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Climate change and agriculture in Orissa

dry soilOrissa is the Indian state that is most affected by climate change. The states ecology and weather have undergone a noticable change. The last years it has been prone to severely extreme weather conditions. The people have almost yearly been shifted between floods and droughts, resulting in many casualties. The already dry lands are drying up even more, while the flood prone areas get more drowned. This already has shown its undeniable impact on agriculture in the state. If nothing is done, we have to worry for the future.

The state is located at the top of the Bay of Bengal, where the weather is created. The bay is more and more subject to low pressures. The resulting trend is an ever growing climatic chaos. Heat waves are occurring in the same year as cyclones. The pattern of droughts and floods is becoming a yearly scenario.

Extreme climatic conditions: droughts and floods

rainy day in orissaDroughts traditionally happen every year in certain districts of the state. The last years however, there has been a significant rise. In 1950 only three districts were drought-prone. By 1980 the whole of western Orissa.  Now, they have already affected 11 million people in 25 out of 30 disctricts. A new fact is that also previously unaffected areas, like Sundargarh and even coastal disctricts like Kedrapadhra now have to suffer.  

The droughts were not the only climatic terror for Orissa. The last 5 years, floods have taken more than 300 lives. These floods have affected 25 out of 30 districts and around 10 million people. In 2001 the worst monsoon of the last century was recorded. The number and frequency of cyclones is also increasing. In 1998 Orissa was struck by 2 successive cyclones. The second one lasted for three days and affected 14 districts. 170.000 square km of land was spoiled and 15 million people were affected. Because it had such a big radius, the cyclone also hit areas that had no history of cyclone activity. These rise in superfluous rainfall is causing erosion, endangering natural barriers, like mangroves. If these natural barriers dissapear the erosion will accelerate. If this pattern continues, the effects on nature, people and economy will be enormous. People will have to move from the coastal areas to the already overcrowded cities, tourism will go down and, most importantly, agriculture will receive a serious blow.

These extremes can also be noticed in the change in temperatures and rainfall. The last years, there has been a substantial rise in average max temperatures and accordingly a drop in average minimum temperatures in the same areas. In Titilagahr and Koratput differences of 1-2°C are recorded. The maximum temperatures now excede 40°C. WIA (Water Initiative of Orissa) even reports a 4°C rise in some areas. The rainfall is becoming an average 10 % more erratic in drought prone areas, while it is rising 3-12 % in the coastal areas, that are already suffering from too much floods. 

In 150 years there can be a desert

desert

A consequence and at the same time a serious cause of the climate change is deforrestation. In the Jagasinghpur and Kundrapada districts, cyclones have reportedly uprooted 200.000 trees, covering an area of 25000 ha. This is 50% of whatis left of the reserved forest in the state. Other reasons for deforrestation are the timber maffia and industrialisation, helped by corrupt government officials. In 2003-05 the goverment said Orissa has a forrest to land ratio of 31%. This is heavily disputed. 10% or less is said to be a more accurate estimate. Keep in mind that at the time of the Indian independance the forrest to land ratio was 48%. This deforrestation is triggering a major environmental imbalance causing fluctuation of temperatures. The consecutive spells of drought, with heat waves having peak temperatures of over 50°C, that terrorize the land only hasten this ongoing loss of trees.

WIO warns that if this trend continues, these areas will become a desert in 150 years.Rivers are carrying less water due to erosion. This causes a decrease in water beds. The ground water level is dropping and already clean drinking water is running scarce. In 50 years the water shortage will be acute and there will be societal and environmental unrest on a large scale.

Climate change is noticed by the people themselves. WIO did a survey among 2000 people to monitor the people's perception of climate change in 2007.  90% of the respondents were farmers, farm labourers and people dependent on agriculture and natural resources. The other 10% were senior citizens, professors, teachers and intellectuals. 90% of the farmers mentioned a decreasing land productivity, as well as adverse climatic conditions, like a delay in monsoon and erratic rainfall.

The effects of climate change on agriculture

40% of rice and grain is grown in the flood prone coastal areas. As a result of erosion, salinisation and inundiation the farmlands are less fertile. There has already been a 7,7% reduction of farmland in 13 years. The economy will lose rs. 360 crore per meter of rising in sea level, losing an area of 170.000 ha?? prime agricultural land. This rise in sea level is an expected possibility.

In 10 years, there is a decrease in major agro produce (which year) of paddy (6,8%), pulses (56,4%), oilseeds (44%), potato (20,7), onion (14,4%) and other vegetables (24,8%). Each flood and drought there are substantial losses. The supercyclone alone destroyed 2 million tonnes of rice crops. According to the national survey of Indian Agriculture by de The Hindu in (YEAR??) food production has decreased 40%.When they lose their crops due to flood or drought, some farmers commit suicide because of the debts they cannot repay.

Because of the fluctuation in temperatures due to deforrestation, mahua and mango trees have been flowering early. This is known to produce a low yield in fruits, resulting in economic losses for horticulturists.

Need for action

We have to act fast or the consequences will be undeniable. Until now the government has only taken into consideration issues of integrated water and land management. They have not yet paid serious attention to issues of large scale environmental degradation. Altough climate change is a question that concerns the whole planet and also needs global solutions, those alone will not be enough. There is a need for immediate action on state level, and the need of more local studies is vital.

We need to think creativily in order to keep agriculture sustainable. Agriculture itself can contribute to reduce the causes of the climate change. There is a need for farming systems that depend less on fossil-fuels. This means they would no longer use energy-intensive fertilisers, whose production yearly creates tonnes of co2. Also fossil-fuel-exhausting agricultural machines would no longer be used. We also need to stop growing crops off season, since these conditions will require fertilisers and lifting of ground water. Agriculture also has to adopt to the changing climate. We need to research farming systems that can resist climatic uncertainties. We need to promoto ecological agriculture as a means to reduce emissions of fossil-fuels.

We should look for solutions dependent upon the climatic and agricultural conditions in the different areas. Not all crops and farming methods are suitable for all areas as the situation is becoming more extreme. We at Living Farms try to look at the future in the areas ware we are active. In the case of the Dongria Kondh this means a reintroduction of a millet based farming system. 

Traditionally, tribals and adivasi have had access to less fertile, rainfed agricultural land in mostly uphill areas. On these lands they grew crops like millets, sorghum, oil seeds and a few varieties of paddy that could grow in rainfed hill slopes. This farming system based on millets has gone lost due to the recent over-emphasis on rice and wheat. Goverment data shows a 25% decline in millets. Research needs to be done to corelate this decline with the rising death rate and malnutrition amongst the tribals.

In order to face the ongoing drying up of these parts of Orissa, we should go back to the millet based farming system, which is less water intensive and less dependent on external sources for inputs. Millets can grow under completely rainfed conditions and therefore do not need irrigation for their cultivation. They can be raised in the harshest of environments and therefore can support farming in the most challenged ecological zones. Living Farms is already actively promoting this to solve the malnutrition and also to adopt the farming methods to the ongoing drying up of the land. You can read more about this in the Community Food Sovereignty Project article.

It is very important that the people who are working in agriculture are involved the ongoing discussion. Their experiences and needs have to be taken into account. Their ideas will help to provide a better insight since they experience the effect most closely.

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