In charts: The toll of climate crisis on India’s marginal farmers

Around 41% of marginal farmers had experienced extreme weather events related to drought in the last five years. (Image: Pixabay)
Around 41% of marginal farmers had experienced extreme weather events related to drought in the last five years. (Image: Pixabay)


Nearly four in five marginal farmers in a recent survey said their villages had faced an extreme weather event in the past five years. Many reported big losses to their crop, and said they had to consider other employment avenues to wade through the crisis.

As erratic weather disrupts livelihoods at alarming frequency, Indian farmers are facing a big brunt, especially those with limited landholdings. In a survey held in April, 80% of marginal farmers—those who own less than one hectare of farm land—said their villages had suffered one or the other extreme weather event in the past five years. Such farmers also reported considerable impact on their crop produce, finances, and their livelihoods.

Around 41% of the 6,615 marginal farmers who were surveyed across 21 states said their villages had seen a drought in the past five years, close to one in three had faced excessive or non-seasonal rains, 18% reported floods and 13% reported cyclones, each posing a significant hurdle to cultivation.

The survey, whose findings were released on Tuesday, was conducted telephonically by the Development Intelligence Unit (DIU) and Forum of Enterprises for Equitable Development (FEED). DIU is a collaboration between Sambodhi, a research group, and Transforming Rural India, a non-profit. The findings are crucial because according to the 2015-16 agriculture census, marginal farmers account for 68.5% of all farmers in India, but own only about 24% of the crop area.

Also read: Do Indians care about climate change? Here’s what our survey found.


Prolonged winters had the worst impact, with 54% of the farmers who reported them saying they had lost half or more of their standing crops. For rain-related events, this share was 48%. Prolonged summers and irregular monsoon patterns had less adverse impact.

Output losses

The impact of climate change on agriculture can’t be underestimated, with reports globally indicating a loss of up to 40% in crop production by 2100. This could put food security greatly at increasing risk. 

The survey showed that farmers reported crop losses across a variety of crops and seasons—kharif, rabi and zaid. Among the farmers whose villages were struck by extreme weather events, nearly half reported crop loss in kharif paddy, and close to 45% said so for rabi wheat and zaid maize. 

In monetary terms, the median value of crop loss in the last instance of an extreme weather event was the highest for cotton ( 27,200) followed by tur dal ( 12,100). The median value of loss for paddy during the kharif cycle was 8,400, while the same for rabi wheat was 9,200, the survey report said. Paddy and wheat are sown by a majority of marginal farmers.

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Livelihood tweaks

Adverse climatic patterns and the resultant income losses are forcing farmers to make changes to their livelihoods and diversify income streams. The survey showed that 83% of marginal farmers in villages impacted by severe weather conditions in the last five years had changed their livelihood pattern in some way, compared to 61% in unaffected villages. This significant difference shows how climate change is a key driver in farmers seeking alternative income sources.

Among the first subset (those who faced severe weather crises and made changes to their livelihood patterns), 42% said they had to increase their engagement in other part-time occupations, 37% said they were forced to depend more on animal husbandry or livestock, 32% had to look for other earning opportunities outside their villages, while 21% said they or their families had sought work under the government's rural employment scheme. Most attributed these shifts to extreme weather events at least to some extent.

What doesn’t help, though, is lack of awareness about climate-resilient farming. Close to a third (31%) of all respondents who had reported being affected by extreme weather events in the last five years had not adopted any such practices.

Adaptation barriers

Adaptation strategies to minimize the impact of climate change is a key part of tackling the issue at hand. About 72% of the marginal farmers said they had accessed some form of agriculture-related technical advice, but that was largely from informal sources such as other farmers and elders. 

However, nearly four in five reported that they had to face various types of constraints while accessing such advice, including financial restrictions preventing them from carrying out what they had learnt (49%), non-availability of inputs or physical resources in their area (38%), or just a lack of follow-up technical inputs (37%). 

About one in four had found advisories to have poor relevance and usefulness. This indicates that while climate-adaptive farming options exist, their dissemination and implementation support could be inadequate. As the government enters its third consecutive term, marginal farmers would look forward to better protecting against rising extreme weather events.

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