A 2022 International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report stated that almost 90 million Indians may be pushed towards hunger by 2030 due to climate change induced decline in agricultural production and disruption in food supply chain.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that with a temperature increase between 1-4 degrees Celsius in India, rice production could decrease by 10-30 per cent and maize by 25-70 per cent.
Agriculture provides livelihoods to half of India’s population hence these figures are a matter of utmost concern.
However, it is not all that dark and despair as it is being made out to be for Indian agriculture.
A very recent World Economic Forum report, released during its annual meeting 2023 has listed India as among the countries that have been able to evolve their food systems which will enable it to better counter climate change impacts and build resilient livelihoods.
The government has been able to roll out many initiatives to make Indian agriculture more productive, sustainable, remunerative and climate resilient.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 2022 Independence Day speech mentioned that organic and natural farming are important to make India atma nirbhar (self-reliant) and that research and innovation are key to finding solutions in every field, including farming.
The private sector in India has also been able to make some impactful contributions in this field.
I have been following the various interventions in the field of agriculture using technology by the corporate sector and the earliest ones were from ITC way back in early 2000.
Such efforts have also led to sustainable growth making Indian villages climate smart.
The success of any sustainable agriculture programme is dependent on its ability to bring lifelong economic security and stability to farmers, especially in the context of climate change.
Efforts like climate smart agriculture initiatives from the corporate sector with multi-dimensional interventions aim to help Indian farmers withstand increasing weather-related uncertainties whilst boosting their incomes.
The key components of such approach have been the identification of climate risks and building climate resilience across the value chain to de-risk farming and make it profitable.
The initiatives have already covered 15 lakh acres of land across India benefitting over 4.5 lakh farmers by increasing their returns up to 99 per cent.
For example, ITC also runs the climate smart village (CSV) programme which has so far covered 2,500 villages across 11 states.
The CSV programme aims to safeguard farmers from environmental challenges by providing relevant information and guidance on reducing water use, improving yield, developing climate-resilient crop varieties, adopting appropriate mechanisation, reducing stubble-burning and providing access to institutional services.
The well-structured mission to make Indian villages climate smart by promoting practices comprises of — weather smart; water smart; seed/breed smart; carbon/nutrient smart and institutional/market smart.
The climate smart agriculture initiative has been inspired by the Sustainability 2.0 vision articulated by ITC chairman Sanjiv Puri.
Like all programmes under Sustainability 2.0, this initiative is also result oriented and has demonstrated encouraging results with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of soya and wheat reducing by up to 66 per cent and enhancement in yield by up to 38 per cent.
As per a study of 43 villages across three states (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra) 70 per cent of the villages have moved into the high resilience, high yield category, thus becoming Climate Smart.
The interventions were innovative yet simple. Techniques like permanent broad-based furrow and shifting to a long duration soybean variety have significantly minimised losses, decreased the cost of cultivation and enhanced the farmer’s ability to manage the extreme weather impact better.
The programme has been encouraging farmers to actively adopt a community-based approach to sustainable agricultural practices that include crop rotation and water resource management.
Better technology and tools like tractor-towed, laser-controlled devices are being used to get a flat surface that ensures uniform distribution of water and improves crop productivity, while sensors and leaf colour charts are being used to determine optimum fertiliser dosage.
The success of such corporate initiatives can also be attributed to the focus on collaborations with partners to execute the programme. Apart from working closely with the Indian government corporate India has been partnering with the Climate Change and Food Security (CCAFS) programme of CGIAR.
CGIAR is a leading global partnership that unites international organisations engaged in research about food security.
Scaling up is critical for any programme to have a widespread impact.
Corporates like ITC have also been able to scale the interventions in climate smart agriculture, with a special focus on demand-side water management and biodiversity conservation, amongst others.
The aim is to extend its CSV programme to over 3 million acres, biodiversity conservation to over 1 million acres and improve crop water use efficiency in agri-value chains to enable annual savings of 2,000 million kilolitres of water by 2030.
Building on its globally acknowledged ITC e-choupal initiative, the company has been leveraging ITCMAARS (Meta Market for Advanced Agricultural Rural Services), a super agri-tech app that brings the benefits of the digital revolution to farmers.
Apart from artificial intelligence and machine learning-driven customised and hyperlocal crop advisories, the farmers will also get access to good quality inputs and market linkages as well as allied services such as pre-approved loans.
The aim is to support nearly 4,000 FPOs (farmer producer organisations) to benefit 10 million farmers.
Other Indian companies like Mahindra have been also supporting the climate smart agricultural initiative by working with farmers to enable them to transition from chemical- intensive farming to chemical-free bio-dynamic farming that helps nurture the soil.
With such initiatives of companies like ITC and Mahindra, farmers are not only driven by profits but also making serious efforts to take care of the environment.
ITC’s climate smart initiatives have managed to successfully integrate indigenous and regional knowledge about crops and have used a community-based approach to help farmers. Its collaboration with the government will contribute to an Atma Nirbhar Bharat in this very crucial sector of the economy.
The climate smart agriculture initiative is a standard that has been set for other companies to follow suit, drive sustainable growth and contribute to a robust Indian agricultural sector that can meet the challenges of climate change.