Climate-Smart Agriculture Needs Better Planning For Weather Aberrations 

The persistent increase in unpredictable weather patterns, such as excess rains and temperatures, accompanied by frequent droughts in recent years, has led to a rise in uncertainty and risks to agricultural production across the globe.

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In many respects, weather and climate look like the stock market – ups and downs on various time scales; no one can predict them with 100% accuracy. But predictions are useful for a country like India, where more than 50% of agricultural land is rain-fed and consequently, about 60% of rural livelihoods depend on monsoons.

Traditional weather forecasts tell us what is likely to happen within the next 24 hours and up to two weeks ahead, whereas climate prediction tells us what will likely happen in the coming seasons, years and decades. Both weather and climate forecasts are very important to develop adaption and mitigation strategies to maximise returns from agriculture and improve livelihoods.

If any of you have read the book Collapse by Jared Diamond, you will note that civilisations have failed over time due to the inability to look out on long enough time scales and to be adaptive to our environment.

Unknown unknowns 

There is some clear evidence that shows the Earth has warmed since 1880 by at least 1.1° Celsius (1.9° Fahrenheit). The global mean rate for sea level rise was 1.7 mm per year between 1901 and 2010, as estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Shrinking ice sheets, declining arctic sea ice, glacial retreating and extreme weather events like high intensity rainfall and frequent droughts, all are visible and, to some extent, measurable with advances in satellite technologies. However, one tendency growing among many is that everything which is abnormal is attributed to global warming or climate change, without any concrete evidence.

Also read: Climate Change: The New Normal Is Not Yet Here

Although our understanding of the weather pattern changes and climate change has expanded over the years, there are still many unknown unknowns that can influence the climate significantly.  

Climate is influenced by many factors. Science and evidence about this gamut of factors is very limited as of today, despite the vast technological advancements in weather forecasting. With scientific advancement, improvements in satellite technologies, radar technologies, meteorological data collection, computation and simulation by using super computers, scientists are evolving new models by replacing old ones to enhance the accuracy of predictions. But still, we have miles to go.

One simple example of the status of data is that the existing database, even in the Western world, is insufficient to compute mean sea level trends with 100% accuracy, which is necessary to discuss the impact of global warming. 

Recently, the director general of Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) mentioned that with the “unpredictable” nature of the monsoon, the latest forecasting models can only forecast weather with about 55-60% accuracy, although we strive for 100% accuracy levels.

Forecast accuracy is about 80% in a 24-hour period and about 60% over a five-day period. The accuracy of 24-hour forecasting has improved in the past several years from 40-50% to 80%. Even now, a 24-hour forecast is sometimes unable to capture a sudden change in the weather, which may occur within a matter of hours.

Also read: Why India Struggles to Predict the Weather Over Its Lands

While advances in satellite imagery and radio technology over the years have made short-term, 3-4 hour forecasts more accurate, the same may not hold true for 24-hour forecasts. However, one positive sign is that unlike stock market forecasts, accuracy levels in weather forecasting have been increasing over the years. 

Better planning for climate adaptation and resilience 

The persistent increase in unpredictable weather patterns, such as excess rains and temperatures, accompanied by frequent droughts in recent years, has led to a rise in uncertainty and risks to agricultural production across the globe.

A similar pattern is evident in India with excess rainfall being observed in Tamil Nadu (100%) and Telangana (90%), and deficit rainfall in Jharkhand (48%), Bihar (35%), West Bengal (25%) and Uttar Pradesh (40%) this year. These increasingly unpredictable weather patterns are adversely affecting the livelihoods of farmers, particularly small land-holders, who account for about 80% of Indian farmers.

Such a scenario calls for an urgent action plan focusing on not only the improvement of weather forecasting capabilities in the country, but also an enhancement of outreach efforts for the timely dissemination of crucial information to all farmers. This crucial information may also include, apart from timely and accurate weather forecasts, effective contingency plans for taking necessary actions to mitigate adverse impacts on crop production and the ecosystem. 

In order to achieve this, measures must be to be taken to:

1. Enhance weather forecasting capabilities, both in terms of accuracy and timeliness, with technological advancement and innovation;

2. Establish a rapid response system for contingency plans to tackle adverse weather changes;

3. Enhance the agricultural extension system by equipping it with an efficient outreach mechanism utilising latest technologies, mobile apps and the like. This will ensure timely access to information for farmers, particularly small holders, so they can take necessary action.

Successful implementation of such a mechanism will facilitate the adoption of climate-smart and sustainable agricultural practices, which aid in improving the livelihoods of small farmers, thereby directly contributing to achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) focusing on food security and poverty reduction. 

To facilitate the successful planning and establishment of such a mechanism, a substantial amount of capital funding needs to be generated from both the private and public sectors.

Funding for such activities aimed at climate adaptation and resilience can be generated through the issuance of ‘green bonds’. Some private sector enterprises, such as Samunnati, have already started issuing such bonds for raising funds to put towards climate-smart agriculture.

In this regard, the Securities and Exchange Bureau of India’s (SEBI) latest initiative, inviting public comments on the consultation paper on green bonds, is a timely step in the right direction.

A number of initiatives have been taken up by various government and non-government entities in recent years. However, in order to be successful, such diverse initiatives need to be coordinated, consolidated, monitored and mentored, preferably by an independent authority. Further, the government may ensure their success by nudging such initiatives in the right direction with suitable regulatory and policy measures from time to time.

Dr. A. Amarender Reddy has a PhD (economics), FISPRD and is Principal Scientist (Agricultural Economics), ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad.

Dr. Tulsi Lingareddy is an economist studying financial markets, sustainable finance and climate change. Views are personal.