Climate change has the potential to hurt everyone, but one particularly vulnerable group is farmers. Agriculture, especially in India, depends on favourable weather conditions; so climate change-induced temperature rises can significantly hurt farm productivity. Consequently, a farmer’s ability to adapt to temperature changes becomes crucial.

In a new paper presented at the North East Universities Development Consortium, Vis Taraz of Smith College quantifies the effect of climate change on Indian agriculture and analyses the ability of Indian farmers to adapt to temperature changes.

Combining data on agricultural yields from 286 Indian districts from 1979 to 2011 with daily district-level weather data, Taraz shows that higher temperatures hurt farm yields significantly. She reveals that having one additional day where temperature averages 27-30 degrees reduces yields by around 1% compared to days with temperatures of 12-15 degrees.

She also finds that yield losses are about 50% lower in hotter districts than colder districts, suggesting that farmers in hotter districts are better at adapting to temperature changes.

Farmers can adapt to temperature changes in two ways. They can practise intra-crop adaptation, where they adjust their agriculture practices to make their crops more heat-resistant. One example of this would be investments in irrigation which protect against both excessive heat and droughts.

Or farmers could practise inter-crop adaptation where they simply plant more heat-resistant crops, such as sorghum or maize, or switch to crops that grow in the cooler parts of the year (such as wheat). Taraz finds evidence of both types of adaptation in India. However, this adaptation occurs only up to a certain extent.

When temperatures rise above 30 degrees, they inflict significant damage to crops and adaptation becomes very expensive, even in areas that experience high temperatures regularly.

According to Taraz, the immediate policy implication for both the Indian government and the private sector is to implement the policies and develop the technology that allow farmers to better adapt to higher temperatures.

READ | Can farmers adapt to higher temperatures? Evidence from India