weather woes

Agriculture in 115 Indian districts is most at risk from climate change

These districts have been classified as "very highly vulnerable" by a study.

As floods ravage eastern and northern India, agriculture in 115 districts across 15 states is “highly vulnerable” to climate change, according to a May 2016 study, published in Indian Academy of Science’s journal Current Science.

The first to analyse 38 meteorological, agricultural and social data across all of India’s 572 rural districts, the study creates a climate vulnerability index for agriculture, divided into five categories of vulnerability: Very high, high, moderate, low and very low.

The vulnerability index has already been used by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to demonstrate climate-resilient agricultural practices in 121 of either the “very high” or “high” vulnerability districts identified by their study, study coauthor Alok K Sikka, India representative and principal researcher at the International Water Management Institute, New Delhi, told IndiaSpend.

While the study is possibly the most comprehensive yet, independent observers said it may yet be inadequate to inform local decision-making on climate change.

Most of the “very highly vulnerable” districts come from India’s western and peninsular regions. Rajasthan has 25 “highly vulnerable” districts, the most in this category nationwide. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar also exhibit “very high” and “high” vulnerability, the study said.

Top 10 Districts Where Agriculture Is Most Vulnerable To Climate Change

Note: Most vulnerable district is marked by the largest bubble, and so on.

Least vulnerable to climate change are districts along India’s west coast, northern Andhra Pradesh and Northeastern states. Assam has the highest number of districts, 13, of “very low vulnerability”.

The new study’s 38 indicators, used nationally, are subdivided into three categories – sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity. Some of the indicators that define sensitivity include degraded land, annual rainfall, and vulnerability to cyclone or drought. Exposure is defined by indicators such as maximum and minimum temperature, heat-wave or cold-wave frequency and dry spells. Adaptation indicators included workforce in agriculture, literacy, gender gap, rural electrification and paved roads etc.

What do the categories mean?

The index is a measure of relative vulnerability of districts. Zero means least vulnerable, one most vulnerable. Vulnerability is specific to districts.

Two districts can have “very high” vulnerability for different reasons. For example, in Barmer district in Rajasthan, where agriculture has “high” vulnerability to climate change, the chief influencing factors are the projected decrease in July rainfall, low rainfall and low net irrigated area.

For Davangere in Karnataka, another district with “very high” vulnerability, the driving reasons are the projected rise in maximum temperature, low rainfall and low groundwater availability. A set of 38 indicators have been used to compute the vulnerability index.

The index reflects relative vulnerability of a district, on a scale from 0 to 1, with 0 being the least vulnerable.

The index furthers research into India’s climate-change vulnerability, at a time when, as IndiaSpend reported in April 2015, extreme rainfall events in central India, the core of the monsoon system, are increasing and moderate rainfall is decreasing – as a part of complex changes in local and world weather.

Complex subject

This is not the first time scientists have tried to compute Indian agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change (Some previous studies are here, here and here), but these have been localised.

An index of this kind holds great potential in helping formulate strategy and even policy for climate-resilient agriculture. A good vulnerability assessment should “help in identifying adaptation options”.

“Our study chose to reflect the changing climate in terms of indicators like changes in rainfall, dry spells, temperature etc, which are of actual use in adaptation research,” said CA Rama Rao, study coauthor and an agricultural economist with the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad.

Analysing sensitivity

A May 2016 study, published in Indian Academy of Science’s journal Current Science, analysed 38 meteorological, agricultural and social data across all of India’s 572 rural districts, and created a climate vulnerability index for agriculture. The factors are subdivided into three categories – sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity. The maps above show how the districts ranked on these three broad categories.

But assessing climate-change vulnerability is a process so complicated that even the wide-ranging data sets used by the new study may be inadequate to inform policy on climate change.

The index should be used with “great caution” since data have not been “obtained on all the variables/indicators for a uniform reference period”, said Ravi Khetrapal, regional advisor of strategic science partnerships at the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (South Asia), a nonprofit focussed on agriculture research. He also said the data have “not been collected for a reasonable period of time and averaged”, a flaw the authors acknowledge in the paper.

While “district level analyses are good to provide a snapshot of vulnerabilty, more data at the micro level is needed for validating trends”, said Divya Mohan, science policy officer at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, New Delhi. Mohan has previously worked on vulnerability in the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Spotlight on India

Climate change could effectively negate India’s economic progress, pushing 45 million Indians into extreme poverty over the next 15 years, according to this November 2015 World Bank report. The report recommended the use of more climate-resistant crops and livestock to counter a predicted drop in agricultural productivity.

The Current Science study indicates that climate-resilient agriculture is now receiving attention from researchers and policy-makers.

The vulnerability index paper is the result of a 2011 central government programme called NICRA (National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture), which enables research partnerships between 40 ICAR institutes in various agricultural sub-sectors, such as field crops, horticultural crops, livestock, and fisheries.

Despite the research, farmers across the country are unprepared for climate-change. “Thanks to ICAR, we are doing well in terms of research but not enough in terms of extension and development programmes by state governments,” said Khetrapal.

The vulnerability index may have its flaws, but it is possibly the only tool currently available to assess Indian agriculture’s susceptibility to changing climate. How it will be used to make a difference to farmers so affected is another matter.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

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