Climate Change Threatens India's Crop and Spice Production

By Karan Panchal June 05, 2023

World Environment Day 2023: To ensure a resilient future for both farmers and consumers, we must address climate change and work to restructure our food systems 

Climate Change Threatens India's Crop and Spice Production
Turmeric plantation in Tamil Nadu. DepositPhotos

India, recognized as the agricultural cornerstone of its economy, is grappling with escalating concerns over the detrimental impacts of climate change on its crop and spice production. As adverse weather conditions such as heavy rain, hailstorms, and early heatwaves become more frequent, the agricultural sector, which contributes around 18% to the country's GDP, is experiencing significant damage and disruption in North and West India. The implications of climate change-induced extreme weather events concern farmers and result in substantial economic losses for the nation.

The Cost of the Spice Crisis

The inflationary effects of the climate crisis are particularly evident in the spice industry. Cumin, a widely consumed condiment, has become the costliest food ingredient in the Indian kitchen, priced between ₹560-₹600 per kilogram. Changing weather patterns in Rajasthan, India's largest spice grower, have disrupted the demand-supply balance, leading to a significant deficit in cumin production and subsequently driving up demand and prices. The impact of climate change is not limited to cumin alone; a survey of crops reveals that inclement weather has reduced yields by almost a third.

Saffron's Struggle

Another example of climate change's adverse effects can be seen in the decline of saffron yields. Unpredictable rainfall patterns combined with drought have become major drivers behind the diminishing saffron production. As a result, official data reveals that the cultivated land area dedicated to saffron crops in Pampore has experienced a significant decline of over 60% in the last two decades. Specifically, the land area has decreased from 5,707 hectares in 1996 to approximately 3,500 hectares in 2017.

The Urgent Call for Sustainable Solutions

Healthy, sustainable, and inclusive food systems are crucial to achieving global development goals. As per the World Bank, agricultural development has the power to end extreme poverty, promote shared prosperity, and provide sustenance for the projected 9.7 billion people by 2050. However, climate change and other shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, pests, and conflicts, threaten agricultural growth, poverty reduction, and food security.

The Impact on Food Systems

The growing impact of climate change jeopardizes crop yields and leads to higher food prices and increased hunger. In addition, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the global food crisis, pushing millions into extreme poverty. Shockingly, around 205 million people across 45 countries face the risk of food scarcity and malnutrition. Moreover, our current food systems contribute approximately 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ways to Minimize the Impact of Climate Change on Crops and Spices

Climate change significantly threatens crop and spice production in India and worldwide. However, proactive measures can be taken to minimize the impact and build resilience in the agricultural sector. Here are some key strategies to consider:

Promoting Climate-Smart Agriculture: Encouraging the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices is crucial. These practices include precision farming, conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and integrated pest management. They focus on maximizing resource efficiency, improving soil health, conserving water, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Developing Climate-Resilient Crop Varieties: Investing in research and development to create climate-resilient crop varieties is vital. Breeding programs should focus on developing drought-tolerant, heat-resistant, and disease-resistant varieties. These improved crop varieties can withstand the challenges posed by changing climatic conditions and ensure stable yields. 

Enhancing Water Management: Water scarcity is a significant concern in climate change scenarios. Implementing efficient irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation and precision irrigation, can optimize water usage and minimize waste. Promoting water harvesting and storage systems can help farmers cope with erratic rainfall patterns.

Implementing Crop Diversification: Reducing dependence on a single crop by promoting crop diversification can enhance resilience. Encouraging farmers to cultivate various crops suited to different climatic conditions can reduce the vulnerability of agriculture to specific climate risks, such as pests, diseases, or extreme weather events.

Adopting Agroecological Approaches: Embracing agroecological approaches, such as organic farming and permaculture, can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. These methods prioritize biodiversity, soil health, and natural ecosystem functions. They can enhance resilience by fostering ecological balance and reducing reliance on external inputs.

Strengthening Early Warning Systems: Developing and strengthening early warning systems can help farmers anticipate and respond to climate-related risks. Timely information about weather patterns, extreme events, and pest outbreaks can enable farmers to make informed decisions regarding cropping patterns, input management, and risk mitigation strategies.

Encouraging Climate-Smart Farming Techniques: Promoting climate-smart farming techniques, such as mulching, cover cropping, and agroforestry, can improve soil moisture retention, nutrient cycling, and carbon sequestration. As a result, these techniques contribute to climate change mitigation while enhancing soil health and fertility.

Providing Access to Climate Information and Training: Ensuring farmers have access to climate information, training programs, and extension services is essential. Educating farmers about climate-smart practices, weather forecasting, and adaptation strategies equips them to make informed decisions and adopt resilient farming methods.

Strengthening Farmer Support Systems: Enhancing support systems for farmers, including access to credit, insurance schemes, and post-harvest infrastructure, can help mitigate climate risks. Financial and technical assistance can enable farmers to recover from climate-related losses and invest in resilient farming practices.

Collaborating and Sharing Best Practices: Encouraging collaboration among farmers, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders is crucial. Sharing best practices, success stories, and lessons learned can accelerate the adoption of climate-smart strategies and facilitate knowledge exchange.

 The detrimental consequences of climate change on crop and spice production in India demand urgent attention. It is essential to tackle climate change and work towards transforming our food systems to ensure a resilient future for both farmers and consumers. Only through collective efforts can we mitigate the impacts of climate change, secure food security, and preserve India's agricultural heritage for generations to come.

 (The author is MD, and CEO, Tikku Condiments)