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Towards a Climate-Smart Tomorrow: Solutions for Transforming Asia’s Agriculture Sector

February 22, 2023

By Puja Negi and Kanika Jha

In November last year, global leaders, donors, civil society organizations, and the private sector convened for the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP 27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt. As people gathered in the warm costal town, the writing on the wall was clear: without concerted efforts to change course, global temperatures will continue to rise, bringing with them more extreme weather events and disrupting all aspects of our lives—from ecosystems and biodiversity to food security and livelihoods.

Developing countries face daunting challenges

For years, climate negotiations have been unable to address the multifold challenges facing developing countries in particular. The costs of climate adaptation will be immense, and the gap between the estimated costs and the available financing is rapidly widening for developing countries, leading to significant disparities. The countries most at risk from climate change are also the ones that lack the resources to adapt to and mitigate its effects.

The data also shows, however, that transforming food systems could free up close to US$12 trillion that the world now spends on agriculture. Climate-smart agriculture, which combines adaptation and mitigation measures, has emerged as a promising solution to address three critical challenges by (1) enhancing agricultural productivity and incomes, (2) making agriculture resilient, and (3) contributing to climate change mitigation.

In a recently published report by The Asia Foundation’s India-U.S. Triangular Development Partnership program, we make the case for countries to work together to address the cascading impacts of climate change on agriculture by sharing replicable and effective climate-smart agricultural solutions.

The report focuses on how India and the United States can expand their development cooperation footprint in the Indo-Pacific to address the impacts of climate change on agriculture in the region. It provides examples of how India has developed climate-smart agricultural solutions and transformed its policies to assuage the impacts of declining agricultural productivity, making the sector more climate resilient. The report shows that, like several low- and middle-income countries, India has grappled with the adaptation and mitigation challenge, but that it has developed a number of cost-effective and scalable solutions.

Farmers explain how solar panels are used to irrigate farms and operate machinery in a climate-smart village in Madhya Pradesh, India.

How India is advancing climate-smart agricultural solutions

The last few years have witnessed rapid transformations of Indian agriculture, prompted in part by erratic weather patterns and extreme temperatures across the country’s diverse climate zones. These innovations have been supported by a series of reforms and a robust policy framework.

Farmers in India are adopting new farming practices, sharing information, and applying technology to address climate change. Several institutions with expertise in climate-smart agriculture, in both the private and public sectors, are working with farmers to develop and implement climate-responsive solutions. For example, a range of private-sector organizations, including agricultural cooperatives, civil society organizations, and farmer-producer organizations, are working closely with smallholder farmers to test, replicate, and scale climate-resilient agriculture. These organizations have devised context-specific and locally led strategies for natural resource and watershed management and are working to enhance agricultural and forestry practices in local communities.

Smart-agriculture solutions such as land shaping, which creates more sources of water and improves the land surface for a variety of crops, are helping farmers manage ecologically vulnerable agricultural land in areas prone to cyclones and droughts. New, drought-tolerant crops have been developed to address climate vulnerabilities. Several organizations in India are working to diversify farmer household incomes by integrating agriculture with livestock management to help replenish soil fertility and maximize the quality of livestock and crops. Farmers have adopted easily operable machines such as inexpensive “rotavator” rotary tillers and drum seeders to improve soil health and crop productivity.

A farmer shares her experience running a village hiring center that allows farmers to rent farming equipment without bearing the cost of purchasing the machinery.

Modeling data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and analytics are gradually transforming India’s agricultural landscape. Enhanced weather and climate advisory services are helping farmers make informed decisions about planting, cultivation, and harvests. Private and government institutions focused on agri-tech are providing accurate information through digital platforms that are readily available on farmers’ mobile devices.

Climate-smart villages in Indian states like Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, and Bihar have adopted community-led and locally responsive strategies for applying adaptation and mitigation measures across the agricultural value chain, from farm to market. These villages focus on strengthening local institutions, building collective knowledge, and promoting energy-efficient technological and institutional interventions.

Equally noteworthy are gender-responsive approaches to the unique needs of women farmers, who have long borne the brunt of climate change and who are now at the forefront of change. Women farmers are receiving training in improved agricultural practices and new technology and machinery. Various state and national programs are providing financial and technical support to help them address the challenges facing the agricultural value chain and allied sectors.

The case for greater international cooperation

India has emerged as a significant player in addressing climate change. India has led several knowledge exchange and technical assistance programs to help transform the agricultural systems of other countries. In recent years, Indian technical agencies like the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management have been partners in several bilateral and triangular cooperation programs, such as USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, which has trained agricultural extension officials in Africa and Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Mongolia.

To understand the demand and inform the analysis for this report, the researchers consulted with experts from the region. The analysis identified a clear demand for innovations and knowledge exchange in areas where India has demonstrated policy leadership and technical expertise. These include agricultural extension training and management, sustainable agricultural practices, integrated solutions like climate-smart villages, and new, cost-effective technologies.

A farmer tends her organic tomatoes in the Betul district of Madhya Pradesh, India.

With India’s presidency of the G20 this year, the Agriculture Working Group is focusing on climate-smart strategies to address food insecurity and crop productivity and promoting greater international cooperation. India should invest in working with others in the region to strengthen their institutional capacity and provide context-specific innovations and technology. International cooperation and collective action hold great promise for tackling the climate crisis by transforming agricultural techniques and food systems and making countries and communities more resilient.

Puja Negi is a senior program officer and Kanika Jha is a communications manager with The Asia Foundation’s India-U.S. Triangular Development Partnership. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: India
Related programs: Environment and Climate Action
Related topics: India-U.S. Triangular Development Partnership

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