Climate Change and Indian Agriculture

Sustainable Practices Are Needed Before it’s Too Late

Climate Change and Indian Agriculture
Climate Change and Indian Agriculture

An economy consists of primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. The primary sector deals with extraction and production of raw materials. Agriculture and its allied activities are the major drivers of primary sector. India is an agrarian nation with more than 50% of its population being dependent on agriculture and its related activities for livelihood. Agriculture as an activity depends on various factors like fertilisers, availability of land, availability of power, transportation etc. Another crucial factor that affects agriculture is the climatic condition of the area. Climatic factors affecting agriculture have different components like sunlight, water, rainfall (quantity and frequency), temperature, humidity, wind, type of soil etc. Each of these factors impacts the types of crops that can be grown in an area and overall agricultural productivity.


India is an agrarian nation. Agriculture is the major activity for more than 50% of the population. Agriculture is dependent on different factors and one of the important factors is climatic condition. Climatic conditions including rainfall, type of soil, moisture etc affect agriculture. Agriculture activities including cropping, livestock rearing, use of fertilisers etc also affect the climate. Irrational practises like slash and burn cultivation, clearing of forests for agriculture, excessive use of water, fertilisers etc adversely affect the climate. Agriculture and its related activities are one of the major contributors in green house gas emissions. Sustainable agricultural practises and methods like drip irrigation, organic farming etc can prove to be beneficial for reducing the adverse effects of agriculture on climate.

Impact of Climate Change on Crop Productivity

Climate change is a natural phenomenon. Climatic conditions at various places on earth as it is now are quite different from as it was decades back. However, human activities like rapid urbanisation, industrialisation etc has resulted in drastic changes in climatic conditions. Human activities have increased the incidences of critical climatic conditions like increased incidences of drought, erratic rainfall etc. Climate change has a direct impact on agriculture as it affects the factors on which agriculture is dependent. In India, agriculture is mainly dependent on rainfall. With the changing climate and increasing global warming, the frequency and quantity of rainfall in India has become unpredictable and erratic. As a result, the quantity of agricultural produce has also become variable. In certain years the quantity of agricultural produce is sufficient or there is bumper production and in certain years yield becomes insufficient for subsistence. The constantly rising global temperature has in turn led to a decline in agricultural yield. A variety of crops are directly affected due to the variation in factors like temperature rise (example- wheat, rice, corn, soybean, barley etc witness a fall in yield with every degree rise in temperature), rise in concentration of carbon dioxide in atmosphere (example- due to elevated concentration of carbon dioxide, concentration of nutrients like iron, zinc etc declined for crops including wheat, rice, barley and soyabean). Crop productivity has been declining over the years due to soaring temperatures, increased droughts, and increased attacks by variety of pests and weeds etc. According to agricultural researchers, ‘by 2030, rice and wheat are likely to see about 6-10 per cent decrease in yields in India’. Experts from the Central Potato Research Institute stated that ‘potato yield will increase by about 11% at elevated CO2 of 550 PPM and 1°C rise in temperature. However, further increase in CO2 with a likely rise in temperature by 3°C will result in decline in production by about 13% in the year 2050’.

Climate change also has profound effect on soil formation, its moisture holding capacity and its nutrient concentration. Climate change adversely affects the energy consumed during soil formation and it also results in destruction of minerals in soil. This subsequently leads to decline in soil fertility and an increased dependence on mineral fertilizers for growing crops. Increased rainfall leads to increase in surface run off thereby destroying the soil profile. Further, climate change impacts the soil water fluxes which contribute to increasing the drought conditions by decreasing the available moisture and increasing air temperature. Climate change also affects the weathering of rocks which is a major precursor for soil formation and as a result has a direct impact on the chemical and mineralogical properties of soil. Climatic conditions including rainfall, dew, humidity, aeration, soil moisture, sunlight intensity etc affect the resistance of plants. Certain weeds, pests and fungi thrive in warm and wet climates and also with increase in carbon dioxide levels. The distribution of weeds and pests and attack by pesticide resistant pests increases with changing climate. This also leads to attack by new varieties of pests and weeds to which the agricultural crops are unexposed. Examples of occurrence of viral and other diseases in crops have been reported in India on wide scale like the occurrence of Indian Cassava Mosaic virus in Kerala, African Cassava Mosaic virus and Sri Lankan Cassava Mosaic virus attack on crops is due to changes in climatic conditions like temperature, carbon dioxide etc. Increase in global warming has been linked to an increase in number of pests by different studies.

Impact of Climate Change on Food Security

Food security refers to the availability of food and the ability of people to access it. As per the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, food security means that, ‘all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life’. Any nation’s food security is primarily dependent on the agricultural productivity. As discussed earlier, climate affects the agricultural productivity consequently it also affects food security. Climate change leads to extreme conditions like heavy rainfall, drought, soil erosion etc which in turn destroys a variety of crops thereby reducing the yield and giving rise to insufficiency in food grains and other agricultural products. Due to variable yield, the produce from agricultural fields is unable to meet the requirements of sufficient and nutritious food for the people. A decline in yield also increases the price of products hence making them unaffordable for significant section of the population at times.

Air pollution also has adverse effects on agriculture. Studies have found that increase in air pollution decreases the yield of wheat among other crops. As wheat is a major staple crop for most of the developing nations of the world, decline in its yield will raise serious concerns about food security. As per a recent report of FAO, about 800 million people are malnourished. One of the reasons for such statistics is the declining agricultural yield due to effect of climate change. Further, considering the increasing world population, it has been estimated that the global demand for food will increase significantly in the coming years and as per FAO, ‘global demand for food will jump by half from 2013 to 2050’. In such a scenario, declining crop yield will have devastating consequences for food security of nations all across the world and it will have drastic effect on India because India has the 2nd largest population in the world. Different reports have stated the pathetic condition of food security in India which further becomes a cause of concern. As per estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020 report’ of FAO, “189.2 million people are undernourished in India”. This statistics show that 14% of the population in India still remain undernourished besides other issues (50% of women in between 15 to 49 years are anaemic, 34% of children under 5 years of age are stunted etc) arising due to lack of sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. According to the Global Food Security Index 2019, India is at 72nd place out of 113 nations way below other developing nations like Argentina, Brazil, China etc. In India, agriculture is hugely dependent on climatic factors mainly on rainfall and in such a case the existing situations can aggravate further due to the food insecurity caused as a result of climate change.

Impact of Agriculture on Climate Change

Agricultural activities also add on to the pollution of environment and hence play a role in climate change. The features of land use have been changing along with evolution of human beings. Clearing of forest areas for plantation, expansion of agricultural farms and overuse of land for cultivation add on to the pollution by causing effects like soil erosion, deterioration of carbon sink etc. Agriculture accounted for about 10% greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 over that land use and forestry accounted for about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the major greenhouse gases emitted from the agricultural sector. Farm related activities like use of synthetic fertilisers, use of nitrogen rich fertilisers in agricultural fields and addition of wastes to soils etc are the major sources for agricultural emissions globally. These emissions destroy the natural biodiversity by affecting the soil, atmosphere and underground water. Besides these majority of the fresh water available on the earth is being used up for farming purposes. Other minor contributors in pollution and climate change are burning of crop residues, burning of fuel for use in farms, cultivation of rice etc. and fermentative processes in manure and flooding of fields during rice cultivation are some of the means by which GHGs are released into the atmosphere.

Livestock farming is another major cause of concern that contributes to climate change. Livestock rearing accounts for about 14% of global GHG emissions. Livestock farming increases the carbon footprint on earth and increases global warming. Water and grains are used in huge quantities for maintaining the livestock which consequently increases demand for more production of grains and ultimately leads to climate change. Livestock grazing also leads to decline in number of various plant species which adversely affects the soil by making it vulnerable to erosion. Deforestation is also done in order to make space for livestock farming. Due to cattle belching methane is released into the atmosphere which is one of the major GHGs.

Effect of Agricultural Revolutions on Climate Change

According to the 5th assessment report of IPCC of 2014, green revolution techniques used in agriculture were detrimental for the climate. The use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and different variety of seeds demand more water for cultivation as a result leading to loss of excessive water and such methods will prove to be useless in areas which face extremes of temperature and depend on erratic rainfall. The report also stated that over the years the diversity of seeds has reduced globally, and few hybrid seeds are available which are not water efficient and demand use of pesticides and fertilisers thus polluting the environment. Green revolution in India had number of side effects like decreasing the soil fertility, increasing chances of soil erosion, increasing toxicity of soil due to fertilisers and pesticides, excessive use of water thereby depleting water, polluting the underground water by leaching of chemical fertilisers used, increase in livestock diseases etc. Chemicals used for increasing productivity under the green revolution polluted the land, air and water. Residues like nitrates, organophosphates, organochlorines etc from the used fertilisers and pesticides adversely impact the soil and ground water. Urea- a nitrogen rich fertiliser has been contributing in global warming.

After green revolution the only few strains of plant species used to be grown which would give high yield and result was a decline in agro-diversity and wild biodiversity. Further repeated use of same crops on the land reduced the quality if soil by reducing the nutrients dissolved in soil. This in turn has increased deforestation as more land is being required for growing crops due to inability of old land to sustain the growth of crops. Due to rapid use of pesticides, resistant species of weeds and pests have started appearing which subsequently hampers the natural biodiversity in an area. Rampant irrigation has also deteriorated the soil quality besides adversely affecting the groundwater. Increase in use of machinery requires burning of fuels which is also a major contributor in global warming and air pollution.

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in Agriculture

Considering the significant influence that climate change has on agriculture, it is essential that necessary adaptation and mitigation techniques be adopted to reduce climate change. Measures like reducing soil erosion and land degradation by means of windbreaks, roughening of land surface etc, improving water efficiency by developing infrastructure and improving demand management and water allocation will help in reducing the adverse effect of irrational agricultural practises on climate change. Reuse of water, reducing wastewater and use of techniques like sprinkler irrigation and drip irrigation would also help to conserve water and prevent excessive depletion of water resources. Avoiding mono cropping, using crop rotation, advanced sowing dates to reduce the impact of moisture stress during warm periods etc will help to maintain the quality of soil as well as reduce demand for water. Adopting best practises for livestock grazing, increasing water retention and water infiltration are also measure that will help in improving the degrading environmental conditions.

Use of good quality seeds will play a vital role in improving the resilience of agricultural crops to climate related hazards. Early warning systems for floods, cyclones etc will aid and assist the farmers in planning their sowing cycle so that loss in minimised. Agricultural sector has the potential to absorb GHGs, efficient management of carbon and nitrogen flows will help in reducing the release of GHGs into the atmosphere. Increasing the use of biofuels in place of fossil fuels and enhancing energy efficiency in agricultural sector will decrease the emissions. Burning of crop residues must be stopped and practises like agro-forestry, afforestation, forest restoration must be carried out on large scale.

Government Measures for Improving Agriculture and Reducing Its Effect on Climate Change

Government has taken certain steps to address the issues related to increasing contribution of agriculture to climate change. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research initiated the National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture project in order to enhance the resilience of agriculture to changing climatic conditions. Government schemes like Paramparagat Krishi Vikash Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Soil health Card scheme etc have targeted to make agriculture more resilient to climate change. Some of the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim etc have launched their individual programs to promote organic and natural farming practises so as to reduce the pollution caused due to agriculture. Further, use of solar energy and renewable source of energy has been in focus and government is promoting these to reduce carbon footprints from agricultural sector. Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ welfare has put forth its list of targets including increasing efficiency of water use, promoting organic farming, plantation and agro-forestry etc to improve the agriculture sector. India also included use of climate friendly practises in agriculture as one of its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.

Recently a parliamentary committee submitted the 30th report on ‘Demonstrating National Action Plan on Climate Change’. In the list of missions in this report, sustainable agriculture has also been recommended by the committee. The committee acknowledged that the strategies like crop diversification, water and livestock management, organic farming etc can be used to reduce the effect of agriculture on climate change. As per the committee organic farming would help to reduce the release of GHGs like nitrogen dioxides into the atmosphere and also increase the water retention capacity of soil besides other benefits. The committee also recommended that subsidies on chemical fertilisers must be gradually removed so that farmers refrain from using these. Government schemes like TPDS, mid-day meal scheme and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) aim to ensure food security for poor people in India. In the times of recent pandemic, government has taken certain steps to address the issue of acute food insecurity. Government announced funds of 1.74 lakh crore to provide extra rations by means of targeted public distribution system.


Climatic conditions play a major role in agriculture. Human activities in the field of agriculture like use of chemical fertilisers, unsustainable agricultural practises, excessive use of water etc have contributed to climate change. These activities have increased the rate of global warming and other extreme climatic conditions like droughts, soil erosion etc. The relationship between climate and agriculture is a cyclic one where changes in climatic conditions adversely affect agriculture and agricultural practises have a direct impact on climatic conditions. In such a scenario it is necessary that sustainable agricultural practises be adopted so that adverse effects of agriculture on climate change are reduced. Climate change is a serious matter of concern and needs to be tackled effectively for the benefit of humans being as well as nature.


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