Category: Agriculture

Cotton 2040: Interview with CottonConnect’s Hardeep Desai

Cotton 2040: Interview with CottonConnect’s Hardeep Desai

As part of the Cotton 2040 initiative’s Planning for Climate Adaptation workstream, climate two new studies were published describing the potential climate impacts to the cotton sector. The reports, one a global analysis of climate risks to cotton production in 2040, and the second a detailed climate risk and vulnerability assessment of cotton-growing regions in India, were launched alongside an interactive Climate Risk Explorer Tool. Together they are designed to help the industry take joined-up, informed and responsible action to build resilience to climate change.

In the light of the reports’ findings, we spoke with Hardeep Desai, Senior Director and Head of Farm Operations at CottonConnect South Asia, to get his reaction. CottonConnect is a social enterprise that works with retailers and brands to create business benefits by creating a more sustainable cotton supply chain. It is also a member of the Cotton 2040 Working Group.

Overall, how prepared are farmers for climate change?

The farmers enrolled in CottonConnect’s Sustainable Cotton programmes, such as the REEL Cotton Programme and Organic Cotton Programme, currently benefit from the educational and technical guidance provided by the CottonConnect team. As a result, they see positive results on their harvest with lesser use of pesticides, higher yield, saving water and turning around crop production as per weather suitability. 

Farmers face the brunt of the harsh climatic conditions but don’t have a strong collective voice yet required to bring changes on an environmental level. While most farmers do not know that some of the challenges they face are due to climate change, many of them are aware of steps to be taken in their farms. For example, in case of excess rain and waterlogging issues, they focus on good farm drainage and remove the water from the farm as early as possible using labour and other equipment. 

Some farmers know the solutions but do not have technical support or knowledge to implement them. Connecting farmers’ challenges with climate change initiatives and training and supporting them technically on climate-smart agriculture will hold the key. The farmers can foresee that the future will be tough, but the current focus also remains heavily driven on day-to-day sustenance.

Why and how will climate change impact women in particular? How do the findings from your study complement and support the Cotton 2040 analysis?

CottonConnect interviewed experts from five local partner organisations and conducted five focus group discussions, with around ten women farmers in each group, from REEL Cotton and Organic programmes, in India and Pakistan. As a result, we learned that climate change is already affecting all areas of women cotton farmers’ lives while they are on the farm or caring for their family or livestock or at home, which has a profound impact on their income, time and health.

These findings from our study complement and support the Cotton 2040 analysis. Both strongly indicate that the main climatic conditions will include acute water shortage, a higher number of days with increased temperature, average annual rainfall in fewer rainy days, prolonged dry spells between two rounds of rain affect the crop, thereby posing a threat to the livelihood of women farmers.

The Cotton 2040 analysis of the physical impacts of climate change on cotton production provides a valuable prediction for organisations working to impact the environment and women farmers positively.

How do these findings / your increased understanding of the climate impacts on the cotton sector impact your work? What’s most striking or relevant?

The changes in the climatic conditions will profoundly affect the farmers’ income, specifically in India and Pakistan, where agriculture and cotton crops play a crucial role in the countries’ economies. The economic impact will also deepen the labour-intensive farmers’ health issues who will continue to work manually in such extreme conditions.

CottonConnect will have to work much more closely with the farmers to educate and alleviate the changes in their livelihood in a much more focused manner backed by government laws, research and best practices. We will have to create climate-smart, climate-resilient farming communities that can understand the challenges caused by climate change on their farms and livelihoods and practice farming in a smart way. We want to partner with other organisations, too, who would like to support farmers in terms of technology and other interventions to address climate change issues.  

How are you already working to build climate resilience, e.g., with female cotton producers?

To understand the practical impact of climate change on rural communities, CottonConnect conducted a scoping exercise, including interviews and focus group discussions, to identify areas for future research and action. The findings from this study illustrate the specific ways in which women cotton farmers are affected by climate change.

Additionally, we educate the women farmers to improve farm profitability, adapt their crop planning according to the changing climate cycle, and work on gender-specific training on sustainable and socially responsible agricultural practices.

How do you plan to use the results from the Cotton 2040 study to feed into your work, e.g. with producers and brands?

The results and suggestions from the Cotton 2040 study will be shared across the supply chain cycles and sustainable departments of the brands and forums with which CottonConnect works. 

As a social organisation that focuses strongly on the farmers’ human, environmental and economic development and the brands it works with, we will work very closely with all our partners to reduce and minimise extreme weather events and temperature rise. We would also create a cadre of trained women as climate-smart change leaders who can work at the grassroots level and guide farming communities about climate change issues for a longer time period. These climate-smart leaders will act as a bridge between farmers and CottonConnect to bring change at the grassroots level. For this, we would be happy to collaborate with other agencies.

We will work on newer technological advancements and better farm management practices to improve irrigation systems.  And work with government bodies and other national and global agencies to develop climate-smart agricultural research and interventions for long-term impact.

Fashioning a climate resilient cotton sector

Fashioning a climate resilient cotton sector

By Charlene Collison and Ulrike Stein

Why understanding the climate threat to cotton is essential for preparing a cross-sector response.

As the Cotton 2040 initiative publishes two new studies highlighting the potentially drastic impacts the climate crisis could have on cotton production in India and globally, Forum for the Future’s Charlene Collison and Ulrike Stein explore the urgent need for businesses to move beyond mitigation efforts and firmly shift their focus on adaptation measures in order to create a climate-resilient cotton sector.

The climate crisis will impact every detail of our lives, right down to the clothes we wear, the towels we use and the sheets we sleep on. The future of cotton, the world’s most widely produced natural fibre, will be affected, often dramatically, by changes in the climate.

Indeed, climate breakdown is arguably the biggest and most complex of the many pressing social and environmental challenges threatening the cotton sector’s future resilience. Rising temperatures, changes to water availability and extreme weather events are already affecting crop production around the world, while the sector itself of course also contributes to climate change.

However, most industry-wide conversations and plans don’t address the scale of change that the climate crisis will force upon the industry, and the world. Importantly, a key barrier has been the lack of information on the potential climate impacts on the cotton sector. The Cotton 2040 initiative aims to change this.

Tackling the information gap: two new studies

Cotton 2040 is a multi-stakeholder initiative facilitating the shift to a sustainable global cotton industry which:

  • is resilient in a changing climate;
  • uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods;
  • and where sustainably produced cotton is the norm. 

As part of its Planning for Climate Adaptation workstream, climate-risk specialists Acclimatise (part of Willis Tower Watson’s Climate and Resilience Hub) have conducted two unique new studies, using a worst-case climate scenario.

The reports have today been published alongside an interactive Climate Risk Explorer Tool. Armed with information, the industry is better placed to agree on priority areas for joined-up, informed and responsible action.

The world’s first Global Analysis of Climate Risks to cotton growing regions provides a high-level analysis of physical climate risks across all major global cotton-growing regions for the 2040s.

Key findings include that, by the 2040s, all global cotton-growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from at least one climate hazard, with half of all cotton-growing regions facing high or very high climate risk exposure to at least one climate hazard. All six highest cotton-producing countries – India, USA, China, Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey – are exposed to increased climate risk, particularly from wildfire, drought and extreme rainfall. 

A Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India considered a total of 41 climate hazard, and socio-economic indicators to assess the risk to cotton cultivation as well as cotton processing in 13 districts across three of India’s major cotton-growing states: Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana.

Key findings include that, by 2040, all cotton-growing regions across India will be subject to greater heat stress than under present-day conditions. The study also highlighted that common areas of vulnerability across all districts include multidimensional poverty, low female work participation rates, low male and female literacy rates, and limited access to banking services, technology and information.

The 12 climate indicators covered are: growing season length, heat stress, total rainfall during the growing season, extreme rainfall events, long-term drought, short-term drought, fluvial flooding, coastal flooding, strong winds, storms, wildfire and landslides.

What do these findings mean for the cotton sector?

Firstly, mitigation efforts alone just won’t be enough. The Net Zero commitments made by countries and some companies don’t stack up to what’s needed to keep global heating within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. A certain level of chronic and acute climate hazards is now baked in, and we must look beyond mitigation to adaptation.

Secondly, the environmental and social impacts of climate change are going to impact every single link in the cotton and wider textile value chain. And those who are already the most vulnerable, will be affected the most. Therefore, these impacts cannot be tackled in isolation.

Thirdly, resource scarcity or unequal distribution could potentially trigger societal disruption, possibly leading to conflict or even war. This will not only impact production, but also the transportation and distribution of goods. We cannot presume that current supply chains will continue as a viable or predictable part of the future.

How should the sector respond?

Preparing for the changes ahead requires a response that goes beyond incremental solutions to fundamental changes. The findings call for nothing less than a collective re-imagination of where, how and why cotton is produced, and transformation of the cotton value chain to be sustainable, resilient and just. This will require three key things:

1)Resetting ambition: looking beyond mitigation to also focus on adaptation

Organisations across the cotton value chain need to make bold commitments and take urgent action to decarbonise their organisations and supply chains through their mitigation plans, in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. And at the same time, the focus needs to shift to also developing robust adaptation plans to be prepared for the effects of the climate crisis.

2)Ensuring just transitions: climate justice must be at the heart of the sector’s response

Investing in climate justice and socio-economic resilience is investing in climate resilience. Already vulnerable members and parts of the cotton value chain will come under even greater pressure and stress. The climate crisis will only add to the sector’s deeply entrenched environmental, social and economic challenges. For the around 350 million people whose livelihoods are linked to cotton growing and processing, and especially for the millions of smallholder farmers and their communities, the potential implications are tragic.

3)Building capacity for more systemic mindsets and joined-up thinking

A systemic threat requires systemic solutions. If we are to respond proportionately to the impacts of climate change, we must focus on more than changes in the weather. We need to find ways to build environmental and social resilience into supply chains, and also halt the downward spiral of the most vulnerable.

Building sector wide conversations on climate change adaptation and resilience

Navigating planning for these multiple potential futures – the one we must aim for through mitigation efforts, and the ones we must nonetheless be prepared for through adaptation planning – is the critical challenge that the cotton sector is facing.

The Cotton 2040 initiative urges people and organisations from across the cotton industry to use this data and analysis to think radically about the future of cotton. But we particularly call for the findings to be used as a resource to make decisions together about how the industry needs to work, from how cotton is produced, transported, and used; to strategies, business models, financing and more.

We invite you to join us on this mission.

Join us. Over 2021 and 2022, Cotton 2040 will be working with cotton producers, brands and retailers and industry initiatives to develop a common understanding across the cotton system as to how climate change is likely to impact key stakeholders and regions, and agree on a shared set of priorities for urgent as well as long-term action across the cotton sector. Stakeholders interested in joining the conversation are invited to contact Hannah Cunneen.

Convened by Forum for the Future and supported by Laudes Foundation, Acclimatise, Anthesis and the World Resources Institute (WRI), Cotton 2040 brings together existing initiatives in the cotton sector to align around critical issues for – and accelerate the transition to – long term sustainability. To access the reports, supporting resources and the interactive Climate Risk Explorer tool, visit

Half of all cotton growing regions face severe climate risks by 2040 if carbon emissions continue to soar

Half of all cotton growing regions face severe climate risks by 2040 if carbon emissions continue to soar

The first-ever global analysis of climate risks to global cotton production reveals that runaway climate change could expose half of all global cotton growing regions to high risks from temperature increases, changes to rainfall patterns and extreme weather events by 2040.

Titled “Adapting to climate change – physical risk assessment for global cotton production”, the analysis was commissioned by the Cotton 2040 initiative, which is facilitated by international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future and supported by Laudes Foundation. The analysis was conducted by Cotton 2040 partner and climate-risk specialists Acclimatise, part of Willis Tower Watson’s Climate and Resilience Hub.

Under a worst-case climate scenario, the analysis highlights that all global cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from at least one climate hazard by 2040. While this increase ranges from very low to very high risk, half of the world’s cotton growing regions will face drastic changes with high or very high-risk exposure to at least one climate hazard. Other key findings include:

  • All six highest cotton-producing countries – India, USA, China, Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey – are exposed to increased climate risk, particularly from wildfire, drought and extreme rainfall.
  • The highest climate risk overall is projected for two regions of the world; north western Africa, including northern Sudan and Egypt, and western and southern Asia.
  • Some regions are set to face high or very high exposure to up to seven climate hazards
  • Cotton exposure to heat stress (defined as temperatures above 40°C) will be an increased risk across 75% of cotton growing regions, with the risk being high or very high across <5% of regions.
  • 40% of global cotton growing regions are projected to experience a decrease in growing season as temperatures increase beyond the optimum temperature range for cotton growing.
  • Water scarcity and extremes in rainfall, from insufficient in some regions to extreme and more intense in others, will present increased risk for the world’s most productive cotton growing regions. This will add extra pressure to a fibre already under scrutiny for its water footprint, affecting yields and potentially threatening to cause conflict and societal unrest.
  • Exposure to increased risk from drought will impact ~50% of cotton.
  • 20% of the world’s cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from fluvial flooding by 2040, and 30% of cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from landslides.
  • All cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from wildfires.
  • 60% of cotton will be exposed to increased risk from damaging wind speeds, and up to 10% will be exposed to increased risk from storms.

Cotton has a market worth of about $12 bn [1], makes up about 31% of all raw material used in the global textile market with a yearly economic impact of over $600 billion [2] and supports the livelihoods of around 350 million who cultivate or process cotton. Approximately 90% of farmers grow cotton on less than 2 hectares (ha) of land and are located in developing countries, mainly in Central and West Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa [3].

The global analysis is complemented by an in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities to the cotton value chain in India. This highlights that climate impacts extend beyond direct impacts to cotton production, affecting the entire value chain, including workers involved in harvesting and processing, as well as supply chains.


[1] and [2] Khan, M.A., Wahid, A., Ahmad, M., Tahir, M.T., Ahmed, M., Ahmad, S. and Hasanuzzaman, M., 2020. World Cotton Production and Consumption: An Overview. In Cotton Production and Uses (pp. 1-7). Springer, Singapore. Available from:

[3] Vivek Voora, Cristina Larrea, and Steffany Bermudez, 2020. Global Market Report: Cotton. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Available from 

About Cotton 2040

Convened by Forum for the Future with support from Laudes Foundation, Cotton 2040 is a multi-stakeholder initiative to facilitate the shift to a sustainable global cotton industry which is resilient in a changing climate; which uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods; and where sustainably produced cotton is the norm. Find out more:

This global analysis is one of two reports published as part of the Cotton 2040 Climate Adaptation workstream. An additional study provides in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities to the cotton value chain in India. Both reports, alongside an interactive climate impacts map and supporting resources are available at Over the next 18 months, Cotton 2040 will bring the sector together to dive deeper into the data, understand implications and identify potential industry responses.

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

By Tim Radford

A hotter world will mean more deserts and falling harvests − bad news for food producers and for all of us.

LONDON, 18 May, 2021 − By the end of the century falling harvests could jeopardise as much as a third of present levels if greenhouse gas emissions continue uncontrolled.

That is because climatic regions that right now and for most of human history have been home to reliable crops of grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and safe grazing for cattle, sheep, goats and so on, could become too hot, too dry, or too wet.

And these things could happen too quickly for farmers either to adapt, or crops to evolve. Land that had for generations been considered “safe climatic space” for food production could be shifted into new regimes by runaway global heating, according to a new study in the journal One Earth.

“Our research shows that rapid, out-of-control growth of greenhouse emissions may, by the end of the century, lead to more than a third of current global food production falling into conditions in which no food is produced today − that is, out of safe climatic space,” said Matti Kummu, of Aalto University in Finland.

“The good news is that only a fraction of food production would face as-of-yet unseen conditions if we collectively reduce emissions, so that warming would be limited to 1.5° to 2°Celsius.”

Very big If

In 2015, almost all the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to act to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C above the average for most of human history by 2100.

Six years on, that promise now looks increasingly ambitious: despite declarations of good intent, the planet is heading for a temperature rise of 3°C or more by 2100. The Paris target of 1.5°C could be surpassed in the next two decades.

The One Earth study is yet another in a chain of findings that confirm that much of the worst possible consequences of global heating could be contained if − and only if − there is concerted and determined global co-operation to abandon fossil fuel use and to restore natural ecosystems.

Professor Kummu and his colleagues report that they examined ways of considering the complex problem of climate and food. Geographers have identified 38 zones marked by varying conditions of rainfall, temperature, frost, groundwater and other factors important in growing food or rearing livestock.

The researchers devised a standard of what they called “safe climatic space” and then considered the likely change in conditions for 27 plant crops and seven kinds of livestock by the years 2081to 2100, under two scenarios. In one of these, the world kept its promise and controlled warming to the Paris targets. In the other, it did not.

“The increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation”

And they found − an increasingly common finding − that climate change is likely to hit the poorest nations hardest: that is, those people who have contributed the least to global heating could once again become its first casualties.

Under the more ominous scenario, the areas of northern or boreal forests of Russia and North America would shrink, while the tropical dry forest zone would grow, along with the tropical and temperate desert zones. The Arctic tundra could all but disappear.

The areas hardest hit would be the Sahel in North Africa, and the Middle East, along with some of south and south-east Asia. Already-poor states such as Benin, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, Cambodia in Asia and Guyana and Suriname in South America would be worst hit if warming is not contained: up to 95% of food production would lose its “safe climatic space.”

In 52 of the 177 countries under study − and that includes Finland and most of Europe − food production would continue. Altogether 31% of crops and 34% of livestock could be affected worldwide. And one fifth of the world’s crop production and 18% of its livestock would be most under threat in those nations with the lowest resilience and fewest resources to absorb such shock.

“If we let emissions grow, the increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation,” said Professor Kummu. “By the end of this century, we could see more than 4 million square kilometres [1.5m sq miles] of new desert around the globe.” − Climate News Network

Cover image by Clément Bardot, via Wikimedia Commons
Global farming feels the impacts of global heating

Global farming feels the impacts of global heating

By Tim Radford

Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.

LONDON, 12 April, 2021 − Climate change has begun to harm the world’s farmers. Compared with a notional world in which global heating is not being driven ever higher by fossil fuel use, a new study finds that the riches to be gleaned from the soil have fallen by 21%.

This, the researchers say, is as if the steady advance in agricultural productivity worldwide − in crop breeding, in farming technologies and in fertiliser use − has been eroded everywhere by more extreme temperatures, more prolonged droughts and more intense rainfall.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an economist at Cornell University in the US.

“It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013, and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

He and colleagues from Maryland and California report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they developed new ways of looking at farm costs and yields that could account for climate- and weather-related factors. The findings are potentially alarming.

Productivity drops

In the last century, the planet has warmed by at least 1°C above the long term average for most of human history, and is heading for 3°C or more by the end of this century.

By 2050, the total global population could have risen to 10bn: more than two billion extra mouths to be fed. But during the last 60 years, growth in agricultural productivity in the US has been slowed by somewhere between 5 and 15%. In Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth has slowed by between 26 and 34%.

A study of this kind − comparing the present world with one that might have been − is always open to challenge, and farmers have always had to gamble on good weather and cope with bad harvests.

But over the last seven years, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that a hotter world promises to be a hungrier one. Studies have found that yields of wheatmaize and rice are all vulnerable to climate change.

They have warned that higher temperatures and more atmospheric greenhouse gases could actually affect the nutritional values of legumes, fruit and vegetables, and that changes in weather patterns − in droughts, rainfall and heat waves − will hit harvests.

“Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect”

And since the higher temperatures that global heating brings  inevitably threaten more intense, more prolonged and more extensive heat extremes and droughts, the chances of calamitous harvest failure in more than one continent at the same time will be much greater: global famine could follow.

So the latest study simply provides another way of confirming anxieties already expressed. This time there is a new perspective: the attrition of climate change began decades ago. In the constant race to keep up with demand and compensate for possible loss, the farmers may be falling behind. Technological progress has yet to deliver climate resilience.

“It is not what we can do, but where we are headed,” said Robert Chambers, of the University of Maryland, a co-author. “This gives us an idea of trends to help see what to do in the future with new changes in the climate that are beyond what we’ve previously seen.

“We are projected to have almost 10 billion people to feed by 2050, so making sure our productivity is stable but growing faster than ever before is a serious concern.”

And Dr Otiz-Bobea said: “Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover image by Bob Jones, via Wikimedia Commons
India farmers’ protests: will the new farm laws address climate vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector?

India farmers’ protests: will the new farm laws address climate vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector?

By Uma Pal

In November 2020, more than 200 farm unions from 22 states across India organised a nationwide protest against the new farm laws introduced by the Indian government. Over the past few months, thousands of farmers have taken to the streets, battling the cold, water cannons and tear gas to demand amendments in the new laws for better income security, market regulation and protection from being exploited by large corporations. The protest, which started in the northern, agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, has ever since become heavily political, with massive push back by the current government and support from some opposition parties, and gaining traction in the international community. As a result, the Supreme Court of India has put the three new farm laws on hold and asked for a committee to be constituted to resolve the impasse.

The focus of the protests surrounds three farm laws enacted by the Government of India in September 2020, which collectively intend to facilitate barrier-free trade of agricultural produce outside notified markets under the state-controlled Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws. They also introduce a framework for contract farming and regulate supply mechanisms for certain crops such as cereals, pulses, potatoes, and onions only under extraordinary circumstances such as famine, price rise and war[1].

Explainer: Why are the farmers protesting? Prior to the introduction of the farm laws, APMCs were controlled under state laws, with states levying taxes and fees from buyers. While the new Act proposes that anyone can buy produce directly from farmers, based on certain conditions, farmers fear that by doing away with APMC, regulated market prices might subject them to market exploitation. The new laws have not envisioned an alternative market system that can set price signals. The other main concern that farmers have is regarding the laws doing away with the federally fixed Minimum Support Price (MSP), a safety net that guarantees farmers prices and assured markets. While the government has made provisions for MSP for 23 crops, only wheat and rice are bought by the government in large quantities under the Public Distribution System (PDS), mainly due to lack of procurement capacity[2]. This has raised concerns regarding MSP limiting crop diversification. MSPs are also variable across states, causing wide variations in price levels across the country[3]. Alongside, less than 10% of farmers sell their produce at the MSP set by governments[4]. However, despite many challenges within the MSP system, a robust MSP mechanism in the predominantly wheat and rice-growing states of Punjab and Haryana is the principal reason why the protest is the strongest in these states[5].  

In essence, the farmers’ protest signifies the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability that plagues farmers and the agriculture sector and the dire need for agricultural reforms and social and economic protection structures that take into account farmers’ voices. Close to 43% of the country’s total employed population was engaged in agriculture and allied services as of 2019[6]. However, the sector faces multiple challenges such as fragmented and small landholdings, subsistence farming, fragmented markets with several intermediaries, high costs and margins, low-value addition and low-income share of farmers, and limited access of farmers to institutional finance technology, inputs, and storage.[7] These structural issues are exacerbated by challenges associated with the energy-water-agriculture nexus: Heavy dependence on rainfed agriculture, poor access to and inefficient use of irrigation, water contamination and degradation due to indiscriminate fertiliser and pesticide use, water scarcity, and poor soil health.

Socio-economic vulnerabilities in the agriculture sector exacerbated by the climate challenge

Climate change-induced temperature rise, shifts in rainfall patterns and increased intensity of extreme events further exacerbate existing socio-economic vulnerabilities. The Global Climate Risk Index 2020[8] ranked India the fifth most vulnerable to the impacts of climate. Estimations indicate that climate change is responsible for annual economic losses in the agriculture sector up to 9%[9]. According to India’s Economic Survey 2017-18, climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes by 15-18% and up to 20- 25% for rainfed agriculture[10]. The survey also indicates that repeated monsoon failures and prolonged drought have been a significant cause for stagnation in the country’s agriculture GDP. Climate projections suggest that rice and wheat yield in India may decline by 6-10% by 2030, while crops like potatoes, soybean, chickpea and mustard may be neutrally or positively impacted in the short term[11]. While there are uncertainties around how climate change affects different regions and crops, it is well established that crop seasons are shifting, and yields of some crops are adversely impacted. These shifts point to an urgent need to incorporate climate considerations into all facets of the agricultural sector. An effective response will require access to climate information, climate-smart practices, new crops better suited for different micro-climates, and interventions for addressing existing socio-economic vulnerabilities. Importantly, climate change needs to be fully integrated into large scale agricultural reforms instead of being seen as a standalone issue.

The Green Revolution in India is the most dramatic example of large-scale agricultural reforms that failed to adequately consider the long-term social, environmental, and climate impacts. The revolution was characterised by short-termism. Initially, the policies increased agricultural production and played a vital role in making the country self-sufficient in food grains. However, in recent years farmers have been dealing with contaminated soil, air and water, and chronic health problems amongst communities; fallout from the heavy use of fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation over many years. These challenges have rendered farming systems in the region highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as erratic rainfall, droughts, and higher intensity floods, indicating the urgent need to diversify seed varieties and resources used based on regional vulnerabilities[12].

The Indian government has made a concerted effort to tackle the impacts of climate change on agriculture, for example, by researching abiotic stress-tolerant seed varieties, demonstrating climate tolerant technological activities, and encouraging shifts to dryland agricultural practices under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. However, domestic agriculture policy considerations continue to fall short of considering long term impacts of climate change while designing reforms and development activities. The new farm laws are a case in point. They do not consider how climate change impacts production causing price volatility and demand-supply gaps, with knock-on effects across agricultural value chains.

The new laws also fail to recognise the economic importance of APMC markets in enabling price discovery and regulating price fluctuations and the need to address existing limitations of the MSP system to incorporate broader climate challenges, diversify the government’s procurement system and scale it up for better access for farmers. In this context, the question remains whether limiting APMC’s influence or not addressing existing challenges within the MSP system is the best way forward.  The farmers do not seem to think so.

The underlying dynamics of the famers’ protest Enhancing growth in the agriculture sector and enabling rural development continues to be a key policy concern for India. The government maintains that the new farm laws are designed to improve farmers’ access to markets and their bargaining power and that the MSP system will continue functioning, and so will the APMC mandi systems, albeit with a more limited scope. However, one of the most extensive critiques of the new Farm Laws is that they were formulated in silos without considering pre-existing diverse contexts, policies, regulations, and interventions in various agricultural states[13]. For example, the new farm laws fail to recognise that multiple states have introduced different localised agricultural market ecosystems and that farmers’ groups play an active role in asserting their market demands and navigating market spaces. Concerns over the government doing away with MSP and existing regulated market systems collapsing are underpinned by a sense that the new farm laws do not consider farmers’ voices, existing localised market dynamics and interactions and context-specific vulnerabilities.

Valuable lessons for climate practitioners from the farmers’ protests

The protests against the farm laws show that when designing policies, regulations and interventions for addressing various bottlenecks within the sector, it is imperative to foster a deeper understanding of on-ground complexities. Socio-economic and climate vulnerabilities, power relations, market dynamics and perceptions of farmers and local players in the sector are crucial considerations for effective policy design and implementation. The farm laws’ inability to take such complexities into account exemplifies how top-down policies and regulatory mechanisms run the risk of not addressing root causes of vulnerabilities and bottlenecks and fail to get buy-in from the community they intend to benefit.

Equally, climate resilience planning and action need to delve into existing nuances and locally-driven processes and partner with on-field experts and players to identify effective entry points and design flexible solutions. Regulations or technological interventions aimed at enabling adaptation, without considering how they will be perceived and how they might impact existing complex ecosystems, runs the risk of exacerbating the very vulnerabilities they wish to address. The farmers’ protest against the new farm laws provides valuable insights into the need to develop participatory and context-specific interventions while also integrating climate change in macro policy considerations. Resilience to climate change can only be effectively enhanced if considered in tandem with the existing array of social, economic and ecological challenges across scales.







[7] Financing agriculture value chains in India: challenges and opportunities. Indian study in business and economics.







Cover photo by Randeep Maddoke, Wikimedia Commons.
India protests: farmers could switch to more climate-resilient crops – but they have been given no incentive

India protests: farmers could switch to more climate-resilient crops – but they have been given no incentive

By Shruti Bhogal and Shreya Sinha

India is witnessing a historic mass mobilisation of farmers against three new farm laws. The country’s government maintains that these laws are the cure for a longstanding agrarian crisis. While this claim has been analysed from several angles, the environmental angle has often been overlooked. This is no small oversight since the agrarian crisis in India is underpinned by strong environmental vulnerabilities, including those associated with climate change.

The three laws at the centre of the current storm are focused primarily on prices of agricultural produce, marketing channels, and the role of middlemen. Unfortunately, environmental aspects – cropping patterns, irrigation and other agricultural practices – that are fundamental to the sustainability of agricultural systems are not being addressed. Agriculture is highly susceptible to fluctuations in temperature, excessive and untimely rains, floods, droughts, pests, diseases and so on. In recent years, such extreme weather events have been aggravated by climate change.

All this is exacerbating water security. Much of India’s agriculture continues to be fed by rainfall rather than canals, wells and tube wells, which means a short growing season of only 2.5 to 6 months. Even the well-irrigated regions in the north west and south east where the 1960s green revolution massively increased yields, are now experiencing groundwater depletion. For example, Punjab’s vast fields of wheat and rice are rapidly developing desert-like conditions.

Map of India showing large and small scale irrigation.
Large scale irrigation (blue) is concentrated in the north west of India and along its east coast. Much of the country relies on rain rather than irrigation. Thenkabail et alCC BY-SA

On top of this, agro-biodiversity is in decline as only a handful of strains of a few crops have come to dominate. And the country’s soil is becoming less and less healthy. India now loses 15 tonnes of soil per hectare each year, eroded away by wind or water.

As a result, crop yields are largely either stagnating or declining. To improve yields, farmers have been intensifying the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and fuel, adding yet another dimension to the environmental challenge before us and making cultivation more expensive. Meanwhile prices of inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and labour have been rising steadily and prices at which farmers can sell the crops are either stagnant or increasingly unstable.

Together, these issues have pushed farmers into debt and distress. Many have abandoned their farms, moved to cities or even been driven to suicide. This is particularly true of small-scale landholders who, alongside the landless labourers, have been the worst affected.

Man holds sign saying 'No farmer food. Shame on Modi'
Protests in Haryana state, December 2020. PradeepGaurs / shutterstock

In the northwest breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana, this stagnation is exemplified by the continuous cultivation of wheat and rice as the winter and summer crop respectively, for many decades now. The practice is widely recognised as environmentally unsustainable, but farmers have persisted because these are the only crops where they receive an assured minimum support price (MSP) through public procurement systems. So even though crop diversification has long been recommended as a response to the environmental challenges, farmers are still sticking with wheat and rice.

There are more climate-resilient and less water-intensive crops that would be better suited to particular regions, but farmers won’t start growing them until they get the kind of state support currently extended to wheat and rice in northwest India. Far from doing this, the new farm laws are in fact likely to undermine the procurement systems and regulated market yards through which such a change could be achieved. In the absence of an assured minimum support price that covers actual farm costs, farmers have no incentive or means to shift to relatively more desirable agricultural crops and practices.

Many farmers are also concerned that the new laws will leave them vulnerable to exploitation by corporate agribusiness and at risk of losing their land. Only time can tell how these concerns play out if the laws are implemented. However, if the spectre of corporate-led industrial farming – envisaged in the new laws – becomes a reality, it could further amplify the environmental crisis in India’s countryside. Empirical evidence shows that widespread monocultures and intensive cultivation practices, which are promoted by industrial farming, have intensified ecological fragilities in various regions of the world.

There is no denying that India must respond to the agricultural crisis by moving towards a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable system. The protesting farmers are demanding that at the very least the status quo be maintained. Even this is not without its environmental and social contradictions, but the new laws, if anything, might make conditions worse.

This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo: Fallow farms in rainfed south India. Toby Smith (@tobysmithphoto) for TIGR2ESS
Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

By Tim Radford

Once again, researchers have shown that it should be possible to feed the human race and leave enough space for the rest of creation, simply by going back to centuries-old mixed farming practices.

That would mean an end to highly intensively-farmed landscapes composed of vast fields that were home to just one crop, and a return to a number of once-traditional husbandry methods. It sounds counter-intuitive, but European researchers are convinced that it could be good value.

They report in the journal Science Advances that they looked at more than 5,000 studies that made more than 40,000 comparisons between what they term diversified and simplified agriculture.

And they found that crop yield in general either kept to the same level or even increased when farmers adopted what they called diversified practices of the kind that sustained subsistence farmers for many centuries.

These include intercropping − different crops side by side − and multiple crops in rotation, strips of flowers to encourage pollinating insects, lower levels of disturbance of the soil and hedges, and forested shelter belts to encourage wildlife alongside farmland.

“Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields”

The payoff? Better ecosystem services such as pollination, the regulation of crop pests by natural enemies, a more efficient turnover of nutrients, higher water quality, and in many cases better storage of carbon in ways that could mitigate climate change.

This, of course, is not how big agribusiness delivers much of the world’s food.

“The trend is that we are simplifying major cropping systems worldwide,” said Giovanni Tamburini, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, who led the study.

“We grow monoculture on enlarged fields in homogenised landscapes. According to our study, diversification can reverse the negative impacts that we observe in simplified forms of cropping on the environment and on production itself.”

It’s an old argument. Is it better for a farmer to invest all in one vast crop of maize or wheat or soy, regularly nourished by commercial fertilisers, routinely sprayed to suppress pests, moulds and mildews, with the land ploughed and harrowed after harvest for the next crop, and always at risk of frost or flood, locust swarms, drought or blight?

All-round winners

Or would it be better in the long run for the farmer to spread the risk by changing and multiplying the crops, and to rely more on undisturbed soils and local habitats for birds and insects that would demolish some of the pests (and of course take some of the crop)?

Researchers have repeatedly argued that both to contain climate change and to preserve the natural world from which all human nourishment and almost all human wealth ultimately derive, farming practices must change, and so must human appetite. The argument remains: what is the best way to set about change down on the farm itself?

There have already been a large number of studies of this question. There have also been meta-analyses, or studies of collected studies. Dr Tamburini and his colleagues identified 41,946 comparisons embedded in 5,160 original studies. They also found 98 meta-analyses. And they took a fresh look at the whole lot to identify what could be win-win, trade-off and lose-lose outcomes.

They found that diversification is better for biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility and water regulation at least 63% of the time. “Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields,” they report.

“Widespread adoption of diversification practices shows promise to contribute to biodiversity conservation and food security from local to global scales.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Eirian Evans, via Wikimedia Commons
Risk Management in Brazilian Agriculture: Instruments, Public Policy, and Perspectives

Risk Management in Brazilian Agriculture: Instruments, Public Policy, and Perspectives

By Priscila Z. Souza and Juliano J. Assunção

Rural producers face a wide range of adverse events that expose them to potentially heavy losses. In agriculture, both natural risks – such as droughts, floods, pests, diseases, and fires – and market risks – such as price variation – are frequent. While the modernization of the agricultural sector leads to commodity specialization and the adoption of technologies with higher expected returns, it may also result in a larger production variance, creating more uncertainty and increasing producers’ exposure to risk (See Dercon and Christiaensen, 2011). Modernization has accelerated in Brazil in recent years, raising the importance of risk management instruments. 

Brazil has a large potential for improving risk mitigation opportunities for its producers, which will be even more essential in the face of climate change. Improving risk management practices and public policies could accelerate the process of modernization and sustainability in Brazilian agricultural production. Government incentives require a design crafted to meet producers’ needs. In this report, Climate Policy Initiative/Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (CPI/PUC-Rio) researchers analyze the current risk management instruments and public policies and discuss pathways for improving their impact on Brazilian agriculture.

This report discusses the strengths and shortcomings of the main public policies regarding agricultural risk management, highlights the potential for rural insurance growth, and outlines steps for the future. It brings together data from SUSEP, the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento – MAPA), the Central Bank of Brazil, and other relevant sources. The empirical analysis aims to provide a better understanding of the current state and recent trends of agricultural risk management in Brazil and to identify how to better tailor public policies.

In Brazil, the modernization of agriculture in the past decades has led to the conversion of pasture to cropland, reducing deforestation pressure associated with the expansion of agricultural land. The continuation of this process requires additional investments in intensification and productivity, particularly in pastureland, so that increases in livestock production do not require area expansion. Simultaneously, the conversion of pastures to cropland significantly alters a business’ risk profile, since crops are more susceptible to climate variations. Livestock farming is generally more resilient in the face of the unforeseen events that often impact rural activities. Specialization of cultures, adoption of new technologies, and sustainable production methods lead to higher expected returns but may cause greater uncertainty in results. Thus, to encourage producers to adopt such practices, their exposure to risk needs to be addressed. That is why the modernization of the agricultural sector enhances the importance of better opportunities for producers to manage their risks.

Market failures in rural insurance have broad consequences leading to underinvestment, less efficient agricultural production, and adverse land use impacts. Producers with inadequate risk management tools often make poor production decisions, such as avoiding crop specialization or the adoption of new technologies that can subsequently increase their exposure to risk. That is, producers will often avoid engaging in activities that have higher expected profits but more uncertainty in returns as a way to self-insure against both natural and price risks. This behavior has negative effects on agricultural productivity and land use, with important consequences for forests and the environment. 

In Brazil, rural insurance and other tools for agriculture risk management is scarce and difficult to access in many regions (see Box 1 for an overview of Brazil’s risk management instruments). In 2018, almost 60% of the country’s municipalities had no rural insurance contracts (for crop, livestock, or forest), according to the Superintendence for Private Insurance (Superintendência de Seguros Privados – SUSEP). Moreover, few crops in Brazil are insured, and soy is most frequently covered (32% of crop insurance contracts in SUSEP). Nevertheless, the Brazilian rural insurance market recently experienced significant growth. The rural insurance premium increased from R$88.2 million in 2006 to R$2 billion in 2018, corresponding (adjusted for inflation) to a twelve-fold increase (SUSEP). Life insurance for rural producers makes up 20% percent of all rural insurance premiums, though this type of insurance does not have a direct impact on production choices.

Only a few companies dominate Brazil’ rural insurance market. In the 2019/20 agricultural year, one company represented 52.3% percent of the market and only 14 insurers total were present during that year, according to data from SUSEP. Public policy should provide incentives to reduce market concentration, increase competition among firms, and, consequently, increase the variety of risk management instruments available to rural producers.

The remainder of this report proceeds as follows. Following this Executive Summary, Box 1 gives a brief description of Brazil’s risk management instruments. The main recommendations for improving Brazil,s agricultural risk management policies are highlighted next. Section 1 starts the analysis of risk management instruments in Brazil, exploring the data from SUSEP. Section 2 discusses the four main public policies for Brazilian producers: PSR, PROAGRO, Garantia-Safra, and PGPM. Section 3 describes the Agricultural Climate Risk Zoning (Zoneamento Agrícola de Risco Climático – ZARC). Section 4 presents the Brazilian reinsurance market and the Rural Insurance Stability Fund (FESR). Section 5 reviews the economic literature on how risk management instruments impact agricultural activity and land use in Brazil and other developing countries. Section 6 makes an international comparison of insurance coverage and policies. Finally, Section 7 discusses the pathways ahead and suggestions to improve Brazil’s risk management instruments and public policies.

This article was posted on Climate Policy Initiative.
Cover photo from Pikist.
Video: The global coffee crisis is coming

Video: The global coffee crisis is coming

Coffee is one of the most popular commodities on Earth. It’s grown by nearly 125 million farmers, from Latin America to Africa to Asia. But as man-made climate change warms the atmosphere, the notoriously particular coffee plant is struggling. Places like Colombia, which once had the perfect climate to grow Arabica coffee, are changing. Now, experts estimate the amount of land that can sustain coffee will fall 50 percent by 2050. It’s not just a crisis for consumers but for the millions who have made a livelihood out of growing coffee.

Cover photo by Hans Ripa on Unsplash.