The Need for Climate Smart Agriculture

By Rachita Ruchi, Published on: 12th December 2017

When I was in school, my summer and winter breaks would be spent with my grandfather, planting vegetable seeds in our kitchen garden. Every day I would check on the growth of all the plants, and my happiness would know no bounds when a tiny speck of flower on a plant would turn into a lady’s finger or a tomato! and would be totally heartbroken if I couldn’t taste the fruit of my labor due to an infestation or weather extremes. Now when I reflect my feelings to a farmer’s for whom agriculture is his only means of livelihood, I realize the happiness or distraught that a good or a spoiled crop brings with it. Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy, however, even after centuries; it is still not seen as a lucrative profession. This can be ascertained from the fact that the agrarian community in our country has been shrinking every year. Plagued by erratic weather, degrading soil productivity and water scarcity, agriculture has many pain points which need to be addressed.

Globally, there is a huge pressure on all the countries to meet the increasing demand for food. Production is struggling to keep up as crop yields level off in many parts of the world, ocean health is on a decline, and natural resources—including soil, water and biodiversity—are being exploited to extremes. According to the World Bank, managing food security is going to become more difficult, as the world will need to produce about 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated 9 billion people. The challenge is intensified by agriculture’s extreme vulnerability to climate change. Negative impacts of climate change are already being felt, in the form of reduced yields and more frequent extreme weather events, affecting crops and livestock alike. Agriculture currently generates 19-20% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the largest contributors to climate change. Without action, this percentage is poised to rise substantially.

Enhancing food security while contributing to mitigate climate change and preserving the natural resource base, requires a transition to agricultural production systems that are more productive, use inputs more efficiently, have less variability and greater stability in their outputs, and are more resilient to risks, shocks and long-term climate variability. The flag bearer of climate change initiatives & goals, Conference of Parties (COP) had their 23rd meeting in November 2017. It wasn’t a surprise that the Global Climate Action event had a full day dedicated to Agriculture, Energy and Water, which had sessions focused largely on climate-smart agriculture, food security, low-carbon livestock, and managing water for agriculture, to name a few. It was here, that FAO’s (Food & Agriculture Organization) ‘Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook’ was launched.

The emphasis and coverage to ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ in COP23, got me interested in knowing more about it. It is notable that Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) approach was introduced by Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the ‘Hague Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change’ in the year 2010. It integrates the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) by jointly addressing food security and climate challenges. It is composed of three main pillars:

  • Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes
  • Adapting and building resilience to climate change
  • Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible

CSA is an approach to develop the technical, policy and investment conditions to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under climate change. CSA, further, takes into consideration the diversity of social, economic and environmental contexts including agro-ecological zones/farming systems where it is to be applied. Implementation herein requires identification of integrated package of climate resilient technologies and practices for management of water, energy, land, crops, livestock, aquaculture etc. at the farm level while considering the linkage between agricultural production and ecosystems services at the landscape level.

The ill effects of climate change are increasingly visible every year on India’s agri-sector as well. Experts opine that without the event of climate change, the total food production in India is expected to rise 60% by 2050, but in the event of a temperature increase of 2 degree Celsius, the rise will only be 12%. Moreover, the country will have to import twice the amount of food grains. Hence, the need for an innovative approach like CSA, is very much necessary. Now, in a country like India, which is home to 15 agro-climatic zones, with extremely fragmented land holdings & multiple agriculture systems, what can be done to pave way for adoption of climate smart agriculture?

The government has formulated schemes which aim at optimum utilization of resources in agriculture. National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) is one of the eight national missions embodied under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), which aims at enhancing agricultural productivity by integrated farming, water use efficiency, soil health management and synergizing resource conservation. Similarly, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayi Yojana (PMKSY) has three main components, out of which ‘Per Drop More Crop’ focuses on promoting micro irrigation systems which are proven to save 50% water in irrigation activities.

Climate Smart Agriculture has also made an inroad in India. 27 Climate-Smart Villages are being piloted in Haryana, as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). These villages disseminate key climate-smart agricultural interventions, focusing on water, energy, carbon nutrient, weather and knowledge implemented through innovative partnerships and farmer cooperatives.

Amongst these 27 villages, Taraori has emerged as a model climate-smart village of sorts with farmers who are progressive and receptive of new technologies. Here, farmers don’t burn the crop residues, practice zero tillage and use new techniques, such as a tool ‘Green Seeker’ to optimize fertilizer use, and leaf-colour charts to determine how much nitrogen the plant needs. Direct seeding of rice is also practiced compared to the traditional method where rice seedlings are transplanted in a field with standing water. Direct seeding reduces the methane emission by 40% & water usage by 25%. Looking at the success of the trials in Karnal, the Haryana government has planned to take them to 500 more villages. Bihar is also looking to scale up climate-smart agriculture. The CCAFS project now includes 70 villages in Punjab, Odisha and Karnataka, besides Haryana and Bihar. Similar to CCAFS, a homegrown project was started by ICAR in 2011, called the NICRA (National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture), which has covered 151 villages till date, and plans to add another 100.

Policies are in place and pilot projects are showing positive results. All that is required is a little more push for awareness and education to the farming community regarding climate smart agriculture and the positive gains that can be attained from it. It is only then, that we shall be able to curb the ill effects of climate change, attain food security and ensure the wellbeing of farmers in the future.

(Sources: CGIAR; FAO; World Bank)

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