Erratic weather, rising temperatures, declining water resources and labour shortages are threatening India’s bread basket state of Haryana, forcing farmers to abandon age-old practices and adopt technology to ensure food supplies for millions, Reuters has reported.
Using machines which sow rice directly, devices to inform when to irrigate and phone messages warning of infestations, thousands of farmers are learning to adapt to climate change, boost soil fertility and reduce their carbon emissions.
"At first, many farmers were unsure. It’s a big risk to change the way you have farmed for decades and try new things. Agriculture in these parts is not just a livelihood, it’s a way of life," said Harpreet Singh, 36, a farmer in the village of Birnaraya, 130 km (80 miles) north of Delhi.
"But over the last four years, through these technologies, we have learnt to save water and fertilisers, cut our costs for hired labour, improved the resilience of our crops and also reduced pollution by not burning crop residues."
SAVING INDIA’S BREAD BASKET
Since India’s so-called "Green Revolution" – a massive government programme rolled out in the 1960s and 1970s which increased the use of fertilisers and irrigation to boost farm output – Haryana’s rice production has soared to almost 4 million tonnes in 2013-14 compared to 334,000 tonnes in 1966-67.
But while the Green Revolution may be credited with ending famine across the country, it has come at a cost and, coupled with more unpredictable weather attributed to global warming, India’s food security is once again at risk.
Almost half a century on, farmers face environmental problems such as depleted groundwater because of intensive pumping for irrigation, soil degradation and soil salinity.
"Resources are depleting. Groundwater levels are falling, there is emerging climate variability, the soil health is worsening, and profitability is going down," said M L Jat, an agronomist with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).
The Indo-Gangetic Plains – which include the rice and wheat states of Haryana and Punjab – are particularly vulnerable to climate change, say experts from the U N Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Indian officials say the water table has fallen between one and 13 metres in different parts of Karnal over the last two decades. In response to these challenges, agricultural groups are introducing Karnal’s farmers to a host of climate smart technologies, including direct seeding which involves sowing seeds by machines rather than transplanting manually, which reduces labour and water.
Other new technology includes Lazer Levellers – tractor-towed, laser-controlled devices – that produce a flat surface for cultivation, requiring 25 to 30 percent less water. Farmers are being introduced to tools such as "Happy Seeders" which can be attached to the back of tractors. These remove crop residues, blending them into the soil, preventing the practice of burning crop residues that has led to increased emissions and depleted soil fertility.
Singh said over the last four years, his income has increased by 15 percent due to savings made on electricity for irrigation, diesel for residue burning, labour and fertilisers. But it is the saving on water which satisfies him the most.
"Day by day, the ground water levels are going down and down. If we continue like this, its only a matter of time before we don’t have water to drink, let alone to farm," he said.