The Cost of Inaction: How Climate Change Impacts Farmer Livelihoods

Published on 01 Aug, 2023

Climate change has caused severe environmental degradation and altered global weather patterns. This has resulted in significant impact on food production, affecting farmers worldwide. In India, agriculture is a critical economic sector, with small and marginal farmers forming a major part of it. Climate change affects various aspects of agricultural production, including rainfall, pest proliferation, soil quality, cropping patterns, and harvest unpredictability, leading to decreased yields and increased costs. The government's initiatives to support farmers in coping with climate change have faced challenges, necessitating sustainable farming practices and increased support to ensure food production.

Climate change has caused an existential crisis for our planet, with massive environmental degradation leading to an extreme shift in weather patterns across the globe. The rising sea levels due to ice caps melting are resulting in natural disasters and large-scale destruction. The negative impact of climate change is present in almost all spheres of our lives, including food production. It has severely affected crop yields across the globe. It has also disturbed the types of crops that can be grown in certain regions by altering their soil, water, and pest populations. Therefore, the lives and livelihoods of farmers are irreversibly affected, and they have to take measures and transform their methods and processes.

Agriculture is one of India's largest and most significant economic sectors. In 2022–23, the contribution of agriculture to India's GDP was approximately 18%. In addition, this sector employs 42% of the Indian population. Small and marginal farmers comprise the bulk of the Indian agricultural economy, contributing 51% of the total farm production, 46% of the operational land holdings, and 70% of the high-value crops.

Climate change impacts multiple factors related to agricultural production. Some of them are as follows:

  • Rainfall: Most Indian farmers, especially small and marginal, depend on natural rainfall for irrigation. Lack of the correct amount of rain can lead to crop failure for them. In addition, unpredictable precipitation patterns reduce the time crops must mature, resulting in a decrease in yield over time. Farmers are forced to invest in costly irrigational facilities, hampering their overall profit.
  • Pesticides: Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns have created the ideal conditions for the proliferation of pests and disease-carrying insects, which threaten crop yield and quality. As a result, farmers are forced to rely more heavily on chemical treatments to protect their crops. Insecticide and pesticide not only increase their costs but also have potential environmental and health impact.
  • Soil quality: The changing climate has affected the quality of soil, which is a vital factor in farming. With the increase in temperature, soil moisture reduces, and this, coupled with the lack of rainfall, leads to soil degradation. The soil loses fertility, making it difficult for farmers to grow crops. To compensate, farmers increase their fertilizer and water use, degrading soil quality and depleting groundwater reserves while spending significantly more to produce the same amount — or less — on the same acreage. Furthermore, increased frequency and extremity of weather events such as floods, cyclones, and landslides damage the soil, making it unsuitable for agriculture.
  • Cropping patterns: The shift in weather patterns has altered the cropping patterns of farmers. The traditional cropping pattern is no longer feasible, and farmers are forced to switch to crops more suitable for the current weather conditions. However, these crops are not always marketable, and farmers cannot sell them at a reasonable price. This affects their income and livelihood, as they cannot profit from their produce.
  • Harvest: The harvest season has become unpredictable, making it difficult for farmers to plan their activities. Hence, they are often unable to get their crops to the market in time. Additionally, the distance from the market or lack of proper storage or transport further delays getting the produce to the market. As a solution, farmers have to depend on intermediaries and sell at a much lower cost.
  • Migration: Diminishing crop yield and increasing cost of agriculture have compelled many farmers to migrate to big cities in search of another vocation. This has led to an increased urban population, which is often not equipped with the necessary resources or infrastructure to sustain the influx of people. These farmers are forced to live in derelict conditions and are unable to find well-paying jobs. Overcrowding and poverty have resulted in rising crime rates in many cities.

Crop Yield in 2022

In the first nine months of 2022, 88% of the days were marked by heatwaves and unexpected rainfall, affecting 1.8 million hectares of India's cropland. Since 50% of India's net cultivated area is rainfed and accounts for more than 40% of the total food production, this crisis also affects consumers and the Indian economy.

Government Initiatives

The government has taken various steps to help farmers fight climate change. One of the most prominent initiatives is the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change (NAFCC) 2015, which provides financial assistance to farmers for developing strategies to cope with climate change. It has a budget allocation of USD43 million. This fund will enable them to take proactive measures such as crop diversification and water conservation to better adapt to changing climatic conditions.

However, research shows that since 2017, the grants released from the NAFCC have dropped significantly. The government spent around USD14 million between 2017 and 2018. More recently, between 2021 and 2022, only USD3.40 million was spent from this fund. Government inaction has only exacerbated the problem and left many farmers struggling to cope with changing weather patterns and increasingly unpredictable harvests.


Climate change has significantly impacted farmers' livelihoods in India. The lack of good rainfall and soil degradation have affected their productivity, while the shift in weather patterns has made it difficult for them to get their crops to the market in time. To address these issues, there is a need for sustainable farming practices that are resilient to climate change. Additionally, the government must provide farmers adequate support to adapt to the changing climate and market conditions. Technological interventions can be employed to help increase crop yields despite unfavorable conditions. Such efforts must be prioritized so that farmers can continue to produce food for their communities despite the effects of climate change.