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Climate change confuses Kashmir’s farmers

Faced with increasing frequency of droughts, and with irrigation facilities available to less than half the farms, rice farmers in Kashmir are wondering how to deal with water shortage.

144_kashmir farmerFaced with increasing frequency of droughts, and with irrigation facilities available to less than half the farms, rice farmers in Kashmir are wondering how to deal with water shortage.

“Effective measures are needed to combat frequent droughts. Though the agriculture department has constructed ponds in some areas for water harvesting, much more has to be done to ensure that farmers in all areas avail the facility of harvested water for irrigation,” says Khaliq Lone, a farmer in north Kashmir’s Nutnusa village.

According to him farmers are now “sick” of the erratic weather conditions. “Over the last few years we have been witnessing quite strange weather conditions. Droughts have become frequent while rains occur erratically.” Lone’s plight is shared by his fellow farmers all across Kashmir.

These farmers have reasons to worry. Scientists in this Himalayan region in north India have found that increase in temperature and a considerable reduction in rainfall and snowfall will result in a sharp decrease in rice yields across Kashmir, where rice is grown in more than 75% of the total agricultural land.

A recent academic study assessing the climate change impacts on food production in Kashmir Valley using a regional climate model has painted a grim scenario about the prospectus of rice production in Kashmir, saying it will decrease by 6.6% per year by 2040 and 29.1% by 2090. The paper was presented by Shakil A. Romshoo and M. Muslim at the Indian Science Congress in January this year in New Delhi.

“To assess the impacts of climate change on crop productivity, a regional study was carried out to evaluate the potential consequences of climate change and variability on the paddy crop yield in Kashmir valley,” Romshoo said.

The researchers told thethirdpole.net, that his study indicated overall maximum and minimum temperatures are projected to increase by 5.39 degrees Celsius and 5.08 degrees Celsius from 2011 to 2090.  The projected annual precipitation is likely to decrease by 16.67 % by 2090.

According to the Kashmir government’s economic survey for 2011-12, only 42% of agricultural land in Kashmir is covered by irrigation facilities with the rest dependent on rains. Official statistics indicate that 46,943 hectares of land is under rice cultivation in Kashmir.

It is not the first time that scientists have painted a gloomy picture about the impacts of climate change across this beautiful valley often compared to Switzerland. Last year, scientists led by Andreas Kaab of the Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, found that glacial melt is worse in the Kashmir Himalayas than in other parts of the world’s highest mountain range.

Kaab’s findings, published in the August 23, 2012 edition of Nature, suggest that Kashmir’s glaciers may be receding by as much as half a metre annually, presenting a serious threat to the rivers that form an important part of the transboundary Indus river basin.

Another scientific study on the Kashmir Himalayas had also shown that the snow cover over the region was on the decline. The study, led by glaciologist H.S. Negi, was published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Earth System Sciences, a bi-monthly published in India.

Negi, who is in the Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment of India’s defence ministry, based his findings on 20 years of satellite-based climate data from 1988 to 2008. He found that total snowfall in the Kashmir valley was 1,082 cm in 2004-05, declined to 968 cm during 2005-2006 and reduced further to 961 cm by 2006-2007.

Kashmir’s agriculture department officials claim that they are aware of the impacts and are on the job.  “We have started constructing water harvesting tanks, digging borewells and shallow tubewells to help farmers stave off crisis during drought conditions,” Nazir Ahmad, an official at Kashmir’s agriculture department, told thethirdpole.net.

According to him, the department has a target of digging 2,000 borewells and setting up 200 water harvesting tanks by 2015. “Apart from this, we are also planning to put in place an early weather warning system so that farmers are advised in advance how to tackle the eventualities due to weather extremes.”

Meanwhile, the farmers wonder why the vale famous for its meandering streams is getting drier and dustier every year.


Image by Sanjay P.K.