India’s vital monsoon rains can disrupt crop production due to El Niño, a major concern. This year, India’s monsoon delayed by three weeks, resulting in significantly lower rainfall across the subcontinent in early June and a severe heatwave, with temperatures in some Uttar Pradesh areas reaching 47 degrees Celsius.
An El Niño typically causes a delayed and weak monsoon when it develops in the northern hemisphere’s spring, as it has this year after three consecutive years of La Niña. Predictive models indicate that El Niño will likely continue strengthening in the coming months.
El Niño events profoundly affect extreme weather events worldwide, with far-reaching consequences for food production, water availability, and the well-being of both people and ecosystems.
The implications for India are significant, and the impact on agricultural production is one of the most pressing concerns.
Historically, at least half of El Niño instances have a direct link to droughts during the summer monsoon season, amplifying temperature rise, heat extremes, and inducing more erratic rainfall patterns over the subcontinent.
Extreme El Niño event
In 2015, Chennai in southern India experienced an extraordinary rainfall event, witnessing its heaviest one-day rainfall in over a century.
Experts attribute this event in part to the extreme El Niño event between 2014 and 2016. The torrential downpour affected over three million people and cost the Indian economy an estimated USD$3 billion.
These events serve as a stark reminder of the far-reaching effects that escalating extreme weather events can have on communities and economies.
The collective impacts of these changes on agricultural production can compromise food and water security.
It is essential, therefore, to dissect how future changes in climate and El Niño events will combine to affect India’s monsoon in the coming years.
With the oceans absorbing around 93 percent of the additional heat from global warming, El Niños are becoming stronger.
Most climate models project that fluctuations in rainfall related to El Niños will increase significantly in the next few decades.
This increase is due to the rise in atmospheric moisture content induced by global warming.
According to climate models, the connection between El Niño and the Indian summer monsoon will intensify in the future, especially if we continue with high carbon emissions.
In simple terms, this means that El Niño will have an even more pronounced impact on the Indian monsoon.
In addition to projected increases in erratic rainfall, prolonged droughts, and heatwaves due to climate change, the forecast of amplifying El Niño impacts on the Indian monsoon has led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth report to assess India as the most vulnerable nation in Asia concerning impacts on crop production.
This underscores the urgency of wide-ranging adaptation and risk mitigation actions in India.
India (June-Sept) Rainfall
|Actual Rainfall in mm||Rainfall in % departure|
How Indian farmers can adapt to change
Indian farmers can adapt to change by embracing resilient crop varieties and livestock. They should reduce reliance on specific crops by altering cropping patterns and promoting diverse crop systems.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research actively develops climate-resilient crop varieties that can withstand diseases.
Efficient irrigation and water management practices are crucial despite some improvements in irrigation infrastructure. Around 50 percent of agriculture still depends on rainfall.
Implementing water and soil moisture conservation methods, along with agroforestry and forestry initiatives, can help retain soil moisture, prevent erosion, and maintain a healthy ecological balance.
Adaptation strategies must encompass the livestock and fishery sectors, which are susceptible to climate impacts. Diversifying livestock breeds and improving animal health management can enhance their resilience.
Ensuring sustainable fishing practices, protecting and restoring fish habitats, and monitoring fish populations are crucial for enhancing resilience.
Indigenous knowledge helps climate adaptation
Adapting to the challenges posed by a changing climate requires the vital knowledge of indigenous communities. In India, indigenous farmers have preserved many climate-resilient seed varieties that can withstand droughts, floods, and high salinity.
Investing in training and capacity-building programs for farmers is crucial in addition to embracing traditional knowledge. These initiatives give farmers the knowledge and skills to adapt to a changing climate and practice resilient agriculture.
Financial incentives, such as agriculture insurance, play a significant role in providing a safety net for farmers and can help protect them from potential losses caused by extreme weather events.
During May and June, heatwave forecasts and close monitoring of the monsoon can help inform early warning systems. These systems can alert farmers about impending extreme conditions and provide guidance on potential remedial measures.
The ongoing Agrometeorological Advisory Services led by the Indian Meteorological Department have already disseminated weather forecasts to farmers through TV, radio, and SMS.
Scaling up these initiatives to reach more farmers and ensuring everyone can access necessary weather information will be essential.
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