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Indian Agriculture : Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change

The Indian agriculture system has to get ready with effective mitigation and adaptation strategies without any loss of time.


ONE of the major achievements of the country has been food self sufficiency in spite of rapid population increase, which has reached about 1.21 billion (Census 2011). The Green Revolution Technology has transformed the country from a food deficit to a food self sufficient one in recent times. During the 11th Plan Period (2007-08 to 2012-13), the average annual growth in agriculture and allied sector has been 3.6 per cent, highest during the recent decade, even though it is short of the targeted 4 per cent, which was set as the targeted growth for 12th Five Year Plan. The country achieved a record level of about 265 million tonnes of foodgrain production in 2013-14. Side-by-side agriculture diversification has been significant with appreciable growth in horticulture, livestock, fisheries and agroforestry. A number of initiatives had been taken by the government to maintain the food and nutritional security and protect the income of the farmers.

In spite of major strides the agriculture and allied sector has made, it is also face-to-face with a number of serious challenges. The foremost is insulating agriculture from vagaries of monsoon and achieving stability in agriculture production. Whereas there has been continuous decline in the share of agriculture and allied sector in the GDP, from 14.6 per cent in 2009-10 to 13.9 per cent in 2012-13, which is a normal process in economic growth, the share of agriculture in employment was 48.9 per cent in 2011-12 as compared to 58.5 per cent in 2004-05, indicating that almost half the population is heavily dependent on agriculture for employment. This has led to great disparity in urban and rural incomes.

Over time, the size of land holdings have gradually diminished and today about 89 per cent farmers have small and marginal holdings, less than 2 ha of land. In terms of productivity of various crops, we are behind international levels. We have not reached the potential available, as observed in the frontline demonstrations laid by the Agriculture Research System. Almost 67 per cent of the cultivable area, out of about 142 million ha, remains rainfed without any assured irrigation. Diminishing and degrading natural resources, low water use efficiency, overexploitation of underground water, deteriorating soil health, erosion of fertility, intensifying micro-nutrient deficiency, threat to ecosystem and biodiversity are some of the other major challenges which Indian agriculture is facing today.

Of the above, climate change poses the most serious and real challenge and the Indian agriculture system has to get ready with effective mitigation and adaptation strategies without any loss of time. Climate change is an immediate and unprecedented threat to the food security of hundreds of millions of people who depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. The impact of climate change is global, but countries like India are more vulnerable in view of the high population dependent on agriculture.

The share of agriculture in employment was 48.9 per cent in 2011-12 as compared to 58.5 per cent in 2004-05, indicating that almost half the population is dependent on agriculture for employment

Concerned about these adverse effects of climate change on agriculture, food security and livelihood of people, a ‘Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)-IFFCO Foundation Participatory Action Research for Enhancing Climate Resilience in Agriculture’ was carried out in Vaishali district of Bihar from 2010 to 2013. The joint action research project was a scientific effort to bring farmers, scientists, agricultural administrators and farmers’ own organisations together on one platform, to help local communities to mitigate the vagaries of climate change.

THE action research methodology was based on active relationship and partnership among research scientists, farm families and their organisations and the local extension agencies, including line departments. The project aimed at developing climate smart villages, wherein all the above mentioned stakeholders contributed in developing farming strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change and adopt scientific practices for sustained production at the field level.

In the Climate Smart Village, development of farmer’s organisation Self-Help Groups (SHG) and empowering them through variety of trainings related to climate change and agriculture was the key starting activity.

Farmers were motivated to take joint action to mitigate the problems of climate change and ensure adequate level of productivity of different crops and sustainability of their livelihood. The SHG members were provided knowledge support and training so that they could organise themselves for using weather and climatic services, community resource management studies and for insurance cover for improving their crop production systems. Several other methods, like demonstrations on their fields, were adopted to educate farmers about the latest technologies available in the field of Climate Resilient Agriculture. In the Climate Smart Village, training focused on water resources and water management, agro-advisory and utilisation of wasteland, site-specific nutrient management and scientific cultivation of different crops, crop diversification and introduction of seed varieties which withstand temperature variations.


To weather forecast and weather-based agro-advisories was added risk management, which included weather-based insurance and general crop insurance. The risk management techniques included the introduction of insurance products specially designed for the project area. These products insulated farmers from significant deviation of weather parameters, mainly rainfall and temperature, impacting crop productivity. The IFFCO Tokio General Insurance (ITGI), in association with IFFCO Foundation, developed insurance product for the crops of the project area. Meteorological data of past 30 years along with crop productivity information was used to develop such insurance products. Index-based crop insurance floated by ITGI was very useful for farmers of climate risk prone area. It covered the risk of crop failure as well as crop affected by variation in parameters of normal climate of the area. One of the most critical activities was testing varieties of wheat and rice, major crops in the cropping system which could withstand the temperature variations. Summer mungbean was specially introduced as a cash crop which not only gives higher income but also was source of nutrient to subsequent crops. Leaf Colour Charts (LCCs) were used for balanced nitrogen application in rice which helps to reduce emission of green house gases in rice Cropping System.

Summer mungbean was specially introduced as a cash crop which not only gives higher income but also was source of nutrient to subsequent crops

OTHER technologies tested were: introduction of Neem-Coated Urea and System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which helps in early, quick and healthy establishment, reduced plant density, improved soil conditions through enrichment with organic matter and reduced and controlled water application. It also included demonstration of Conservation Agriculture and modern systems of agriculture extension specially based on ICT.

Keeping in view the importance of women in agriculture, special groups of women farmers were formed and awareness was created about Climate Change and its effect on agriculture.


Formation of SHGs, their education and training on climate change for its mitigation and adaptation, weather forecast and weather based agro-advisories for planning of cropping pattern and cultural operation, weather-based crop insurance for risk management, screening of crop varieties for climate change adaptation and higher yield, crop diversification for higher income and risk management, natural resource management, laser levelling for water saving, nutrient management for less emission of greenhouse gases, soil testing and fertiliser scheduling, on-farm and community water management effective agriculture extension and data bank of SHGs for calculation of economics of crop production have yielded significant results in the climate smart village of Vaishali district.

Awareness has been created among the farmers about the mitigation and adaptation strategies and farmers have adopted various recommendations relating to soil, water and Nutrient Management, Crop Insurance products, new agronomical practices and diversification of the agriculture. Based on the experiment in the project, the following strategies have been identified which need to be adopted to successfully meet the climate change challenges:

1. A farmer-oriented approach with major thrust on community participation, including those of women.
2. Major components of the climate smart villages should include development of farmer’s organisation, gender training, weather forecast and weather-based agro-advisory through media and ICT, index-based crop insurance, screening of crop varieties, diversification, environment friendly nutrient management, water management, agro-forestry and reclamation of water logged soil.
3. Timely information from Indian Metrological Department, and weather forecast and weather based agro-advisories need to be transmitted through affordable communication network.
4. In view of the risk involved due to the climate change, suitable risk management product specially designed for the local areas need to be introduced. General crop insurance and weather-indexed crop insurance, which insulate farmers from significant deviation of various parameters, are required.
5. A critical activity in climate change adaptation/mitigation is to identify such crop varieties which can withstand the weather variations. In this, the Agriculture Research Systems like ICAR can play a key role and it has to be a major thrust area for the research system.
6. A balanced, sustained and robust soil water health is a must for achieving sustained food and nutritional security. More food has to be produced with lesser resources, and, in this situation, the only way is to increase the efficiency of production through modern management of improved technologies. Emerging technologies like Information Technology (IT) and computer application, efficient and more accurate electronic equipment, remote sensing, Geographic Information System (GIS), Geo-graphic Positioning System (GPS), and superfast transport and communication systems, along with hybrid seeds, biotechnology, nanotechnology, gene revolution, laser technology, efficient micro-irrigation systems, conservation agriculture, Site-Specific Nutrient Management System, including balanced soil and plant nutrition and soil health management based on soil test for macro and micro-nutrients tests will require major thrust. These technologies need to be synergised and monitored regularly to enhance cumulative impact of the multiple factors. The technology integration and packag-ing system through participatory on-farm trials and refinements will need highly trained and motivated extension workers to assess risk, manage the risk and to ensure healthy production base and products.

THE National Action Plan for climate change launched by the Government of India includes a National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture which focuses on enhancing productivity and resilience of agriculture so as to reduce vulnerability to extremes of weather, long dry spells, flooding and variable availability of moisture.

The government has also started initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture through ICAR. The adoption of the above mentioned strategies will go a long way in achieving the goal of National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. An early move to insulate ourselves from adverse effects of the climate change is the need of the hour.

The writer is former Secretary, Agriculture

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