Losses to farmers’ income due to climate change could be as steep as 20-25 per cent in unirrigated areas, the Economic Survey for 2017-18 that was released on Monday, stated. The current levels of farm income translates into more than Rs 3,600 per year for the medium farm household, the survey estimated.
It noted that the Prime Minister’s goal of doubling farmers’ incomes, “increasingly runs up against the contemporary realities of Indian agriculture, and the harsher prospects of its vulnerability to long term climate change.” The survey pointed out that the last few seasons have witnessed plenty of problems and noted: “Shortages of water and land, deterioration in soil quality, and of course climate change-induced temperature increases and rainfall variability, are all going to impact agriculture.”
It also pointed out that when thinking about agricultural policy reforms in India, distinction must be made between two agricultures in India. “There is an agriculture—the well-irrigated, input-addled, and price-and-procurement-supported cereals grown in Northern India—where the challenge is for policy to change the form of the very generous support from prices and subsidies to less damaging support in the form of direct benefit transfers,” it said.
“Then there is another agriculture (broadly, non-cereals in central, western and southern India) where the problems are very different: inadequate irrigation, continued rain dependence, ineffective procurement, and insufficient investments in research and technology (non-cereals such as pulses, soyabeans, and cotton), high market barriers and weak post-harvest infrastructure (fruits and vegetables), and challenging noneconomic policy (livestock),” the survey noted.
Since agriculture is a state subject and an open political economy question, the Survey strongly advocated a mechanism similar to the GST Council to bring more reforms in the agriculture sector and boost farmers income.
The survey noted that “…farmer income losses from climate change could be between 15 percent and 18 percent on average, rising to anywhere between 20 percent and 25 percent in unirrigated areas.” It suggested “dramatic” improvement in irrigation, use of new technologies and better targeting of power and fertiliser subsidies.
The survey noted that these were “stark findings” given the already “low levels of incomes in agriculture in India,” and stated that the more worrying aspect was the possibility that these estimates “might be lower than the true effects of climate change, given the potentially non-linear impact of future increases in temperature.”
The survey pointed out that the estimates were derived using short-run variations in weather, and “farmers may not be able to adapt to such fluctuations in the short-run. In the long-run, however, they may be able to change technologies or alter the crops they grow in response to sustained increases in temperature and changes in precipitation.”
At present, about 45 per cent of farm land is under irrigation. The Indo-Gangetic plain, and parts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are well irrigated. But, the survey noted, parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand are still extremely vulnerable to climate change on account of not being well irrigated.
“The challenge is that the spread of irrigation will have to occur against a backdrop of extreme groundwater depletion, especially in North India,” it noted. “Fully irrigating Indian agriculture, that too against the backdrop of water scarcity and limited efficiency in existing irrigation schemes, will be a defining challenge for the future.” It stated that technologies such as drip irrigation, sprinklers, and water management may hold the key to future Indian agriculture.
Further, the Survey called for an effective crop insurance and embrace farm science and technology with renewed ardour. It also said that power subsidy needs to be replaced by direct benefits transfer so that power use can be fully costed and water conservation furthered.
“Building on the current crop insurance program Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, weather-based models and technologies like drones need to be used …,” it said.
In fact, the survey explicitly points out that it has used “newly compiled weather data and a methodology not applied to Indian data so far.” It found, that the impact of temperature and rainfall is felt only in the extreme, “that is, when temperatures are much higher, rainfall significantly lower, and the number of “dry days” greater, than normal.” The impacts are more adverse in unirrigated areas (for example, rainfed crops like pulses).