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How India’s agrarian community tackle Climate Change

India has many stories, including the claim that it is the second-most populous country in the world. In the last few decades, it witnessed significant…

India has many stories, including the claim that it is the second-most populous country in the world. In the last few decades, it witnessed significant economic growth to become one of the powerhouses in Asia, competing with China. Its population of about1.339 billion people (2017) is both a source of strength and a challenge.

It is difficult to ignore India in any conversation about dairy. The Operation Flood scheme, which was launched in 1970, was a milestone that spurred the “white” or “milk” revolution, which made the country the largest exporter of milk in the world till date.

But while the country has seen significant growth in some key sectors of the economy in the last few decades, it has continued to struggle with growing poverty, deepening inequality, high unemployment, housing crisis, climate change-related disasters, as well as trade concern over China’s growing influence in global market, among others.

On my recent trip to India, I learnt that in the last five decades or so, it recorded successful agricultural revolutions, with the introduction of high-yielding seed varieties, efficient irrigation system and better technology. They learnt a lesson from the harvest failure and severe hunger that killed millions of people in the 1960s.

But today, it has become a graveyard for many farmers, who continue to take their lives. I wept as I heard their stories of debts, anger and frustration due to bad prices as a result of government’s control mechanism, climate change, occasioned by erratic rainfall and drought, which often leads them to commit suicide. This is seen, even among the younger generation of farmers.

As a journalist with a speciality in agriculture, I could imagine what many farmers and agro-dealers in Nigeria went through as the banks, they borrowed money from were on their throats because they were unable to pay back the loans they took. Whenever one attended their press conferences, one could feel the tensed atmosphere of anger and frustration. Perhaps, the only thing that stopped some of them from making dangerous decisions was because President Muhammadu Buhari did not renege on his promise?

Secondly, until the recent border closure in Nigeria, many farmers were angry over their inability to recover their cost of production of grains.  Prices of maize crashed, rice farmers and processors groaned under acute hardship, wheat farmers wailed profusely and ginger farmers fumed because of their inability to even recover their cost of production to repay their debts.

Till date, farmers in Nigeria owe the Bank of Agriculture over N60 billion. The bank is now using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to go after debtors, and only God knows what would happen to those who cannot pay.

As I listened to the ordeal of Indian farmers with keen interest, I feared for the future of Nigerian farmers, who are already grappling with many issues, like the rising cost of production, high interest rates, poor prices, deplorable infrastructure and lack of funding for research and development to solve emerging problems.

With a staggering figure of unemployment and the rising number of graduates coming out of the universities, polytechnics, monotechnics and other institutions, as well as a population projected to hit 450 million by 2050, coupled with the threat of climate change, it is time we learnt from what is happening to many Indian farmers because agriculture is the only sector that can absorb the huge number of unemployed youths.

During the recent Global South Media Briefing on Desertification in New Delhi, India, speakers raised the alarm over what they called the looming danger of unimaginable proportion if something urgent was not done by countries in Asia, Africa and parts of Latin America, to tackle climate-related disasters due to our mismanagement of land and water resources.

Dr Devinder Sharmaji, an independent agriculture scientist, food and trade policy analyst in Mohali Punjab, painted a depressing picture of the Global South agricultural policies, production and economy.

It’s difficult to listen to Sharmaji, who has a broad understanding of agricultural production, trade and policy issues, and not worry about the future of agriculture and farmers in Africa and Asia, particularly, India.

Although I do not share his sentiments on some of the issues raised, some concerns developing countries like Nigeria and other emerging Agric economies should learn from to protect their farmers’ future.

Like the American farmers who are already caught up in the trade war with China, and are going through moments of frustration and anger, the trade treaties Nigeria signed are already raising fear among farmers.

In the case of India, Dr Sharmaji explained why there are mounting anger and deaths among farmers, which may lead to violent agitation in many states as they seek a farm loan waiver and better prices for their crops.

“More than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 21 years. Every 41 minutes, somewhere in the country, a farmer takes his life. While I agree that farmer suicides are a symptom of a bigger malaise that afflicts agriculture, policymakers failed to take the massive death toll as a sign of the terrible economic depravity that plagued the rural landscape. How long could we expect farmers to take the hit silently? It had to happen one day, and no one knew what would trigger it. The outburst we see now is simply a trailer,” he warned.

India growing but farmers suffering
India growing but farmers suffering

Poverty amid riches

In India, the poorer farmers have a propensity to owe more. According to one media organisation, “They have a higher debt-to-asset ratio and hold more formal and informal loans than richer households do.”

According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), in the last 10 years, about 15,000 farmers have been committing suicide each year.

The 2016 NCRB report suggests that every 60 minutes, a farmer kills himself and about 52 per cent of agricultural households is in debt. It is hoped Nigeria would not get to that level.

I joined a team of journalists to Rajasthan, a state in India, to see how poor Indian agrarian communities decided to take their destiny into their hands to regain their lost glory due to climate change that complicated their situation.

We met Mr Laxman Singh at his house and he shared the story of courage and determination to fight the consequences of man’s mismanagement of environmental resources that triggered climate change.

Faced with severe drought, which forced thousands in many communities occupied by farmers and herders to migrate from the region, Laporiya, he mobilised youths to build embankments that harvest rainwater, which today recharge the green landscape that is a paradise for both man and animals.

As he told his story, I cast my mind back to how emotional Dr Sunita Narain, an Indian environmentalist and director-general, Centre for Science and Environment, was when she talked about the complications arising from climate change.

“Today, there should be no doubt that desertification is a global issue; it requires cooperation between nations. The fact is that we are only just beginning to see the impact of climate change. This will become more deadly as temperatures continue to spiral and this spiral gets out of hand. It is also clear that today the poor in the world are the victims of this human-made disaster, local or global.

“The rich do not die in sandstorms. They do not lose their livelihoods when the next cyclonic system hits. But the fact is that this weird weather portends what awaits us. The change is not linear, it is not predictable. It will come as a shock and we will not be prepared for it. Climate change, in the end, will be an equaliser; it will impact all,” she warned.

I listened keenly to connect the dots as Dr Narain reacted disappointedly to a United Nations (UN) climate conference that was going on outside of New Delhi: “Today, close to 30 years later; now when the world is beginning to see the deadly impacts of climate change; now when it is still losing the war against the extinction of species and is faced with the dire prospects of catastrophic changes, this forgotten, this neglected convention must shed its stepchild image. It is the global agreement that will make or break our present and future.”

As I got ready to leave India, I wondered what future a farmer had in Africa. I thought of all the frightening scenarios Dr Devinder Sharmaji spoke about our agricultural systems, which are structured to benefit bigger industries at the expense of farmers, how what we grow and eat is making pharmaceutical and medical industries of some economies richer, and how we are told to use fertilizer and chemicals to grow the food we eat, at the expense of our health.

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