The projected impact of climate change on Indian agriculture has become a grave concern for the future food security of the country. Given the strong climate dependence of agriculture in north-eastern hill regions (NEH) of India, even a slight unfavorable shift in its climate could severely affect the agriculture and hence food and livelihood security of the people in this region. In fact, the signs of climate change in NEH are becoming increasingly evident in terms of rising temperature and changing rainfall pattern. The annual maximum and mean temperature during 1901-2003 have increased by 1.02ºC and 0.60ºC/100 years, respectively (Deka et al. 2009). Temperature is projected to rise by another 3-5ºC during the latter half of this century (Cline 2007). Summer monsoon rainfall is found to be decreasing significantly during the last century at a rate of ~11 mm/decade. Frequent occurrence of droughts, floods, and even flash floods in the region further substantiate the climate change in NEH Region. These changes are expected to further intensify in future which are likely to reduce the agricultural productivity in NEH. The already existing problems related to soil fertility and water availability are likely to amplify in a changing climate. Water requirement for NEH agriculture is expected to increase from 20 km3 in 2001 to 28 km3 in 2025. Contrary to this, water availability will decline in a changing climate as evident by the changing rainfall pattern, frequent droughts and recession of river-feeding Himalayan glaciers. Soil acidity, already the biggest problem in NEH, may further intensify under the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration. Soil organic matter, a key determinant of soil health, may also suffer quantitative as well as qualitative decline under the warming atmosphere. This may lead to reduced water and nutrient holding capacity of soil, decreased soil biological activity, increased soil erosion susceptibility, and many other associated changes that can ultimately lead to progressive decline in soil health and crop productivity. Clearly, the climate change-induced aggravation of water scarcity and the progressive deterioration of soil fertility are likely to become the major threats to future prospects of food production in NEH (Manoj-Kumar 2011). Thus, development and implementation of various soil and water conservation and management practices need to be prioritized for climate resilient agriculture in north east India.
Livestock productivity may also be affected due to climate change. Pig and poultry are the traditional livestock of the tribal farmers in NEH. Available literature indicates the better ability of local breeds to cope with the changing climate compared to the hybrids. Therefore, unique traits of the local breeds in providing climate-resilience need to be identified and incorporated into the modern breeds. Vast diversity of local crop cultivars/germplasms can also be exploited for developing crops with better tolerance to climatic changes. The C-sequestration potentials of traditional farming systems/land use models needs to be evaluated vis-à-vis improved farming systems/land uses. Bringing awareness through demonstrations, and training to the farmers and extension personnel should be integral parts of the climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes. The existing technologies with potentials to provide some degree of climatic resilience also need to be made available to farming community.
Since climate change poses multiple biotic and abiotic challenges, a focused and long term research is required to find solutions to the impending problems in the region. At the same time, there is a scope to improve the resilience of agriculture by application of existing knowledge and technology on farmers’ field as a holistic package. Hence, this integrated proposal is made both to develop improved technologies through short term and long term research programmes and to demonstrate the existing technologies on farmers’ field for enhancing the climatic resilience of NEH agriculture.
Critical assessment of different crops in the region for vulnerability to climatic stresses and extreme events, in particular, intra seasonal variability of rainfall
Installation of the state-of-the-art equipments
Rapid and large scale screening of crop germplasm including wild relatives for drought and heat tolerance and early development and release of heat/drought tolerant varieties.
Comprehensive field evaluation of new and emerging approaches of paddy cultivation like aerobic rice and SRI for their contribution to reduce the GHG emissions and water saving.
Special attention to livestock and fishery sectors including aquaculture which have not received enough attention in climate change research in the past. In particular, the documentation of adaptive traits in indigenous breeds is the most useful step.
Thorough understanding of crop-pest/pathogen relationship and emergence of new biotypes due to climate change.
Simultaneous up-scaling of the outputs both through KVKs and the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture for wider adoption by the farmers