Climate Change

Climate crisis has cost India 5 million hectares of crop in 2021

Around 36 mha agricultural area was affected due to hydro-meteorological calamities since 2016

By Shagun
Published: Wednesday 22 December 2021
Climate crisis: Over 5 million hectares of crops lost in 2021, food prices rocket Photo: Agnimirh Basu

In 2021, extreme weather events wrought yet another distressing year for Indian farmers. Cyclone Tauktae and Cyclone Yaas wreaked havoc in several states in the first few months, especially in Odisha, West Bengal and Karnataka where lives and livelihoods were affected beyond redemption. 

In July, floods in Maharashtra damaged standing crops. 

This was followed by a 24 per cent nationwide rain deficit in August and 35 per cent excess rain in September. In October, heavy rains destroyed harvest-ready crops in many districts of Kerala.  

The devastation continued even towards the end of the year. In November, unprecedented rainfall caused huge loss of life and property in south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. 

Overall, India lost 5.04 million hectares (mha) crop area to cyclonic storm, flash floods, floods, landslides and cloudbursts till November 25, 2021, Narendra Singh Tomar, Union minister of agriculture and farmers’ welfare, told the Lok Sabha November 30. 

2020 was not different — huge swarms of locusts ate away standing crops in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. 

Extreme weather events throughout the year have become the new normal. The decade spanning 2010–2019 was the most turbulent for disasters, Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) assessment showed.

In India, around 36 mha agricultural area was affected due to hydro-meteorological calamities, including heavy rain and floods since 2016 – 6.65 mha in 2016, 5.08 mha in 2017, 1.70 mha in 2018, 11.42 mha in 2019, 6.65 mha in 2020 and 5.04 mha in 2021. 

The above data has been aggregated from government replies in the parliament on crop loss and damage in recent years. 

This has led to repeated losses for farmers, especially small and marginal ones who comprise over 85 per cent of the total number of farmers in the country. They are being increasingly put to test, as climate change disturbs everything from sowing operations to harvest.   

There is no available national data on the monetary loss owing to damage of crops in 2021 but a central government assessment of the value of damaged crops for the years 2016 and 2017 can help throw some light.

In 2016, damage to crops on 6.65 mha area was estimated to be to the tune of Rs 4,052.72 crore, the Union government said in the Lok Sabha in 2020. If this is applied to the 36 mha of crop area India has lost since 2016, the figure translates to a whopping Rs 29,939 crore loss for the farmers.  

However, this would only be an indicative figure as the 2017 evaluation of the crop damage suggests. In 2017, while the area of crop damage was lower compared to 2016 — 5.08 mha — the value of such damage was more than double – Rs 8,761.39 crore. 

So, a lot also depends on the type of crops and the sowing season. For example, farmers suffer more losses if the crop loss happens during the Kharif season as most earn during that time. 

On the other hand, the state of crop insurance or compensation mechanisms is not desirable or efficient. 

Over half of all shocks to crop production are the result of extreme weather events, reinforcing concern about the vulnerability of arable systems to climatic and meteorological volatility, said FAO in its recent State of Food and Agriculture, 2021. 

Rocketing food price

It also reiterated climate change’s role in jacking up food prices. The average food prices (after adjusting for inflation) in the 11 months of 2021 are the highest in 46 years. The global food price rise was driven predominantly by wheat, which reported an increase due to drought and high temperature in major producing countries, including the United States and Canada. 

In 2021, as various trade reports showed, spring wheat production declined by 40 per cent in US due to drought and heat. 

Russia, the world’s largest exporter of wheat, is estimated to harvest less due to unfavourable weather conditions this season. It has imposed a tax on wheat export to ensure ample stock for domestic consumption.

Even in India, tomato prices hit the roof towards November end, in the wake of devastating rains in southern India. Among other reasons for such price hikes, erratic weather has become one of the prime causes in recent times. 

The need of the hour is focusing on developing and strengthening resilient capacities of especially smallholder farmers. 

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