Column: Agriculture must get climate smart

Updated: May 20 2014, 03:14am hrs
With the Indian Met department having recently warned of weak monsoons this year due to the El Nino effect, there will be serious implications on agricultural production and food prices. More than 60% of the area under cropping in India is rain-fed. Low and erratic monsoon will severely affect the livelihood of those dependent on agriculture. It may be recalled that the frequency and intensity of droughts have increased during the last two decades. This is the direct impact of global warming and climate change. The recent IPCC report has highlighted that Indias high vulnerability and exposure to climate change and global warming will slow its economic growth, impact human health, and make poverty reduction and food security efforts more difficult. It is also projected that the climate change will lead to severe water shortage and trigger water-borne diseases. There are projections that India could lose 10-40% of its current crop production by the end of century due to global warming. A recent IFPRI-CCAFS study estimated that a 10% drought will increase prices of rice by 23%, followed by maize (16%), and pigeon pea (10%). These evidence indicate that drought will upset the governments efforts of increasing agricultural production, ensuring food security and controlling food inflation.

There is no choice but to avert the negative impacts of a drought-like situation to meet the future demand for food, feed and fibre. It requires a long-term strategy which would prepare farmers to adapt and respond to climate change, and effectively overcome the threat of drought and other climate change eventualities. Climate-smart agriculture, which sustainably increases agricultural productivity and enhances achievement of national food security goals, provides a window of opportunity to avert the impact of drought. It contributes in:

n promoting sustainable increase in agricultural productivity by incorporating climate change perspective (including drought),

n building adaptive capacity and resilience of production portfolio to climatic risks without compromising food security and,

n minimising green-house gas emissions and maximising carbon sequestration by improved management practices.

More precisely, it is a win-win proposition that enhances agricultural productivity and farm incomes, reduces climatic risks (especially drought), and controls emission of green-house gases. To avert negative impact of climate change, accelerated adoption of climate-smart agriculture would be necessary which would require dynamic national policies and investment priorities that will positively influence local institutions and interventions to adapt climate change.

To prepare for averting impact of drought, we need to have a four-pronged strategy:

n Climate-smart technologies: An array of climate-smart technologies are available, well-tested in different agro-ecological regions. These include (a) stress resistance high-yielding varieties, (b) soil test based nutrient management, (c) rainwater conservation and management, (d) efficient irrigation practices, and (e) judicious use of energy. The available technologies need to be complemented by risk-reducing agricultural diversification without compromising the national objective of food security and income stability. Village-level need assessment should be done to identify promising technologies which improve resource use efficiency, increase farm production and income, and minimise climatic risks.

n Capacity building of key stakeholders: Knowledge management at the grass-root level is a basic necessity for preparing for climate change eventualities. Therefore, a campaign may be initiated to enhance capacity of farmers to implement climate-smart technologies and effective use of weather advisories. Capacity-building programs at village/cluster level may be organised. Use of electronic and print media may also be used to prepare farmers to meet the challenge of climate change.

n ICT-based weather advisory: Weather advisory at the local level will play an important role in pursuing climate-resilient agricultural production systems. Location-specific weekly weather information and value-added agro-advisories should be disseminated to the farmers through the ICT. The already available Kissan SMS portal should be used for disseminating weather advisory to the farmers, extension specialists and other stakeholders. The Indian Met and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research should work in tandem to evolve value-added advisories for dissemination.

n Weather index insurance: A part of the risk can be reduced by climate-smart technologies and improved management practices, but risks arising due to extreme weather events have to be mitigated through agricultural insurance. Several models of agricultural insurance are now available, but in recent times, index-based insurance has become more popular. Provision should be made the farmers crops are insured to compensate then in the extreme event of drought or other climate change eventuality.

Efforts need to be made to transform each village into climate-smart agricultural locations, which synergises the interventions listed here. Such initiatives will prepare farmers and other stakeholders to meet the threat of climate change, including drought. These efforts will avert any likely agrarian distress due to changing climatic conditions and will also safeguard the efforts of government to ensure food security and alleviate poverty.

P K Joshi & Pramod K Aggarwal

Joshi is director (South Asia), International Food Policy Research Institute and Aggarwal is leader, South Asia Regional Program for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)