India's Agriculture Is Feeling the Effects of Extreme Weather Events

The symptoms are extreme weather events reported throughout the country. But the question is, what is our agrarian policy doing to counter it?

It isn’t just the national capital undergoing heatwaves ― it is now clear that India is experiencing a shift of seasons. The symptoms are extreme weather events reported throughout the country. But the question is, what is our agrarian policy doing to counter it? Is the changing weather even reflected in our policy thinking? Climate-related crop damage is not even covered in the PM crop insurance scheme.

But first, the weather. The effects of this weather transition were felt last year, beginning with the rabi wheat harvests in Punjab and Haryana. Heatwaves and untimely rain hampered the wheat harvests last year and wreaked havoc in central India during kharif, too.

The early onset of summer was reported in Lahaul, Kashmir, and other parts of the country. Rain patterns changed over Meghalaya, India’s wettest state, causing losses to mountain agrarian communities. In southern India down from Telangana, rabi was delayed on account of a longer rainy spell. Many farmers across the country lost out and even had to re-sow, due to excessive moisture in their fields.

Experts are quick to correlate the excessive monsoons and heatwaves of previous years to an incoming EL Nino effect, and predict the high probability of droughts, below-average monsoons and more high heat events this year.

Also read: For Second Year in Succession, Indian Agriculture Battles Climate Change

The first signs are already visible with many rabi crops like mustard. Throughout north India, this is the first time mustard has been harvested in February. Usually, it happens around Holi and afterwards. But high temperatures have led to early ripening of the mustard crop. Many parts of Rajasthan harvested mustard in early and mid-February, and also complained of a massive decrease in production.

Reports from Kashmir are not so rosy either, as mustard growers usually expect the flowers to bloom between March 21 and early April, but this year it happened on March 1-2. Kashmir farmer Irshad Dar believes that these climatic changes will increase pests and lead to lower production.

Kashmir and neighbouring Himachal Pradesh are experiencing an early winter withdrawal, snow melting and above average temperatures, resulting in early blooming of various fruit trees this year, too.

But it is not only a northern problem. Reports from Kerala are shocking. Temperatures are expected to reach 54°C very soon, endangering farming, biodiversity and life itself. It’s been reported that “major areas of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Kozhikode, and Kannur also recorded a heat index of 45-54°C on Thursday.”

Heat alerts have also been issued for coastal Maharashtra, where the heat has already taken its first victim: the alphonso mango. Production has fallen 40%. from Telangana to Punjab, rising heat and untimely showers are breeding more pests. The stem borer attacks on Telangana Rabi paddy is a direct result of changing weather.

In UP, ground reports confirm that the arhar dal and chana harvest has been affected by rain. The Indian Meteorological Department has predicted rainfall in many parts. It has rained heavily in Madhya Pradesh, and harvested coriander and mustard lying in the fields have been damaged.

Waking up to the imminent weather crisis, the prime minister also announced a special committee meeting to tackle the heat crisis and also announced an increase in the MSP for wheat.

Also read: Kashmir: Saffron Farmers Fight Climate Change with Indoor Farming

The wheat harvest presents the biggest challenge to India’s food security. The rabi sowing was good and now, if there is a heat spike again before harvesting or untimely rain like the El Niño experts are predicting, Indians will be paying more for wheat. If once again we take a 20% hit in production, food inflation is inevitable, and so is malnutrition.

Indra Shekhar Singh is former director, policy and outreach, National Seed Association of India. He tweets at @Indrassingh.

This article was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.