Climate-resilient agriculture in focus

By US Saikia

Weather and climate, though may seem similar, are used in different perspectives. The word weather is used to define instantaneous condition of the atmosphere. Weather changes frequently. But climate is used to define long-term average of weather conditions in any given location over a long period of time, say 31 years.
Climate is more or less stable during a particular period of time but tends to change periodically. Climate is measured by assessing the patterns of variation in temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, precipitation, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological variables.
In recent times, the most discussed hot topic in all levels of society worldwide is climate change. Though climate change is a natural phenomenon but what is bothering the world is the rapid global climate change, which is posing severe challenges to the living world, threatening their very existence.
The cause of recent phase of rapid climate change is attributed to warming of the global atmosphere, which is termed as global warming. But the recent phase of global warming is the creation of manmade activities.
The impact of climate change is already felt by all of us in one or other form. At the local level, we have already noticed changes in rainfall pattern and distribution, etc. Climate change impacts on agriculture are being witnessed all over the world, but countries like India are more vulnerable in view of the huge population dependent on agriculture, excessive pressure on natural resources and poor coping mechanisms.
The warming trend in India over the past 100 years has indicated an increase of 0.6°C in air temperature. Significant negative impacts have been projected with medium-term climate change (2010-2039).
There are already evidences of negative impacts on yield of wheat, rice, apple etc. in several parts of India due to increased temperature, water stress and reduction in number of rainy days. In the hills of the NE India, the situation may be further worse, as here the agriculture is mostly rain-fed, complex-diverse-resource poor in nature.
Though there are technologies, general farmers do not have enough purchasing power to use them in their condition or technologies inaccessible easily. Besides, damages caused by frequently appearing floods, droughts, cyclones, hailstorms etc. are also taking a huge toll.
With limited option to adapt with, a recent scientific study has revealed that, out of ten most climate vulnerable districts of NE India, nine are hill districts. The weather is also getting favourable for appearance of many crop and livestock pests and diseases in epidemic form and many outbreaks are being reported from different parts of the North East every year. All of these are making life of human and livestock miserable every passing day and agriculture is increasingly becoming a less dependable and profitable venture.
Under such scenarios, brining resilience to agricultural production system is, therefore, critical for ensuring food and nutritional security for all, particularly the resource poor small and marginal farmers who would be affected most. In the absence of planned adaptation, the consequences of long-term climate change could be severe on the livelihood security of the poor people.
Now, how to address the issue of brining resilience into our agricultural production systems?
Resilience is the ability of a system to bounce back to the original condition once the stress or pressure is withdrawn. Planned adaptation is essential to increase the resilience of agricultural production system to climate change. Several improved agricultural practices evolved over time for diverse agro-ecological regions have potential to enhance climate change adaptation, if deployed prudently.
Management practices that increase agricultural production under adverse climatic conditions also tend to support climate change adaptation because they increase resilience and reduce yield variability under variable climate and extreme events. Some practices which help adapt to climate change in agricultural production system are soil organic carbon build up, in-situ soil moisture conservation, residue incorporation to soil instead of burning, water harvesting and recycling for supplemental irrigation, growing drought and flood tolerant varieties, adoption of water saving technologies, among others.
Use of community lands for fodder production during droughts and floods, improved fodder and feed storage methods, feed supplements, micronutrient use to enhance adaptation to heat stress, preventive vaccination, improved shelters for reducing heat and cold stress in livestock, management of fish ponds during drought and flood are some of the key interventions to bring resilience in livestock and fishery sectors.
Institutional interventions also promote collective action and thereby build resilience among communities. Capacity building by extensive participatory demonstrations of location specific agricultural practices helps the farmers gain access to knowledge and provides confidence to cope with adverse weather conditions.

(The author is Principal Scientist ICAR Research Complex, Umiam)
(To be concluded next week)

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