Empower the farmers

India is a major emerging economy. Yet large sections of its population are fighting the challenges of poverty and issues of availability of or access to food and malnutrition. The issues of both availability and access were sought to be addressed in the National Food Security Mission (11th Five Year Plan) and the recent National Food Security Act 2013. Many may argue for or against the effectiveness of the measures undertaken but the important issue that remains is ensuring food security in order to facilitate inclusive growth and accomplishment of developmental goals. While these measures to a certain extent consider socio-economic aspects, a paradigm shift may be required to also consider the threats imposed by the looming challenges of climate change on ecological systems, as we now live in the reality of a world constrained by climate change.

The India economy and the majority of its rural poor is primarily dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and other allied sectors, including forestry, livestock, horticulture and fishery for their sustenance, income and livelihood. The agriculture and allied sectors are already inflicted with challenges of extreme poverty, high population density, shrinking cultivable land, insufficient rural infrastructure, dependence on rainfall, amongst others, the most significant being the dependence of agriculture on erratic rainfall.

Climate change is likely to exacerbate these challenges further through a range of direct and indirect impacts. The availability of foodgrains may decline as adverse impacts of climate change in the form of declining rainfall and rising temperatures are likely to reduce the agricultural yield and productivity.

The Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment, a network-based programme of the ministry of environment and forests, indicates the probability of 10-40 per cent loss in crop production in India by 2080-2100 due to global warming. While climate change is likely to impact agriculture in the long run, one cannot ignore the impacts caused by greater climatic variability and more frequent occurrence (or increased intensity) of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, heat and cold waves, flash floods, cyclones and hail storms, in the short run. The rise in recent occurrence of extreme events has been hazardous to agriculture.

This may be exacerbated by the likely changes in the patterns of pests and diseases owing to climate change. India, therefore, has reasons to be concerned about climate change, as any adverse change in climatic determinants can not only impact food security but also affect the well being of millions deriving livelihood and income from these activities.

Addressing climate change would require a two-pronged approach at the national level and larger thrust in the multilateral process at the international level. The two-pronged approach could focus on firstly, building capacity at the local level to adapt to the impacts of climate five year plan) and the recent National Food Security Act change and, secondly, reducing the existing wastages and managing the surplus in food production.

In order to build capacity of farmers, last mile access of information is critical. The National Action Plan on Climate Change that was launched in 2008 has one of its eight missions focused on promoting sustainable agriculture and lays emphasis on devising strategies to make Indian agriculture more resilient to climate change. The National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) provides strategic direction for making national level policy and planning and promoting sustainable agriculture. Many strategies are being proposed by different studies to deal with the likely challenges of climate change, such as use of improved crop varieties, changes in farm practices, innovative agricultural insurance and credit support, amongst others. Research and development initiatives are underway in this direction. The need of the hour, however, is to provide greater access to information to the end-user, which is the Indian farmer. This will enable farmers to cope with the vulnerable sector by enhancing their coping capacity..

Dealing with surplus is key to deal with impacts of climate change. India is no longer a food deficit country and remains largely self-sufficient in food production at the macro level. However, there are challenges of access to and management of the surplus food production. Measures that may check wastage in the public distribution system and improve infrastructure like cold chain storage would be beneficial in the long run. Further, taking the population out of poverty will enhance the access.

Nevertheless, climate change will continue to threaten food security, unless there is a deep global cut on emissions of greenhouse gases. A larger thrust is required in the global multilateral processes like the ongoing negotiations in the UNFCCC where all parties have agreed to a global goal of limiting the temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius by limiting global emissions of greenhouse gases. While there is global agreement on the need to reduce emissions, many developed countries are still reluctant to take on ambitious mitigation goals. The negotiations are expected to agree on an ambitious climate agreement in 2015.

Any delay or lack of ambitious targets is likely to jeopardise the domestic efforts that developing countries like India take to ensure food security. Larger push at the international way is required to deal with the challenges at domestic level. A successful domestic level adaptation coupled with global mitigation holds the key to food security in the climate-constrained world.