Smallholder agriculture in India and adaptation to current and future climate variability and climate change

Monday, 15 December 2014
Thiagarajan Jayaraman, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India and Kamal Kumar Murari, IITB-Monash Research Academy, Powai, India
Modeling studies have indicated that global warming, in many regions, will increase the exposure of major crops to rainfall and temperature stress, leading to lower crop yields. Climate variability alone has a potential to decrease yield to an extent comparable to or greater than yield reductions expected due to rising temperature. For India, where agriculture is important, both in terms of food security as well as a source of livelihoods to a majority of its population, climate variability and climate change are subjects of serious concern. There is however a need to distinguish the impact of current climate variability and climate change on Indian agriculture, especially in relation to their socioeconomic impact. This differentiation is difficult to determine due to the secular trend of increasing production and yield of the past several decades. The current research in this aspect is in an initial stage and requires a multi-disciplinary effort. In this study, we assess the potential differential impacts of environmental stress and shock across different socioeconomic strata of the rural population, using village level survey data. The survey data from eight selected villages, based on the Project on Agrarian Relations in India conducted by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies, indicated that income from crop production of the top 20 households (based on the extent of operational land holding, employment of hired labour and asset holdings) is a multiple of the mean income of the village. In sharp contrast, the income of the bottom 20 households is a fraction of the mean and sometimes negative, indicating a net loss from crop production. The considerable differentials in output and incomes suggest that small and marginal farmers are far more susceptible to climate variability and climate change than the other sections. Climate change is effectively an immediate threat to small and marginal farmers, which is driven essentially by socioeconomic conditions. The impact of climate variability on smallholder agriculture in the present can therefore provide important insights into the nature of its vulnerability to future climate change.