Climate Change

India's climate quandary

The National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture, India's flagship programme that aims to make Indian villages climate-proof, is at crossroads due to a lack of strategy for expansion

Photographs: Srikant Chaudhary

Not adapting to change

In response to climate change playing havoc with agriculture, the Union government launched the National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture in 2010, its first flagship programme to make villages climate-proof. As the less talked about programme enters its second phase, it is at the crossroads. Communities have not participated in the programme and are not convinced of its impacts. On the other hand, the government is cutting down budgetary support for it and officials feel the programme is not integrated to the hundreds of rural development programmes already under implementation thus making it ineffective. It is not a desirable situation as this pilot is supposed to provide a template for evolving a pan-Indian climate change adaptation programme for all villages. An analysis

With an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Union government has announced a number of proposals to assuage the farming community. Apart from reiterating its earlier promise to double farmers’ income by 2022, the Union Budget 2018-19 has increased agricultural outlay by 15 per cent. The government has also assured farmers that the Minimum Support Price for farm produce will be fixed at 50 per cent over input costs. Outlays for rural credit and crop insurance too have been raised. Farmers comprise about 55 per cent of the voters in the country.

But the paradox is perplexing. While there is scepticism as to when these proposals will materialise and reach the farmer, one crucial aspect was conspicuous by its absence in the Finance Minister’s speech: the impacts of climate change on agriculture, especially after the recent Economic Survey underlined that climate change is a critical issue affecting Indian agriculture. It is no secret that climate change-induced extreme weather conditions, temperature increase and sustained changes in climatic patterns have cast a shadow on the productivity of Indian agriculture.

That’s why the National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), India’s first but little known central government programme to address the risk of climate change, has too much at stake. Launched in 2010-11, the programme, run under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, covers 151 villages that are vulnerable to extreme weather. The objective is to provide site-specific technological demonstrations to enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers in “climatically vulnerable districts” of the country.

A programme like NICRA was long overdue. Due to the impacts of climate change, agricultural productivity has stagnated. Recent studies reveal productivity losses of 4-6 per cent for rice; 6 per cent for wheat; 18 per cent for maize; 2.5 per cent for sorghum; 2 per cent for mustard; and, 2.5 per cent for potato in the last two decades. This decline is only expected to continue. According to a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, losses due to climate change are to the tune of 4-9 per cent of the agricultural economy each year, which is an overall GDP loss of 1.5 per cent.

In recent years, extreme weather has become a part of the common parlance in Indian agriculture. For instance, in February, crops on nearly 125,000 hectares in 1,086 villages across 11 districts in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of Maharashtra were damaged after being pounded by unexpected hailstones and thunderstorms. Similar reports have been pouring in from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in recent years.

Photo: Anand Vattamannil

India is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change. According to a report of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) in 2013, 18 states and two Union Territories have been observing a significant warming trend. According to estimates, India could witness a temperature rise of over 4°C by the last quarter of the century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) assessment report in 2014 says that both rice and wheat could see drops in yield by 7-10 per cent and in maize by up to 50 per cent by 2030. According to a study by the Agricultural Economics Research Review published in 2014, rice and wheat yields could witness declines of over 15 and 20 per cent respectively by 2100. The need for adaptation to climatic exigencies has been starkly evident over the years. Since 1995, more than 0.3 million farmers have committed suicide. In the worst-hit regions, the biggest reason has been crippling indebtedness fuelled by successive crop failures.

The government has been showcasing NICRA at several national and international events as its response to adapt to a changing climate. The project has also been advertised as being integral to not only India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for climate action under the Paris Climate Pact, but also to meet four Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Following the launch of NICRA, the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) in Hyderabad was roped in to plan, coordinate and monitor the project. Based on a climate vulnerability index and inputs from district-based Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), 121 villages in different districts weres selected for the pilot project (the number was later increased to 151). The selection was made considering different kinds of stress faced by farmers and the programme sought to address changes in temperature and precipitation, apart from soil degradation and water scarcity.

According to officials from NICRA, about 24 interventions are being implemented to boost natural resource management, crop production, livestock and fisheries potential and farmers’ financial safety nets (see `Right on diagnosis, low on treatment' on p40). Till now, nearly Rs 1,000 crore have been allocated for the programme. But when Down To Earth visited some of the adopted villages, the programme was far from being a roaring success. With most interventions being inconsistent, NICRA is nothing more than a selection of technological fixes which seem neither scalable nor sustainable, even after more than seven years since it was launched.

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