ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Droughts, Heatwaves and Agricultural Adaptation

A Historical Account for India

Extreme events as floods, droughts and heat waves ensue from climate change. There has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of such events in the past two decades. Some of the recent events have caused substantial damage to agricultural crops and loss to human lives. The recurrence of such events is a threat to social welfare, economy and humanity as a whole. Adaptation to climate change is the key and the way forward. It is observed that agriculture has historically adapted to shocks and extreme events. Agricultural adaptation and resiliency to extreme events over the last three and a half decades is gauged using secondary data.

An increase in the incidence of extreme events as floods, droughts, heatwaves and forest fires has been recorded over the years. The escalation in frequency and intensity of these events is attributed to climate change. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (hereafter IPCC) in its fifth assessment report has elaborately documented the vulnerability to extreme events and their impact on human health, economic development and agricultural systems globally (IPCC 2014). The heatwave of 2015 over Indian subcontinent is ranked as one of the deadliest in the recent past impairing human and agricultural systems (NOAA 2015; UNESCAP 2016). Satellite data suggests that there has been an increase of around 1 degree Celsius (°C) in maximum temperatures across India in the last 50 years (between 1951–60 and 2001–10) and projections deeper into the future paint a more alarming picture. For instance, IPCC predicts that temperatures are likely to rise by 3°C–4°C by the end of the 21st century (Pathak et al 2012). Increase in the mean temperature and increases in the number of hot days have been documented across the country as well (IMD 2018; Kumar et al 1994).

Climate change has disruptive consequences on food production processes, and hence, research focus on the same is primal. The developing world based on its geographical location is more vulnerable to climate change;1 however, most of the empirical research is concentrated on the developed world. A small but growing literature has focused on estimating the impact of climate on the performance of Indian agriculture. Pingali et al (2019) summarises the recent projections for different crops in India, which show differences in outcomes both by crops and by region. Using district-level data on temperature, rainfall and crop production, Economic Survey 2017–18 (GOI 2018) yields three key findings. First, climate change impact in terms of temperature and rainfall is non-linear and is felt in the extreme, that is, when temperatures are higher, rainfall is substantially lower, and the number of dry days are higher than normal. Second, is that these extreme shocks have highly divergent effects between unirrigated and irrigated areas, almost twice as high in the former compared with the latter. Third, it relates to the impacts on agricultural yields. The estimate shows that the extreme temperature shock reduces yields by 4% and 4.7% for kharif and rabi, respectively, while the extreme rainfall shocks reduce yields by 12.8% and 6.7% for kharif and rabi, respectively.

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Updated On : 30th Mar, 2021
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