The Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture in South Asia

Agriculture is one of the most vulnerable sectors to the effects of climate change. The change in average temperature, rainfall, changes in pests and diseases, variations in the atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and ground-level ozone concentrations, as well as changes in sea level can have a direct and negative impact on food production and farming communities. Despite technological advances made in the 20th century, climate change still has a linear and often adverse impact on agricultural productivity. While this is a global phenomenon, South Asia is one of the most susceptible regions to the effects of climate change. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka together comprise one of the world’s most densely populated regions and are all also highly reliant on agriculture as an economic sector. About 57 percent of South Asia’s landmass is devoted to farming, while nearly 60 percent of its population is engaged in agricultural production in one form or another. Much of this activity is undertaken by vulnerable small landholders, while women also play a significant role. According to Food and Agriculture Organization data, in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan, more than 60 percent of women work in the agricultural sector. An increasing population, natural resource degradation, and the impact of high rates of poverty means that the region is already contending with food insecurity. This will certainly be amplified to reach critical levels with the anticipated effects of climate change. While direct impacts are associated with the rise in temperatures, indirect impacts include insufficient availability of water, due to decline in annual rainfall and inadequate inputs of water, and changing soil moisture status and pest and disease incidence due to lack of enough fertilizers. The current situation has significantly impacted small-holder rainfed farmers who constitute the majority of farmers in this region and hold low financial and technical capacity to adapt to climate variability and change. The agricultural productivity of the region is in decline, and with fluctuation in crop production and a rise in market prices, the ongoing agrarian crisis is predicted to increase food insecurity and poverty in South Asian countries. 


Vaibhav Chaturvedi is a fellow at The Council on Energy, Environment and Water and an economist who leads The Council’s work on Low-Carbon Pathways. His research focuses on energy and climate change mitigation policy issues, especially those impacting India, within integrated assessment modeling framework of the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM)

N.H. Ravindranath is a professor at the Center for Sustainable Technologies at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India. His research is focused on dimensions of Climate Change: Mitigation Assessment, Carbon Sequestration Modeling, Impact of Climate Change and Vulnerability Assessment in Forest and Agro-ecosystems. He has also worked on Bioenergy, Biofuels and Biomass Production, and Citizen Science. 

Moderator: Anatol Lieven, Professor at Georgetown University in Qatar.