The disruptive force of climate change on agriculture -Omair Ahmad

-The Hindu Business Line

Climate change and other agrarian distress are forcing the farming community to scrounge for a living outside its comfort zone

The work I do — editing the work of journalists reporting on water issues in the Himalayan region — gives me a close-up of how climate change is disrupting agriculture. Almost 80 per cent of water usage in India, and most of its neighbouring countries, is for agriculture. Much of this water comes from the three to four months of the monsoon (except for Afghanistan and China). As a result, we are critically dependent on rainfall for our crops, but also, what is more important, for the livelihood of hundreds of millions of farmers.

Climate change is disrupting all of this. The physics of it is simple. Hotter air holds more water. This means that it takes more water in the air for it to rain now than it did earlier. Also, when it rains, the amount of water is huge. Therefore the most visible effects of climate change are longer droughts and more frequent floods.

This is a massive change. Farming in South Asia has followed fairly settled patterns for thousands of years based on a steady monsoon. Farming practices are built around this long history of knowledge. Weather fluctuations are not a new phenomenon — there were floods and droughts in the past, too, but their frequency has gone up.

When crops fail due to too much or ill-timed rain, or even no rain, farmers have little choice except to sell their labour at the best price they can negotiate. Given the many millions of livelihoods at stake, they are open to exploitation. It would be easier if they had the option for other jobs. They do not, and this is the crisis playing out across India.

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The Hindu Business Line, 17 May, 2019,

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