Climate change likely to affect agricultural productivity in Maharashtra

Maharashtra faces an increasing risk from climate change which is likely to impact the production of four major crops - Soybean, Cotton, Wheat and Gram.  (Image: BAIF Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Maharashtra faces an increasing risk from climate change which is likely to impact the production of four major crops - Soybean, Cotton, Wheat and Gram. (Image: BAIF Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Maharashtra faces an increasing risk from climate change which is likely to impact the production of four major crops - Soybean, Cotton, Wheat and Gram, grown in the State according to a study by the Institute for Sustainable Communities.

The report titled, “Climate Change Impacts on Maharashtra Agriculture” examines the week-wise 30-year averages of historical (covering the years 1989-2018) and predicted (covering the years 2021-2050) rainfall and temperature data for 8 districts across Khandesh, Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of the state.

“The analysis presented in this report, maps climate modelling and projections (both historical and futuristic), with crop phenology (optimal conditions across each of the growing stages for a crop) coupled with community-based participatory assessments (on-ground farmer validation), at a much granular ‘weekly’ scale to weave a comprehensive understanding on the likely impacts of climate change on each of the crops and the farmers," said Romit Sen, Associate Director – Water & Agriculture Program at ISC.

“Climate analysis predicts mismatch in rainfall and temperature patterns with crop phenology across the monsoon (kharif) and winter (rabi) season,” added Sen, who led the research at ISC.

Late-onset of monsoon and intermittent dry and wet spells has impacted the germination of soybean and cotton. The excess rainfall during the mid-kharif season will lead to an increase in fungal diseases, weeds, and pests. This is likely to impact the production of pods in soybean and boll formation in cotton. Waterlogged soils and humid conditions will promote rot, leading to a loss of soil nutrients and fertilizers from the soil. The overall impact of excessive rainfall during the fruit formation and maturity stage for both the kharif crops studied – soybean and cotton will be on the yield and quality of the produce.

The biggest challenge for wheat cultivation, in the years to come, is high temperatures at the time of grain ripening. Grain weight goes down with a rise in temperature, and temperatures during the time of grain filling are predicted to increase. Gram cultivation will see a sudden increase in temperatures during pod filling, causing pods to fill less.

“There is very little or almost no rainfall predicted for the rabi season, thereby making the crops entirely dependent on irrigation. With groundwater being the major source of water for irrigation, the pressure on groundwater aquifers will increase. Reducing the impacts of changing climate on agriculture will require efforts in generating granular climate data, integrating those in informing farming decisions, improving quality of inputs, enhancing knowledge on better cultivation practices, and adoption of better management practices for resource conservation amongst others, said Vivek P Adhia, Country Director-India, Institute for Sustainable Communities.

The impact of high temperatures, rainfall and humidity will make outdoor work difficult for the farmers. Increased incidences of heat stress and humidity will have a bearing on farming operations like weeding and harvesting. As part of its work with farmers in Maharashtra, ISC is working to promote sustainable cultivation practices, building an understanding of the likely impacts of climate change and improving resilience for the farming communities.

Way forward

Reducing the impacts of changing climate on the cultivation of the four crops will require effort in areas of recording granular climate data, integrating those in informing farming decisions, improving quality of inputs, enhancing knowledge on better cultivation practices, and adoption of better management practices for resource conservation amongst others.

Some of the immediate actions which need to be considered are:

  • Collection of highly localized climate data: Access to local and accurate climate data is valuable in understanding and accurately predicting trends of climate for an area. While broad climate data for regions or even the State of Maharashtra are informative, the climate experienced at the village level is most relevant to farmers. Having weather stations in each village collecting data, and having that data easily accessible to both residents of the village physically and to stakeholders across academia, government and industry in an online repository is an important first step to accurately map the effects of climate change on crops. While it is important to have local climate data, what is equally important is to generate timely advisories based on models that can automatically be applied to these data and provide accurate predictions, advisories and warnings to farmers at a village level.
  • Improving the quality of inputs: Improving the quality of seed, pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer available to farmers will help increase the yield of crops. Access to soil testing based fertilizer recommendations must be improved, along with the promotion of well-rounded fertilizers providing essential macro and micronutrients. Dependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers must be addressed, and efforts to promote effective bio-fertilizers, organic manures and biopesticides must continue.
  • Dissemination of better management practices: For each of the crops, detailed Integrated Pest Management and Integrated Nutrient Management plans have already been published, but need to be popularized at a granular level throughout Maharashtra. Farmers need to have easy access to information networks on current issues faced. Changing the current practices to inform and adapt will be crucial to combat climate change.
  • Improved access to technology: Farmers will benefit greatly from access to advanced technologies developed to reduce the burden of traditional agriculture, but they undeniably need access to the basic technology. Further development of warehouses where farmers can safely store grain to prevent water and rodent damage and access to basic information technology must be provided. A well-developed network of access to good quality seeds, and market access for all crops must also be promoted.
  • Improving soil fertility: Having good soil structure and fertility can help combat the erratic rainfall and plant stress conditions predicted in the future. Fertile and deep soil can recharge groundwater, and deal with the mismatch between actual rainfall and optimal rainfall. Plants that are healthy and not stressed are better able to combat disease and pests, and having soils containing all required nutrients in balanced amounts is essential. Soils with beneficial micro-organisms will also help crop plants to obtain the nutrients they require. A simple way to increase soil fertility is the continuous addition of organic matter.
  • Enhancing rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge: In the future, rainfall will be concentrated in the months of June to August, with the rabi season – October to March becoming completely dependent on irrigation. Most of this irrigation will come from groundwater sources. It is of utmost importance to focus on groundwater recharge through successful rainwater harvesting and spread these practices in every village. Improved access to micro-irrigation systems to farmers in all regions of Maharashtra will improve the ability to supply adequate water to crops and enable farmers to efficiently manage precious groundwater resources.
  • Creating improved crop varieties for cultivation: Finally, providing farmers with access to crop varieties suited to rising temperatures and resistant to water shock must be a priority. Shorter duration and heat-tolerant wheat and gram, and pest and water stress-tolerant soybean and cotton may be better choices of varieties for the future. Making these resilient crop varieties and pertinent information on what type of environment they are suited to, available to farmers is essential for their ability to maintain yields in light of future climatic changes.

 

Read the full report here 

About Institute for Sustainable Communities

The Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) is a global non-profit organization with a 30-year track record of supporting industry, cities, and communities to plan and implement environmental, economic, and social improvements. Since 1991, ISC has led more than 115 transformative community-driven sustainability projects in 30 countries including the United States, China, India, and Bangladesh. Learn more at https://sustain.org