Climate Change in Rural India

Climate Change in Rural India

Agriculture is by far the largest employer in the Indian economy, with an approximate 50 percent share, despite a shrinking contribution to gross domestic product (13.7 percent of GDP in 2013, down from 43 percent in 1970).. One of the world’s largest producers of food grains, coconuts, cashews, tea and milk products, India’s agricultural sector features small-scale production on fragmented holdings, large areas of low productivity soils, high dependency on rain-fed conditions and low literacy rates that constrains the capacity of farmers to take up new technology. The majority of agricultural workers come from the poorer segments of the population, including scheduled tribes and castes, and have limited livelihood options.

Climate change has emerged as a major threat to rural livelihoods in India, due to the high dependency on small-scale agriculture and natural resources, especially amongst the poor. The negative impact of climate change on agriculture is also likely to have a serious impact on poverty and food security, especially for the most vulnerable: the small and marginal landholders. Rain-fed agriculture, which is practiced in nearly 60 percent of the total agricultural area, and is dominated by poor farmers, will feel the main impacts. India has been identified as being not only highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but also with a low capacity to adapt to the constraints and issues involved.

India’s mean temperature showed a warming trend of 0.51oC per hundred years during 1901- 2007. The Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA) has observed accelerated warming during 1979-2007 in the winter and post monsoon seasons that have increased by 0.80oC and 0.82oC, respectively, in the last century. The mean temperature has increased by 0.20oC per decade during 1971-2007, with much steeper increase in the minimum temperature than the maximum temperature.

Maximum temperatures in India have shown an increase of 0.71oC per hundred years and the mean minimum temperature has increased by 0.27oC per hundred years. The frequency of hot days show a gradual increasing trend and frequency of cold days show a significant decreasing trend during the pre-monsoon season. The INCCA assessment also reports an increased precipitation trend over the country. The mean rainfall has been calculated at 848 mm with a standard deviation of 83 mm. This implies increased uncertainty in prediction of rain due to its increased variability, a trend that is reflected in the fact that 43 out of 139 years were either in excess or deficient in rainfall for the country as a whole.

India is highly vulnerable to climate change, not only because of high physical exposure to climate-related disasters (65 percent of India is drought prone, 12 percent flood prone, and 8 percent of the country is susceptible to cyclones), but also because of the dependency of its economy and majority of population on climate-sensitive sectors (e.g. agriculture, forests, tourism, animal husbandry and fisheries) and due to lack of access to technological and financial resources.

Adaptation to climate change is thus considered vital to support the livelihoods of the rural poor and to improve the productivity of the agriculture sector more broadly. Adaptation is also necessary to effectively address the poverty and food security issues for the people of rural India.

Sources:
FAO, 2011 “Climate-Smart” Agriculture – Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation and Mitigation” Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome
Kothawale D.R. (2010), Recent Trends in Pre-monsoon, Daily Temperatures, Extremes over India, IITM, Pune, Maharashtra, India

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