By Suresh Babu | International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
India's agriculture needs to become climate resilient, as the risks for small-scale farmers become more dangerous with each passing year.
As both a contributor to climate change and a victim of its impacts, agriculture needs to become climate resilient. This direct connection between climate change and agriculture is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in India, where recent research has shown climate change as the key contributing factor to the suicides of more than 60,000 farmers. This shocking number reveals the deep social and psychological impacts of climate on smallholder farmers and agricultural workers, who form the majority of the poor and hungry, and calls for better tools, policies and programmes to address the growing threat.
As many other countries, India has borne the brunt of climate impacts, seeing increased flooding, variability in rainfall, extreme heat, and vulnerability to more severe storms. Especially for small-scale farmers, the risks become clearer, and more dangerous, with each passing year. That is why boosting agricultural resilience in India is now, more than ever, a crucial key to preparing for the impacts of climate change.
Failing to address India’s climate change can spell trouble for many smallholders who continue to depend on rainfed agriculture. To save farmers lives and livelihoods, making Indian agriculture climate-resilient must be a priority next step.
As a start, policy incentives can be geared toward more equitable and efficient management of water resources, rather than leaving farmers to resort to unreliable borewells. In taking a climate-aware approach to water management, India’s policymakers can ensure that farmers become less vulnerable to the variable patterns of flooding and drought that have hit the region hard in recent years. Cycling between using surface water in rainier years, and recharged groundwater in drier years, for example, can reduce the threat of unpredictable rainfall to farming communities.
Empowering farmers to become financially independent will prove another key step toward resilience. Currently, farmers are trapped in a cycle of seeking out loans from high-interest money lenders. By making institutional credit available at affordable rates, farmers can avoid debt traps.
Further complicating the financial prospects of agriculturalists, government compensation policies seem to work against the farmers’ best interests. In a morbid sense, the compensation in the case of death of a farmer is seen as a route for farmers’ families to get out of debt. The money distributed to the farmer’s family is often used to pay off the predatory loans, to keep the farm afloat. This distressing cycle of debt further leaves farmers and their families most vulnerable to future climate-induced shock.
To move forward on climate-resilient agriculture, India must also take stock of its agricultural emissions. With the measurement and mapping of greenhouse gases (GHGs), better climate policy could be developed. Informing better mitigation techniques, a district-level GHG agricultural emissions index would set priorities appropriate to India’s context.
But a database is only a starting point; on-the-ground knowledge is needed in every district to put this data to practical use for climate resilient programming. Developing and using the data and the tools to boost technical competency at the local level means that resources will be better managed, and that research and extension services can be made more climate focused. Local solutions require use of such decentralised databases and multidisciplinary approach to climate-informed farming, especially if bolstered by collective action between large- and small-scale farmers.
The most recent uptick in farmer suicides is a call to action; India must heed this as a distress signal for the country’s agriculture. It is high time that Indian policy makers and researchers began to work more closely with its farmers; re-examining agricultural policies, enhancing financial empowerment, and charting a data-driven path toward mitigation and adaptation toward climate resilient agriculture. The impacts of climate change won’t wait.
Published on September 5, 2017.
Human rights and environment
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to a three-year term as the first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. His mandate was further extended in March 2015 for another three years as a Special Rapporteur.
The resolution 16/11 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12th of April 2011 entitled “Human Rights and the environment” requested the Office of the High Commissioner “in consultation with and taking into account the views of States Members of the United Nations, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and relevant multilateral environmental agreements, special procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders, to conduct, within existing resources, a detailed analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment” (para.1).
See also the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Human rights and climate change
In its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.