Climate change threat to food produce in India, says study

Date:Mar 1, 2012

‘Erratic rainfall and rising input costs forcing farmers to migrate’

“Unable to clear a loan of Rs 2 lakh, my son committed suicide. I had to sell my ancestral house and cattle to repay the loan,” says Lakshmi Devi, 48, of Pathakotha Cheruvu village in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur district. Devi’s woes did not end with the repayment of loan. Managing her farm is becoming increasingly difficult, partly because it is expensive, and mostly because of the  unpredictable weather. Changes in rainfall pattern have increased pest-related problems, especially during the flowering season, she says. Many, like her, are facing similar problems: erratic rainfall pattern affecting yield, pests and related diseases on the rise; and losses staring them in the face. Many farmers, like Devi’s younger son, choose to migrate.

Lakhsmi Devi, who grows groundnut on her 2.4 hectares, was one of the thousand farmers ActionAid India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad spoke to, for their study on climate change and agriculture. The study, carried out in 15 villages in three states, reiterates that a quarter of agricultural produce is under threat from climate change and that the small and marginal farmers would be impacted the most (see box: Study findings).

Most villagers in the districts under study complained of shift in the intensity and distribution of rainfall. “The rains are so scattered that at times it rains in the village, but the fields remain dry. The rainfall pattern was not like this 10-15 years ago,” said Birendra Sahariya, 40-year-old farmer from Sipri village of Lalitpur district.

G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture says the study did not find much variation in rainfall at the district level, but found the distribution of rainfall had changed vastly. “People resort to migration because there is little else they can do,” Ramanjaneyulu adds.

Early flowering of mango and mahua, an important non-timber forest produce, has also been seen in Odisha, says Ranjan Panda, convenor of Water Initiatives, which focuses on water and climate change links in Odisha. “Western Odisha is increasingly experiencing desert-like climate; the day time temperatures are increasing and the night-temperatures are decreasing,” says Panda. Referring to the study, he adds that more such studies are required to develop an in-depth understanding of how climate change impacts agriculture.

Farmers are also grappling with increasing input costs with respect to agriculture. In Anantapur district alone, cost of production has increased by 500 per cent in the past 10 years, whereas prices increased by 25 per cent. The study also notes that after manufacturers were given a free hand to fix the price, the cost of fertilisers, except urea, increased by more than 300 per cent. Despite this, there is an increased dependence on chemical fertilisers to meet soil fertility needs. “There is an urgent need to revisit agricultural practices,” says Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti in Nagpur.

Study findings

The study, by ActionAid India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad, covered five villages each in the districts of Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh, Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh and Bolangir in Odisha. About a thousand farmers were interviewed from the 15 villages and some common impacts were found in all the three states.

These include changes in the distribution of rainfall, delayed monsoon, increase in pests as well as migration. In Anantapur district, for instance, the first monsoon showers would arrive by early June; now they arrive end of July. This has altered cropping pattern and has given rise to new forms of pests and diseases in the past five to six years. Also, farmers observed that the groundwater table in the district had declined by 30 to 90 metre in the past 10 years.

In Odisha, after the introduction of Bt cotton in 2005 in the water-deficit region, mono-cropping increased which led to losses and farmers resorted to migration. In Lalitpur, traditional crops and seeds had disappeared altogether from the villages. Also, rainfall in 20 of the past 28 years was less than the average rainfall of 1,044mm, with 2005 and 2008 being the exceptions, the study noted.

Farmers said that during the 80s, dew/fog was common in November and December. This was helpful in ripening of the crops such as pulses and mustard. But dew has not been there for the past 15-20 years and crops mature early and grains remain undeveloped.