growing population, courtesy the technological and institutional innovations. However, several studies suggest that climate change already has evident effects on crop production, with associated consequences for local food supply disruptions and negative impacts on rural incomes and poverty. A Report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, 2017 estimated that climate change related losses are about 4-9 per cent of the agricultural economy each year, which is an overall GDP loss of 1.5 per cent.

India has begun to pay more attention to the ways in which climate change impacts agriculture in varying contexts. Climate change policy in Indian agriculture has an explicit focus on adaptation and developing adaptive capacity of farmers is of prime concern. Rightly so, as nearly 86 per cent of Indian agriculture is small-holder agriculture and a significant part of it, particularly in dryland areas, is subsistence agriculture where adaptation is an issue of survival.

The National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), formulated in 2010 under the aegis of National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), through a series of adaptation measures, aims at promoting location specific improved agronomic practices that focusses on integrated farming, water use efficiency, soil health management and synergising resource conservation, especially in rain-fed areas.

Development plans in the agriculture sector focussing on soil and water management, crop diversification, cropping system optimisation, risk sharing (co-investment, community engagement), risk transfer (crop/livestock insurance), and improved localised forecasting and agro-advisory, while improving adaptation outcomes in most cases also optimise mitigation co-benefits.

Prioritise activities

In the domain of planning and practice, it would be important to prioritise activities having both adaptation and mitigation benefits, since several of the response strategies and initiatives either focusses on ensuring stable food supply or has the mandate of protecting and conserving natural resources and ecosystems. As fragmented and small land size reduces farmers’ adaptive capacity to climate change, it is essential to design policies and strategies especially focussing on small and marginal landholders.

Agriculture being a State subject under the Indian Constitution, planning and policy implementation falls substantially within the purview of respective States and local institutions, with the Central government providing the broad policy framework and guidelines. The development of State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC) need to be considered as a dynamic document; many States and UTs have either revised or are in the process of revising SAPCCs in synergy with the post 2020 NDC goals and the SDGs.

It is important to periodically review, update and integrate the agriculture, forestry and land use component in the SAPCCs. Given the localised nature of climate impacts and the adaptation needs, it is essential to further downscale it to the district or village level based on scientific evidence generated through collaborative research. Certain States such as Himachal Pradesh in recent years has undertaken a more robust adaptation planning approach based on assessment of climate vulnerability at the village level.

The financial needs of adaptation in India (2015–2030) in key climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and water resources is estimated at $206 billion (at 2014–2015 prices). A pro-active adaptation approach in agriculture is needed, streamlining efforts and resources on climate and disaster resilience to reduce risk exposure, limiting impacts, and preparedness in coping with disasters.

Natural disasters

India has well developed institutional arrangements for disaster management at the national, State and district level. Adaptation measures pertaining to impact of natural disasters in agriculture and allied sectors (as per Food and Agriculture Organization, the sector accounts for nearly a quarter of damages caused by natural hazards in the developing world) need to be embedded in the disaster management plans prepared by the departments at the district level.

In addition to adaptation measures such as the development of adaptive crop varieties, it is important to provide the supporting infrastructure including water supply, power and physical connectivity on which agricultural value chain depends. Areas affected by floods, hailstorms and drought need to be rebuilt better based on disaster management assessment. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework), to which India is also a signatory, provides critical opportunity to build agriculture related infrastructure on which food production depends.

The scale and scope of potential climate impacts in the agriculture sector warrant a shift from the current practice of individual sector-specific programmes and schemes. Mainstreaming of climate considerations both across the development programmes in agriculture, forestry, land use, water and health as well as in the process of spatial planning considering natural, socioeconomic and demographic conditions are required.

Most importantly, adaptation to climate change in the sector would require not only large and continued financial investment, but also in terms of knowledge and human capacity.

Anand is Senior Fellow, and Kumar is Distinguished Fellow and Lead, Food and Land Use Coalition (India), at The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi