Climate Change: Farmers in Manipur hit hard by unusual weather temperature

During this COVID-19 lockdown, the state government allowed cultivation of crops, but farmers continue to suffer due to the unusual weather temperature and unpredictable rainfalls.

 

Manipur has been witnessing unusual temperature and erratic weather conditions in recent years. The change in the climate has been adversely affecting the agriculture sector in the state which is predominantly a farming state. Its staple food production, including rice, varieties of vegetables and fruits, has been severely affected due to climate change. Amid the disturbing climatic condition, farmers are the worst hit. During this COVID-19 lockdown, the state government allowed cultivation of crops, but farmers continue to suffer due to the unusual weather temperature and unpredictable rainfalls. Every year, the farmers in the valley face the problems of paddy fields being flooded and drought conditions as well.

“The unpredicted rainfall has destroyed my paddy field and my livelihood,” said one Konsam Gyananda of Yaralpat in Imphal East district, a traumatized farmer, while speaking to the Imphal Free press. His paddy field measures 1 hectare and farming is carried out under zero tillage formula, he says.

In Imphal West, several farmers reported of unusual heat condition despite the rainfall during the rainy season.

Manipur's maximum summer temperature was recorded during 2019 and 2020 as per data provided by the Environmental Information System, (ENVIS). A moderate rise in maximum summer temperature by 0.2 degree Celsius to 0.4 degree Celsius was recorded in the last 30 years in Manipur. However, the highest temperature of 38.90 degree Celsius was recorded in 2019 summer in Moreh and 39.41 degree Celsius was recorded at the same station against the same period in 2020, according to the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change.

The change in the climatic condition has also affected fruit farming in the hills. Manipur is famous for the mandarin variety of oranges of Tamenglong district which celebrate The Orange Festival every December. However, orange cultivators in district said the production of orange fruits is declining as many orange trees have died due to an unknown plant disease since two years ago. The orange cultivators used to earn a minimum of Rs 50,000 from an orchard during the peak season in the winter months. But they are now migrating to small businesses after their orange trees started dying out.

Experts are of the view that infestations started appearing because of climate change and as an inadvertent result of global warming.  Besides the orange orchards, they also specified one of Manipur’s favourite delicacies Yongchak (Bitter beans) as an example of a plant slowly dying out from the region after thousands of trees dried out due to infestation and rising temperature.

According to specialists in the field, the overall citrus decline (decline in productivity, reduced productive life and poor fruit quality) in Manipur is caused by lack of proper attention to the fruit bearing trees and shortages of measures against infestation. Indiscriminate killing of wild birds besides untimely rain patterns during monsoon season are also cited as the major factors behind the state’s citrus decline. 

The climate change coupled with damages to the environment by human activities has forced a farmer of Irilbung village Imphal East to convert his paddy field measuring 1.5 hectares into a pea or mustard seeds farm since 2019. The paddy field has become flood-prone after the Imphal River, which passes near his field, began to overflow frequently during monsoon seasons. Heavy siltation of the river basin has been blamed for frequent overflowing of the Imphal River. Deforestation in the hills and the resulting destruction of catchment areas of rivers has also caused repeated flash floods in the valley. Without forests, rainwater cannot be retained or absorbed into the soil, causing the rivers to significantly increase their water levels and eventually overflowing in the valley areas.   

One Tousem Ibochou, a tenant farmer from Imphal East, blames the summer heat and unusual rainfall for making him spend extra money for maintaining his paddy field of 1.5 hectares. He says two-three years ago, he used to get enough tonnes of rice grain after giving away the owner's amount. But climate change has forced him to spend extra money for the protection of the crops. “I have been spending Rs 10,000 for hiring labourers for weeding and transplanting of rice plants,” Ibochou says, speaking to the Imphal Free Press.

As per a report (2018-19) from the department of Agriculture, the state is now vulnerable to a large number of natural as well as manmade disasters due to which flood and drought have become frequent. The vulnerable population of Manipur has been unable to cope effectively against such adverse impacts, mainly due to poor institutional mechanisms and lack of access to adequate resources, experts say.

Almost every rainy season, in the last 12 years (2006-2019), Manipur witnessed continuous heavy rainfall. Flood, mudslides and landslides affect the sown and transplanted paddy, maize, pulses, oilseeds among others.  Flood coupled with drought and vice versa in the same year has been another emerging pattern witnessed in the past few years.

In 2019, the state government declared that Manipur was facing a drought like situation. Going back a decade earlier, due to a rainfall deficit which took place in 2009, the total sown area in respect of kharif maize was merely 0.18 lakh hectares against the actual area of 0.20 lakh hectares in the state.

Project scientist, Climate Cell of Directorate of Environment and Climate Change Rahul Asem said, “Though it may be difficult to grasp the effects of climate change to some, most of the larger population are already experiencing climate change. What needs to be realised by the people is that at present, they are now vulnerable to variable weather patterns.”

As per records available at the Environmental Information System (ENVIS) Centre, Manipur for the year 2019, around 16.25 per cent of the total geographical area of Manipur comes under area for cultivation of crops. The total crop area is biggest in Imphal West (566.4 sq.km) followed by Imphal East (529.9sq.km). Most of the hill districts have less cropping area as compared to valley districts. More of the half (52.19 percent) of the total working population are directly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, as per the records.

Under the paddy cultivation section, it is mentioned that women are equally active in the agricultural sector of the state. To make a good harvest, it is necessary to complete all agricultural works within a limited time period, provided that the weather conditions are also appropriate.

Asem said that though agriculture in Manipur is mostly dependent on seasonal rains, the nature of agriculture in the valley areas differs from the hills due to difference in physical configuration, climatic patterns and fertility of the soil. Settled agriculture is practiced in the plains whereas shifting cultivation is practiced on the hill slopes and foothills with terraced slopes, he added.

The temperature and rainfall projections affected by climate change have been recorded. Analysis reveals that during a 30-year period, an increase in minimum temperature for winter with the range of 0.25°C to 0.75°C was also recorded, Asem said. This increase in the summer temperature can impact crop yields directly, as it will also increase the evapotranspiration and moisture stress, ultimately contributing to increased water demand and irrigation needs for agriculture, he added.

Meanwhile, the maximum temperature recorded in all districts of Manipur during winter period has a small range; from 18.2 degree Celsius to 20 degree Celsius, with most districts having a temperature of about 18 degree Celsius. In winter, the minimum temperature is recorded as 10.8 degree Celsius in Bishnupur district. Thus, significant winter warming trend is recorded in most of the district of Manipur, even over the recent 30 years period, Asem said. Winter months seem to have experienced higher levels of warming than summer temperatures, he added.

The pattern of rainfall is being shifted though the amount of rainfall received in Manipur is highThe annual rainfall has increased by over five per cent in the districts of Chandel, Ukhrul and Senapati, Asem pointed out. The mean annual rainfall received in Manipur ranged from 932mm in Kamjong district to 1653 mm in Churachandpur. Similarly, the rainfall ranges from 724mm in Ukhrul to 1379 mm in Churachandpur during Kharif season, he said.

  “A marginal declining trend is observed in the districts of Bishnupur, Churachandpur, Thoubal and East Imphal. Remaining Imphal West and Tamenglong districts have recorded no change (Historical Climate Trends and Climate Change Projections at the District Level for Manipur),” Asem said. As a result, the change in climate is impacting the agricultural sector in the state, he added.

In Manipur, the main climate change threat would be an increase in rainfall, accompanied by increase in high rainfall intensity with events of >100 mm/day and 51-100 mm/day, and the resulting damage to crops, settlements, and infrastructure, he added

Therefore, the need of the hour is to develop a profile detailing the sections which are vulnerable under the current climate scenario using an index method. Studies also revealed that hill districts are found to be more vulnerable when compared to valley districts. The vulnerable population and vulnerable sectors such as agriculture require attention on priority basis. To map and make assessments by using a survey for determining the climate change threat at various levels, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analytic techniques can be used.

Above all, public cooperation, political willingness and actions which can make effective changes are required to combat climate change effectively.

First Published:Aug. 27, 2020, 10:38 p.m.