In a sobering acknowledgment of climate change’s devastating toll on India’s agriculture, the government undertook an extensive assessment employing cutting-edge crop models and climate projections for the years 2050 and 2080.
The results are deeply troubling, foretelling substantial declines in rice and wheat yields, with rainfed rice potentially plummeting by 47% by 2080. Wheat yields face a similarly dire future, with a projected drop of 40% by 2080.
The implications are not limited to yields alone; these changes threaten the nutritional quality of crops and exacerbate food security concerns.
A joint report by The Rockefeller Foundation and The/Nudge Institute, titled ‘Smallholder Farmers and Climate Change – Voices from the Field,’ underscores the dire consequences of climate challenges on India’s smallholder farmers.
Drawing from experiences in six pivotal states, the study exposes the staggering fact that 70% of these farmers have witnessed losses exceeding 50% of their crops due to climate-related issues.
Furthermore, another recent study cemented the connection between climate change and farmer suicides in India. It unequivocally demonstrates that farmer suicides are more prevalent in years with diminished rainfall, underscoring the impact of climate-related hardships.
Exploring Sustainable Solutions
To gain deeper insights into sustainable strategies for addressing the ongoing crisis, our team embarked on a visit to Aranya Farms located in Zaheerabad, Telangana.
Our journey took us through a previously desolate landscape, transformed into a verdant oasis upon reaching the entrance of Aranya Farms.
The atmosphere was teeming with life, marked by the melodious chirping of birds and the constant buzzing of bees, providing clear evidence of thriving biodiversity at Aranya Farms.
During our time at the farm, we bore witness to an unexpected spell of rainfall, which, unfortunately, resulted in some loss of the mango yield. We had the privilege of conducting an exclusive interview with Narsanna Koppula, the visionary founder of Aranya Farms.
Narsanna Koppula, a permaculture trailblazer with over 25 years of experience, leads Aranya Agricultural Alternatives. His mission is to promote sustainable alternatives to conventional farming practices.
Through his work, he empowers rural communities and stands as a pioneer in permaculture. In our interview, Koppula discusses climate challenges, their impact on agriculture, changing farming approaches, pragmatic strategies, farmer precautions, and potential government actions to address climate chaos and support farmers.
1. What climate chaos/weather anomalies have you faced at Aranya in the last few years? Has it led to any loss of yield?
Over the past two years, a significant change in climate has become apparent to me. Before that, I didn’t pay much attention, but now I see the clear signs of change in rainfall patterns, temperatures, and seasons.
Seasons seem to blend together, making it challenging to distinguish them. Even perennial plants like Tendu and Palaash trees are experiencing anomalies in their fruiting and flowering cycles. This disruption is startling, and I believe it indicates the extensive impact of climate change or, as I call it, climate chaos. Regardless of the terminology, it’s clear that something dangerous is unfolding, and we must stay alert.
I’ve adjusted my cropping patterns and planting times in response to these changes. I used to sow after the first rains, but for the past three years, I’ve started earlier with positive results.
However, this year, I sowed with other farmers and suffered a setback when an overnight downpour damaged my crops. The unpredictability of these rains is a challenge we face. I call it climate chaos because it lacks a discernible pattern, making adaptation and prediction difficult. We need to be more adaptive and observant of these changes in nature.
2. How has it affected your approach to growing your food? Will you be more pragmatic?
I used to emphasise a holistic approach, which remains important, but now I must also prioritise vigilance. “Observe and Interact,” the first principle of permaculture, is something I deeply believe in, but I need to elevate my level of alertness.
While observation is valuable, it’s no longer sufficient; we must be prepared for any situation. Understandably, we can’t change things overnight, especially when dealing with living systems like plants.
However, I must maintain a keen and alert attitude. Instead of seeking more annual crops, I’ll need to shift the balance toward perennial crops. If this situation persists, our reliance on perennials may become more significant than annuals. Therefore, my strategy needs to adapt accordingly moving forward.
3. What precautionary steps can farmers take in reducing the effects of climate chaos on their farm?
I share the same perspective and have been advising farmers accordingly. My advice to them is to prioritize indigenous seeds as they exhibit greater resilience and resistance to challenges. Relying solely on market seeds can be risky, as they are often less capable of handling adverse conditions.
In the face of any unforeseen events, the most vulnerable crops are usually the annuals, which happen to include many staple foods. Therefore, it’s crucial for farmers to save and use their own seeds whenever possible.
Furthermore, I encourage farmers to diversify their crops, including vegetables, cereals, pulses, and oilseeds, alongside fruit plants. Fruits should be a consistent part of their diet, not just consumed occasionally.
By having fruit-bearing plants throughout the year, you can integrate fruits into your daily meals. It’s essential to strike a balance between annual and perennial crops. Perennial plants, once established, don’t require constant seed replanting, unlike annuals that need seeding every season. This approach not only sustains livelihoods but also promotes self-sufficiency in food production.
4. What steps can the government take to tackle climate chaos and help farmers?
The government does have various programs in place related to crop damage, drought mitigation, and disaster management schemes. Crop insurance is one prominent program, although its effectiveness in implementation remains uncertain. These programs, while important, often seem to be superficial responses that don’t tackle the root causes of the issues at hand.
Continued climate chaos may lead to ongoing and potentially increasing crop losses, which could strain insurance companies. While insurance is crucial, farmers also require access to indigenous seeds.
Moreover, there’s a need for more research into the types of seeds that are suitable, how climate chaos might impact seasons, and how soil enrichment can help withstand such disturbances and unforeseen disasters.
The government’s extension services appear to be lacking, with limited social media activity. To truly support farmers, the government should maintain regular communication with them and keep them informed.
Promoting sustainable farming practices is vital for building resilience and protecting crops. Since climate change is already underway and cannot be stopped, it’s essential to develop coping mechanisms.
The government should focus not only on insurance but also on introducing crop varieties, establishing food storage facilities, including cold and seed storage, and implementing comprehensive strategies. The commitment of the government to address these pressing issues, which affect most farmers, is crucial.
5. Any further opinions on the subject?
Climate change is a reality we must accept and adapt to; stopping it is no longer an option. In agriculture, a shift towards balancing annual crops with perennials is necessary. Those not directly involved in farming should consider embracing perennials, orchards, and food forest concepts.
For those heavily reliant on annual crops, particularly commercial farmers, reducing chemicalization (pesticides, chemical fertilisers, fungicides, herbicides, etc.) is vital. Instead, sustainable alternatives like botanical pesticides should be explored, and there should be a reduced dependence on mechanisation in favor of a stronger farm labour work ethic.
Implementing these changes won’t happen overnight and will require concerted effort from all stakeholders. Mitigation, adaptation, and coping strategies are crucial not just for farmers but for the entire community.
Climate change impacts everyone, from buyers and suppliers to producers and people from all walks of life. We can also contribute to slowing down climate change, but current practices like excessive synthetic pesticides, fertilisers, and mechanisation are exacerbating the situation.
These practices should gradually phase out. Climate change, which we’ve discussed for decades, is now at our doorstep, and we must initiate changes, even if gradual, to see positive results in the future.
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