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Tags: , , , , , , | Category: Agriculture, Farmers, climate change, environment

Climate change politics and poor farmers

The impact of climate change on the world poverty is an issue of great significance but has not given needed attention in current climate change debate. It is not an issue that can be left to the future as the impact is already felt in many parts of the world. Climate change can affect our lives in different ways however one of the major impact will be on the agriculture which will affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor people who depend on agriculture for survival. Poverty in the underdeveloped or developing countries is still largely rural. For example about 70% of South Asia’s population lives in rural areas. In some area like state of Bihar in India rural population is more than 80% and it accounts for more than 75% of the poor. Agriculture is the main livelihood in the rural area which employs about 60% of labour force in these countries and contributes less than 25% of regional GDP (in Bihar for 2008, agriculture accounts for 35%, industry 9% and service 55% of the economy of the state).  The Green Revolution of 1970s and 1980s substantially increased food grain productivity and increased rural wages. Agricultural growth is especially effective in reducing poverty. Estimates show that overall GDP growth originating in agriculture is, on average, at least twice as effective in benefiting the poorest half of a country’s population as growth generated in non-agricultural sectors. In sum, agricultural growth can reduce poverty directly, by raising farm incomes, and indirectly, through labour markets and by reducing food prices.

What experts are saying?

William Cline, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) and the Peterson Institute for International Economics say that India could see a drop of 30-40% in agricultural productivity.  He claims that among all potential damages which could occur from climate change, the damage to agriculture could be among the most devastating. Since agriculture constitutes a much larger fraction of GDP in developing countries, even a small percentage loss in agricultural productivity would impose a larger proportionate income loss in a developing country than in an industrial country. (Source: http://web.worldbank.org/) As part of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI), scientists at the University of Liverpool and some Indian Scientists are investigating the anticipated effects of climate change on India’s monsoon season and the impact that alterations in India’s water cycle will have on the country’s people, agriculture and wildlife. They predict that changes to India’s annual monsoon are expected to result in severe droughts and intense flooding in parts of India. Scientists predict that by the end of the century the country will experience a 3 to 5ÚC temperature increase and a 20% rise in all summer monsoon rainfall. Climate change studies undertaken so far reveal that action is essential in order to prevent long term damage to India’s water cycle. The livelihood of a vast population in India depends on agriculture, forestry, wetlands and fisheries and land use in these areas is strongly influenced by water-based ecosystems that depend on monsoon rains. Changes to the water cycle may also cause an increase in water borne diseases such as cholera and hepatitis, as well as diseases carried by insects such as malaria. (Source: http://www.eurekalert.org/) The Food and Agriculture Organization (Sept 2009 News) says climate change will push food prices moderately up until 2050. After that, prices will rise more significantly in line with further increases in temperatures. Agency warns that the climate change will badly affect agriculture and hit developing nations hardest, leading to unreliable food production and higher prices. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change could reduce yields from rain-fed crops in parts of Africa by 50 per cent as early as 2020, putting between 40 and 170 million more people at risk of hunger worldwide. A study by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) showed that when temperatures increase by 1°C (33.8°F) at night during the growing season, global rice yields could be decimated. Another study showed that rice and wheat production could fall globally by eight per cent and 32 per cent respectively by the year 2050(1). In Asia, where more than half of the world’s population resides in just two countries – China and India – if no measures are undertaken to halt the impacts of climate change, agricultural production in China could drop by five to ten per cent; in India, where there will likely be less water for rain and glacier-fed agriculture, production could decline by nearly a third (1).

Balancing between food and climate change

Leading experts have said that global food production needs to be increased by between 50 and 100 per cent by 2050 if widespread famine and world starving is to be avoided in the coming decades as the human population expands rapidly. The first green revolution of the 1960s when dwarf high yield crop varieties, greater use of agro-chemicals, and a change in farming practices led to a dramatic increase in food production: it leapt from 1.84 billion tonnes in 1961 to 4.38 billion tonnes in 2007. However we paid enormous environmental price (read my other blog on Green revolution and sustainable agriculture). A second green revolution has to be based on a sustainable agrculture which can increase food production without a significant expansion in the area of land turned over to farming. Water is already scared commodity and agriculture is consuming more than 70% of available water. There is insufficient water to support an increase in the cultivated areas, and the environmental consequences of increasing cultivated areas are undesirable. The area of land available to sustain each human being is “dangerously declining” because of industrialisation, land use change due to increasing urbanisation, increasing population, soil degradation etc. Per capita land in some area of India is dangerously low. Current energy use in modern agriculture is also unsustainable. Additional production will have to take place without further damage to the environment. This is going to be tight balancing act. Danger is that again poor will be negelected.

Neglect of Agriculture

Share of total Official Development Assistance for Agriculture

Figure 1: Share of total Official Development Assistance for Agriculture

Millions of families in poor countries depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Neglect of agriculture and low public investments over the last two decades were undoubtedly an underlying cause of poor people’s vulnerability to the recent global food crisis. If donors and governments in developing countries had invested in smallholder agriculture over the past two decades, many countries would be far less vulnerable to the price shocks experienced today. This crisis is going to worsen with climate change if international aid and local governmental contributions are not going to increase substantially. Official Development Assistance to agriculture dropped 75 per cent during the late 1980s and early 1990s (Figure 1 & 2). Total donor investments in agriculture have since remained low. In 2007, US and EU ODA commitments to agriculture increased slightly to $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion, compared with the astonishing $41 billion and $130 billion lavished on their own agriculture sectors in 2006.

Local government expenditures on agriculture

Figure 2: Local government expenditures on agriculture

Renewed donor interest in agriculture has not be visible in real policy shift, and more commitments are trickling in to address the financial crises. Fund allotted for climate change is going to industrial sector or revival of their green economy as an alternative to conventional industry.   A return to 1986-7 levels of commitment to agriculture (about $20 billion per year) would be a good start, although not quite sufficient to meet the recommendations made by the United Nations High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis (UNHLTF) in the Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). The CFA estimates that about $40 billion per year is needed for recovery from the current food crisis and prevention from climate change.

Make agriculture centre stage

To reduce poverty, achieve food security and mitigate climate change, investing in agriculture must become a top priority for donors and national governments. Also investments in agriculture must be greater than previously envisioned, predictable, transparent, untied, channelled through budget support, and complemented by funding for civil society groups both as government watchdogs and as complementary service providers. The policy implications for climate change impacts in agriculture are multi-disciplinary. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) examined the vulnerability of agricultural production to climate change, and recommended possible adaptations to agriculture policy (2):

  • With agriculture contributing significantly to GNP, it is critical that policy addresses issues of loss of livelihood with changes in crops, as well as the need to shift some regions to new crops, and the associated skills training required.
  • Because impacts vary significantly according to whether crops are rain fed or irrigated, water policy will need to consider the implications for water demand of agricultural change due to climate change.
  • Policy-makers will also need to consider adaptive measures to cope with changing agricultural patterns. Measures may include the introduction of the use of alternative crops, changes to cropping patterns, and promotion of water conservation and irrigation techniques.
  • to account for changing crop yields as well as shifting boundaries for crops, and the impact that this can have on food supply.
  • changes in certain crops can affect imports/exports, depending on the crop (this is particularly relevant for cash crops).


1. H. Reid, A. Simms, V. Johnson (based on contributions from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development and their partners) (2007) “Up in smoke? Asia and the Pacific: The threat from climate change to human development and the environment”, Fifth report by the working group on climate change and development, November 2007. 2. Proceedings of the International Workshop on Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change: From Practice to Policy http://www.basic-project.net/data/final/Proceedings%20of%20India%20BASIC%20Workshop%20%20Vulnerability%20and%20Ada%85.pdf Figure 1 : Source: Based on data from OECD Statistics (http://www.oecd.org) Figure 2: Source: Data from Public Expenditures, Growth, and Poverty (http://www.ifpri.org/publication/public-expenditures-growth-and-poverty-developing-countries)

Related News Articles

1. Climate change to hit poor farmers hardest (Sydney Morning Herlad, 21 Aug 2009 http://www.smh.com.au/environment/global-warming/climate-change-to-hit-poor-farmers-hardest-20090821-esoz.html 2. Africa: Poor Farmers Face Double Water Crisis: Climate Change and Competition http://www.ecomiles.com/?q=node/26783 3. Climate Change Hurting Poor Farmers Most http://food.change.org/blog/view/climate_change_hurting_poor_farmers_most 4. Agriculture and Climate Change, the new Poker in Climate Activism http://africaclimate.org/2009/06/03/agriculture-and-climate-change-the-new-poker-in-climate-activism/ 5. Poor face more hunger as climate change leads to crop failure (Guardian UK, 5 July 2009) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/05/crops-farmers-climate-change-oxfam 6. Researchers warn that politics and technical concerns unfairly thwart efforts to use carbon markets to halt deforestation and help poor farmers http://www.worldagroforestry.org/af/node/211

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1 comment to Climate change politics and poor farmers

  • Ravi

    Dear Mr. Vikas,
    i read your both the article on Agriculture and on Climate change. i appriciate your writing efforts to make such issues of general concerns public. Right now i am finding a topic for my Phd research. apparantly, ‘working on the topicClimate change and food security: with referrence to indian agriculture.can you please help me to prerare a sisnopsis for the same.
    as in
    what exactly can be the area of reserch? because its a vast subject.
    how i can prepare a 15 pagers synopsis:
    and what are the possible sources of referrence? i.e. books, wecsites, megazines, blogs etc

    kindly help me, i shall be highly obliged to you.


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