Indian agriculture: The route post-CoP 26
- India’s pledge of Panchamrit (five-fold strategy) to fight climate change, announced during the 26th Conference of the Parties (CoP26) at Glasgow, Scotland, has caught global attention.
- A basket of agreements was signed by groups of countries during the Glasgow Summit.
- Here, we focus our discussions on agriculture and food systems and how India should prepare and act to fight the challenge of climate change in light of CoP26.
- As many as 26 countries signed the Sustainable Agriculture Policy Action Agenda at the summit to set a course of action to protect food systems and prevent loss of biodiversity against climate change.
- The countries laid down their commitments with a pledge “to use land sustainably and put protection and restoration of nature at the heart of all”.
- India did not sign the agenda as its Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), one of the missions within the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), is already operational to deal with the issue of climate change in the agriculture sector.
Agriculture and Climate change
- At the present inflection point, agricultural sector across the planet, is threatened by the adversities brought by climate change.
- While Indian agriculture is adversely impacted by the vicissitudes of climate change, the sector also is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
- As per the Third Biennial Update Report submitted by the Government of India in early 2021 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the agriculture sector contributes 14 per cent of the total GHG emissions.
- Within the sector, 54.6 per cent of GHG emissions were due to enteric fermentation, followed by 17.5 per cent from rice cultivation, 19.1 per cent from fertiliser applied to agricultural soils, 6.7 per cent from manure management, and 2.2 per cent due to field burning of agricultural residues.
- Therefore, effective mitigation measures and appropriate adaptation technologies must be taken to reduce ghg emissions from the agriculture sector.
- India’s approach has been a balancing act between growth and sustainability in its climate change policies and it is leading the developing nations to place agriculture in the ongoing negotiations.
- The National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture, as part of National Action Plan on Climate Change for more than a decade now, has focused to make Indian agriculture sustainable, considering likely risks arising from climate variability.
- The Indian Council of Agricultural Research and International Agricultural Research Centres of the CGIAR system (a France-headquartered public agricultural innovation network), including International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), have developed climate smart agricultural technologies and approaches to assist the agricultural sector to be less vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.
Strategies/pathways to make Indian agriculture resilient and sustainable in a changing climate
- Diversifying from existing cropping systems, predominated by rice and wheat in many unsustainable landscapes, to more nutritious and environment-friendly crops have often been suggested to address challenges of climate change and malnutrition.
- However, such a transition must protect the income base of the farmers.
- Research findings have already shown the potential benefits of crop diversification, including to sorghum and millet, and particularly in those tracts where rice yields are low.
- Such diversification would not only increase the nutritional value of the food system, but also holds potential to reduce inputs and ghg emissions.
- Methane from rice-paddies, nitrous-oxide emissions, or nitrogen leaching from inefficient use of chemical fertiliser are a key downside of resource-intensive approaches to production.
- Agro-ecological approaches, offer a solution to these problems.
- The natural farming practices are the commonest example, which have since been tried and scaled up in parts of India that bring synergy towards ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation.
- Managing crop-residue burning remains a huge challenge.
- The activity affects air quality in the immediate vicinity and in urban centres.
- This practice is propelled by a monoculture farming system and the legacy of, perhaps, perverse policy incentives.
- Conservation agriculture offers solutions to such pernicious problems with good agronomy and soil management such as no-till farming, crop rotation, in-situ crop harvest residue management / mulching, zero-till planters such as the Happy Seeder, among others.
- These practices could be very useful in significantly reducing GHG emissions.
- Excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers pollutes the environment.
- The scientifically prescribed ratio of macro nutrients (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium or N-P-K) is already skewed in many states, because of excessive subsidy in favour of urea vis-à-vis the balance approach to plant nutrition considering macro- and micro-nutrients.
- Since soil health card scheme of the government has penetrated throughout the country, site-specific, need-based nutrient management would be advisable to sustainably conserve the soil ecosystem.
- Diminishing natural resources, including water, is the most visible manifestation of climate change in India.
- Water used for Indian agriculture accounts for about 80 per cent of total freshwater resources and, therefore, efficiency savings would always be desirable for additional food production for a burgeoning population.
- Promotion of micro-irrigation practices (sprinkler and drip) through several schemes and programmes by the government has been localised in few states as of now that should proliferate to larger crop areas.
- We need to move from a supply-based to demand-based system to reach the huge micro-irrigation potential.
- Several new production methods and techniques along with specific agronomic practices have been suggested by agricultural scientists and experts.
Renewable energy usage:
- India’s ambitious renewable energy target (500 GW by 2030) must include the potential agriculture sector upfront.
- At present, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) scheme of the government aims to improve irrigation access and raise farmers’ income through solar-powered irrigation.
- However, with highly subsidised or free electricity to irrigate agricultural lands, farmers have not largely switched over to solar-powered irrigation and harness the potential.
- Setting up of solar power plants on farmlands, wherever possible, and solarising existing grid-connected pumps, could earn additional income to farmers, besides making them net energy producers.
- Increasing use of mobile telephones (and smartphones) in rural India offers a unique opportunity to leverage information symmetry and connectivity to the advantage of farmers.
- The new ICT and data ecosystems carry the potential to raise farm productivity and income by supporting the delivery of information and services, market integration and management of risks, mainly arising from weather extremes.
Research and innovation investments
- To offset the impact of climate change on food and agriculture by developing climate resilient varieties and other suitable technologies, increased resource allocation to agricultural research and innovation has often been prescribed.
- The rise of carbon dioxide levels and temperature in the atmosphere have direct correlation on crop productivity, grain quality, pest and disease incidence, as well as on the cropping system.