It’s happened for the first time—the Economic Survey for 2017-18 (before the presentation of the Union Budget 2018-19) stressed upon the adverse impact of climate change (or global warming) on agricultural production in India. It has brought greater urgency to tackle this issue, which has driven nearly 3 lakh poor farmers to commit suicide in many states of our country. To give an idea of the magnitude of the damage, the production of our major crops (rice and wheat) could reduce by 7% and 10%, respectively, by 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report of 2014. It may further go down by 15% and 20%, respectively, by 2100, according to a research published in the Agricultural Economics Research Review.
Further, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture has asserted that losses due to climate change account for overall GDP loss of 1.5% of agricultural economy. While we are discussing the risks due to climate change on our agriculture, our agricultural policy-makers should not seek solace in this, as if nothing is wrong with their polices, and simply attribute it to climate change. For example, important policy measures such as the minimum support price (MSP) and the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) are suffering from tardy implementation and face numerous challenges.
Against this backdrop, let us now discuss how to adapt our agriculture to climate change and boost farmers’ income. We need to have a twin strategy in this regard. One, we should increase the yield per hectare by using science and technology—as I had argued earlier in these pages (‘Wither Jai Kisan?’, February 1, 2018, https://goo.gl/b2E1SB)—so that some portion of the crop is saved even if untimely and extreme weather conditions cause damage to the crop. Further, bumper crop in normal years would provide greater financial power and stability to the farmers to pay off their loans. Two, we need to supplement farmers’ income by other means so that he doesn’t depend only upon farm income.
To achieve these objectives, in 2010-11, the central government—under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research—launched the National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), which covers 151 villages in different regions of the country that are vulnerable to climate change. NICRA has also been projected as an integral part of India’s INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) under the Paris climate agreement (2015), and to fulfil its obligations under the UN Sustainable Development Goals for the agricultural sector.
Under NICRA, activities such as animal husbandry, poultry, fish rearing, bee keeping, and building farm ponds or check dams for water conservation in places where there is erratic rainfall have been taken up. In addition, a host of other interventions such as treating the land for reducing water salinity have helped farmers to grow sunflower, sweet potato and increase agricultural production. Further, NICRA has identified 22 distinctive combinations of climate-related risks to agriculture, and to safeguard against them, 24 types of technical interventions have been planned by the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), Hyderabad, which is involved in planning the project. The basic information for planning has been provided by district-level Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs)—or farm science centres—responsible for implementing the programme in chosen villages.
There are both success and failure stories of NICRA as researchers have found out by conducting studies in some villages of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim and Kerala. The mixed response to NICRA points towards some deficiencies in its implementation:
One such programme is the government’s flagship scheme, the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), which is to cover 1 crore households across states. The programme offers support for poultry, seed shops, funds for self-help groups, promoting organic cultivation, and custom hiring centres which rent out farm equipment to help poor farmers get timely access to agricultural machinery. In order to allow farmers to sell their products at a better price, the government has announced upgrading of 22,000 rural haats into Gramin Agricultural Markets in the Budget 2018-19. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is another well-known programme, among others, to boost rural incomes in which asset creation is one of the main thrust areas.
In view of this, it would be desirable to bring out some coordination among all these programmes so that they can be implemented in the most beneficial manner for the poor farmer. The policy-makers should also examine whether the number of such programmes can be reduced for better monitoring. In addition, it is suggested that NICRA and NRLM may be merged as the main focus in both the schemes is to ensure better income to the farmer by adopting similar innovations.
To conclude, MSP and loan waivers (two sides of the same coin) are only short-term solutions and/or fire-fighting measures to win elections. For a permanent solution, we need to sincerely focus on providing alternative avenues of income along with increase in agricultural production through innovative interventions. This is the way forward to counter the adverse impact of climate change on our agriculture and the farmer.
The author is former ISS and a UN consultant. Views are personal.