Agriculture and Farming Technology Updates

Climate Resilient Practices For Sustainable Agriculture

Building a sustainable future with climate-smart agriculture


Although agriculture contributes only about 20% to India’s GDP, it remains vital, supporting the livelihood of nearly 60% of the population. Agriculture and its related sectors—such as horticulture, livestock, fishery, and poultry—are essential for the country’s economic growth. They play a significant role in achieving several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including zero hunger, improved nutrition, and climate action.

Methods of Assessing Climate Change Impact

In 2019-20, India’s food production reached 291.95 million tonnes (MT), with a target of 298.3 MT set for 2020-21, marking a 2% increase. To keep pace with projected population and income growth, food production must double by 2050. Small and marginal farmers will be key to ensuring the country’s food security and achieving the SDGs.

Climate change affects agriculture both directly and indirectly, with the nature and extent of these impacts varying according to the degree of climate change, geographical location, and type of production system. The effect is assessed through controlled experiments and simulation models, with results extrapolated regionally based on projected climate change scenarios. Key influences include:

  • Variations in crop productivity, affect both the quantity and quality of yields.

    ● Modifications in agricultural practices, such as water usage and the application of fertilisers, insecticides, and herbicides.

    ● Environmental impacts, particularly the increased frequency and intensity of soil drainage, leading to nitrogen loss through leaching, soil erosion, and reduced crop diversity.

The primary impact of climate change on crops is the reduction in crop duration due to increased temperatures, accelerating crop maturity. For annual crops, this shortening could range from 2-3 weeks, adversely affecting productivity. In crops such as rice, wheat, and sunflower, increased temperatures directly affect reproductive processes like pollination and fertilisation, which are highly temperature-sensitive. Indirect impacts arise from changes in water availability due to irregular rainfall and increased temperatures influencing pest and disease prevalence. Modelling studies suggest that climate change will reduce yields in major crops like wheat, rice, and maize, while potentially having neutral to positive effects on crops like groundnut, soybean, and chickpea.

Climate-Resilient Agriculture and Development Practices

Climate-resilient agriculture is an integrated approach to managing the interconnected components of agriculture and food security affected by climate change. The World Bank promotes this approach as a “triple win” strategy to achieve three key outcomes:
1. Enhanced Productivity: Improving the quality and quantity of crops, which leads to better nutrition and higher farmer incomes. This focus targets the 75% of the world’s poor who live in rural, agriculture-dependent areas.

  1. Resilience: Reducing vulnerability to water scarcity, pests, and other climate-related adverse events while enhancing the capacity to adapt and thrive amid long-term stresses like shorter growing seasons and erratic weather patterns.
    3. Carbon Sequestration: Lowering emissions during food production, preventing deforestation, and promoting practices that capture and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

A strategic approach to adaptation in agriculture is essential to address climate change and enhance the resilience of agricultural production. India, with its diverse ecology, has regions that have developed and adapted practices over time to counter climate variability. Leveraging these practices can help mitigate the effects of climate change. Effective management and implementation of these practices, which have proven to increase agricultural output under unfavourable conditions, can also be utilised to adapt to climate change. These practices foster resilience and consistent yields despite fluctuating climatic conditions, often requiring minimal intervention as they are deeply rooted in many local cultures and systems.

Practices Followed at the Rural Level in India

  1. Soil Resilience: Improving soil health is crucial for building crop resilience to climate change. Enhancing soil carbon, reducing erosion, and increasing water retention are vital for resilience. Soil testing for balanced nutrient application and improved techniques can align crop needs with emission reductions.
  2. Adaptation in Crop Varieties: Introducing drought, heat, and flood-resistant seed varieties ensures consistent yields and better productivity. This adaptation must be localised, involving the farming community and considering weather projections.
  3. Water Management: Enhancing water reservoirs and recharging water tables through rainwater harvesting, recycling, and pollution reduction is critical. Techniques include creating or restoring rainwater harvesting structures, percolation ponds, and check dams to improve farm-level water availability. Emphasis is also placed on water conservation technologies like zero or minimum tillage.
  4. Conservation Tillage: Implementing conservation tillage practices minimises soil disturbance, increasing soil organic matter and fostering a thriving crop ecosystem. This practice also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, lowering the carbon footprint.
  5. Farm Equipment Hiring: Establishing centres for hiring farm machinery and modern technologies accelerates planting and sowing processes. Affordable access to machinery helps farmers cope with adverse events like erratic rainfall patterns.
  6. Adaptation of Livestock Systems: Enhancing water reservoirs and investing in heat-tolerant livestock breeds improve adaptation to heat stress. Key interventions include increased fodder production through community lands, rotational grazing to prevent overgrazing, and measures to reduce disease through animal spacing, feed supplements, and preventive vaccinations.

Soil Mineral Depletion and Plant Health

Soil is not merely an inert medium but a living ecosystem crucial for life. It takes hundreds of years to form an inch of topsoil and many more centuries for it to become fertile. While soil degradation is a natural process, human activities like deforestation, overgrazing, intensive cultivation, forest fires, and construction have accelerated it in recent decades. These activities disturb the soil, making it vulnerable to wind and water erosion, which damages its complex systems.

To prevent and, in some cases, reverse soil degradation, various practices can be adopted. Simple actions like leaving vegetation on the soil to allow nutrients to return can be highly effective. Educating communities, farmers, and corporations about sustainable practices can foster respect for nature and reduce their carbon footprint. Encouraging individuals to grow their produce can also instil an appreciation for nature and reduce the pressure on farms to support a growing population.

However, some changes, such as avoiding monocultures, are more challenging to implement. Monocultures deplete soil nutrients by continuously growing the same crop and make soil susceptible to pests and diseases, leading farmers to rely on chemical products. While these chemicals may offer short-term solutions, they contaminate the soil, food, and environment, causing long-term harm to both nature and human health.

Ways to Increase Organic Matter in Soils

Organic matter is essential for fertile, productive soil and sustainable agriculture. It includes living and dead plant and animal material, which decomposes to release nutrients that plants can absorb. Humus, the end product of decomposition, is crucial for storing nutrients, holding moisture, and improving soil structure. Some of the Practices to Enhance Soil Organic Matter are as follows:

  • Grow Perennial Pasture: Perennial, grass-dominant pastures significantly increase soil organic matter. Even short periods (1-2 years) under pasture can improve soil structure.
  • Grow Cereal Crops: Cereal crops contribute substantial organic matter through their dead roots and stubble post-harvest.
  • Grow Green Manure Crops: These crops provide protective cover and, when ploughed into the soil, increase organic matter levels, although they decompose rapidly.
  • Spread Manure: Frequent and heavy applications of bulky organic manures can significantly boost organic matter.
  • Use Organic Fertilizers: Large amounts of organic fertilisers can enhance organic matter, though they are generally less cost-effective than inorganic fertilisers.
  • Minimize Cultivation: Reduced cultivation preserves soil structure and prevents the rapid decomposition of humus. Direct drilling techniques allow seeding without disturbing soil aggregates.
  • Concentrate Organic Matter: Retaining all organic additions (roots, stubble, manure) near the surface improves soil structure stability, as the surface concentration of organic matter is crucial.


India, with its vast population, is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on natural resources. These impacts can lead to fluctuating crop yields and pose a significant threat to food security. Addressing the issues of climate change and its effects on agricultural productivity must be a priority, especially for small farmers who are the most vulnerable. Recognising these challenges, the Government of India, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have initiated projects like the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA). However, with the realities of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, urgent action is needed to address these issues with the utmost urgency.

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