It’s hard to deny climate change’s impact on Indian agriculture. Early this year North India was hit with heatwaves and untimely rain damaging Rabi crops, hitting wheat harvest across Punjab, Haryana, and UP.
To ensure food security, the government banned wheat exports and India missed the opportunity to fill the wheat vacuum caused by Ukraine-Russia conflict. Mustard, pulses, and Chana were affected and now the prospects of Kharif harvests — millets, pulses, oilseeds — sesame, and soybean, don’t look promising either.
Scarce wheat stocks also caused fodder price inflation as wheat straw is used as fodder. As a result mutton prices have increased to over ₹800 in metros and recently Amul raised milk prices by ₹2.
Climatically speaking, 2022 has been filled with anomalies, Kashmir valley received hailstorms in April-May, and drought alerts were sounded in Uri area. Farmers in Meghalaya have been hit by untimely and excessive rains damaging ginger to forest edibles. Rice output is also down 6 per cent.
Current weather trends point to delayed Rabi sowing and vegetable prices too are likely to spike.
And some parts have also reported loss of Rabi 2022-23 mustard too. Now add lumpy cow disease and paddy dwarfing virus to our kharif disasters. Together they point to imminent food price inflation. Furthermore, wheat and rice stocks are also at an all-time low and paddy output may fall by 15-18 per cent.
Reorienting farm policy
With failing harvests, and climate change eating into our thali, what can we do? Reorient agriculture policy toward climate adaptation.
In the short term, PM crop insurance scheme must be expanded to include climate damages. Insurance companies should compensate farmers on crop values and not only reimburse input costs. A steadfast mechanism should be created to report crop damages directly to insurance companies, third-part auditors can verify the farmers claims, before issuing claims.
For the long term, the Green revolution paradigm must be abandoned in favour of climate adaption and nutrition security. More money must be allocated to research and development (R&D) on climate resilient agriculture. Sudden floods, droughts and excessive heat are new challenges for our agriculture.
We need to develop patent-free climate resilient seeds and technologies.
The government must encourage more private investments into our public seed divisions. ICAR-IARI system should invite Indian companies to expedite R&D on climate resilience.
We need to develop and identify climate resilient seeds and have emergency seed stocks in vulnerable areas. Through the PPP model, we can tap into the vast plant genetic resources available to us and bring more genetic diversity to our fields.
Instead of cluster or monocultures, now we need to move the farmers towards multi cropping and intercropping. As weather prediction AI and other tech have visibly failed to gauge the weather, and crop planning must rely on natural methods to mitigate climate risks and climate adaption farmers’ training should be imparted. FPOs and farmers groups can play an important role here. The government should offer financial incentives to grow agro-climate zone specific crops.
Finally, the Prime Minister has already stressed on natural/organic farming. It is the only way to cut emissions and subsidy bills. We need a balance of industrial and organic farms to achieve food security, water conservation and curtailing emissions.
Hence, more funds should be given through improve organic farming and organic produce markets throughout the country. And none of this can be achieved if we continue to pursue an ecologically unsound agricultural policy from half a century ago.
The writer is an independent agri analyst and writer. He was also former director, policy and outreach, NSAI