According to estimates, developing countries in the tropics are more susceptible to climate change damage than those in the temperate zones. Consequently, agriculture in the productive areas of Africa and South Asia will be amongst the worst affected. Almost 40% of the production potential in certain developing countries could be lost.
In South Asia, and in India, the biggest blow to food production is expected to come from the loss of multiple cropping zones. The worst affected areas are predicted to be the double and triple cropping zones. To offset most of this loss, an effort must be made to convert today’s single cropping areas into two crop zones.
This can first and foremost be done by efficient water harvesting and equitable management.
Coping with the impact of climate change on agriculture will require careful management of resources like soil, water and biodiversity. Making agriculture sustainable is the key and is possible only through production systems that make the most efficient use of environmental goods and services without damaging these assets.
A large scale climate literacy program is necessary to prepare farmers, who are today bewildered by the rapid fluctuations in weather conditions that affect agriculture. Their traditional knowledge does not help them to manage these recent changes.
Developing countries face a substantial decrease in cereal production potential. In India, rice production is slated to decrease by almost a tonne / hectare if the temperature goes up to 20 degrees C. By 2050 about half of India’s prime wheat production area could get heat-stressed, with the cultivation window getting shorter, affecting productivity. For every 10 degrees C rise in mean temperature, wheat yield losses in India are likely to be around 7 million tonnes per year, or around $1.5 billion at current prices.
At the global level, India must negotiate hard to ensure that the emission reduction pledges or commitments are sufficient to ensure at least 50% likelihood that the global temperature rise is capped at 20 degrees C. If this is not done, the impact on agriculture and food security in developing countries will be devastating. Rising temperatures will be beneficial for the agriculture of cold temperate regions since warmer conditions will allow their single crop zones to become two, even three crop zones. India must insist that developed countries must reduce their own agriculture emissions while at the same time paying for adaptation, especially in the agriculture sector, consistent with the polluter pays principle.
Regional cooperation at SAARC level is necessary to protect the Himalayan ecosystems and minimise glacial melt. Negotiations on river waters emanating from the Tibetan plateau are urgent so that the river flows in our major rivers like the Ganga and Brahmaputra are maintained to support agriculture.
At the national level, appropriate policy and budgetary support for mitigation and adaptation actions is needed. Multiple food and livelihood strategies are needed in rural areas to minimise risk.
Food inflation will worsen with climate change as more frequent and unpredictable droughts and floods will result in shortfalls in food production. Just one bad monsoon in 2009 led to a reduction of 15 million tonnes in rice and 4 million tonnes in pulse production, causing prices to go through the roof.
A carefully planned programme for strategic research, along with dedicated funding, is needed to develop solutions to cope with the impact of global warming on crops, livestock, fish, soil etc. Renewable energy must be part of our mitigation and adaptation strategy.
The real action for both mitigation and adaptation will have to be at the local level. The pursuit of sustainable agricultural development at the local level is integral to climate-change mitigation and combating climate change effects.
Developing sustainability in agriculture production systems rather than seeking to maximise crop, aquacultural and livestock outputs, will help farming communities to cope with the uncertainties of climate change. The ecosystem approach with crop rotations, bioorganic fertilisers and biological pest controls, improves soil health and water retention. The more diverse the agro-ecosystems, the more efficient the network of insects and microorganisms that control pests and disease.
Agricultural biodiversity is central to an agro ecosystem approach to food production. Such an approach promotes soil fertility, fosters high productivity and protects crop, livestock, fish and soil resources. Diversity in livestock and fish species and animal breeds is as important as in crop varieties. Genetic diversity gives species the ability to adapt to changing environments and combat stress conditions like pests and disease, drought and salinity.