For climate-smart farming

| Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 27, 2017

Rainfall mapping must develop more micro-level precision to contain farm distress

Reports of a residual El Nino effect from last year impacting the subcontinent in the latter half of 2017 should be cause for concern for farm economy managers. What the southern states, particularly Karnataka and Kerala, already in the midst of a prolonged spell of dry weather, can scarcely afford is another indifferent crop year. The Met Department, ICAR and agriculture universities should work towards a more precise, micro-level understanding of rainfall, temperature, crop choice and inputs, particularly in rainfed areas.

Erratic trends in the spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall arguably have a more significant effect on crop output than rising temperatures (both being features of climate change), with half of India’s cropped area being rainfed. Researchers point out that while temperature raises pest activity, over 50 per cent of the year-on-year variation in crop output can be attributed to annual variations in rainfall. The forecast for this calendar year suggests a warming activity in the Indian Ocean as well (El Nino pertains to warming of the Pacific), called Indian Ocean Dipole in Met parlance. This tends to negate malignant effects of El Nino. IOD activity is believed to have a stronger influence on rainfall patterns in India, but it tends to favour central India and the west coast. However, Japanese national forecaster Jamstec has identified the central region as a candidate for weak rainfall this year. The Met Department’s first long-range forecast is due in April, by which time more information is likely to be available on the interplay of IOD and El Nino. It is only to be expected that floods and droughts can break out in different (or even the same) regions in a particular year, or that there can be pockets of crop failure in an otherwise successful agriculture year.

The focus of farm research should shift towards mapping climate patterns at the taluk level over long periods — perhaps decades — to arrive at better surmises on the monsoon. The Kerala government has initiated an effort along these lines. Research focus on the effects of input-intensive farming in irrigated regions has led to the neglect of more traditional areas such as managing rain variability. Even as climate mapping can be a challenge in times of erratic weather, it is generally accepted that a drought occurs once every four years in a micro-region. A crisis area as pointed out by a May 2015 RBI paper on monsoon and Indian farming, is that output does not respond as strongly to a positive monsoon as it does to a failure. One of the reasons, according to researchers, is the sub-optimal application of fertiliser in a good year due to an apprehension that the rain might fail and negate the investment. Therefore, climate intelligence must form a more integral part of agriculture policy and extension services. Finally, there must be a concerted shift towards integrated, sustainable farming, with agro-forestry practices. Farmers need credit and support to manage this transition.

Published on February 27, 2017
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