Friday, 9 November 2012

Rural Migration in India: How Important is Weather Variability?

By Brinda Viswanathan and K.S. Kavi Kumar


Response strategies to global climate change crucially depend on potential impacts due to climate change on several climate sensitive sectors. From developing country perspective, in order to design adaptation strategies, it is important to not only know the overall impacts; but also the factors that could, in principle, play a crucial role in minimizing the impacts of climate change. 

Several studies have shown that climate change could have significantly adverse impacts on Indian agriculture. The available evidence shows significant drops in yields of important cereal crops like rice and wheat under various climate change scenarios. While several planned adaptation strategies could work towards ameliorating the adverse impacts of climate change, there is a considerable likelihood of migration associated with agriculture sector. Thus, for a large majority, migration could be an effective adaptation strategy1

While some studies have analyzed the linkages between weather variability (and climate change) and migration per se in the past (see, McLeman and Smit, 2006; Perch-Nielsen et al., 2008, Bardsley and Hugo, 2010), the linkages through the agriculture channel and rural-urban wage differentials have recently been analyzed by researchers such as, Feng et al. (2010, 2012); Barbieri et al. (2010); Dillon et al. (2011); and Marchiori et al. (2012).

Following the methodology used by Feng et al. (2010), a recent study in India, explored the linkages between weather variability, agricultural performance, and migration, using state level Census data over the period 1981 to 2001 and district level Census data covering the period 1992-2001. The weather data is sourced from grid level meteorological data released recently by the India Meteorological Department. The analysis is carried out separately for the two main cereal crops: wheat and rice. 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Impacts of Global Climate Change on Inclusive Growth in Sri Lanka

By Kanchana Wickramasinghe
Research Officer, IPS  

The scientific evidence proves that climate change is a reality.  Despite the negligible contributions towards global greenhouse gas emissions, and consequently to global climate change, Sri Lanka is a victim of the impacts of global climate change.  These impacts are numerous in Sri Lanka and a number of economic sectors will be drastically affected.  As the “National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for Sri Lanka - 2011 to 2016” highlights; the major impacts would come in the form of increased frequency and intensity of disasters such as droughts, floods and landslides, variability and unpredictability of rainfall patterns, increase in temperature and sea level rise.  These impacts will have numerous impacts on agriculture, coastal zone, forests and natural ecosystems, human settlements and infrastructure, human health, energy, and industry1.

The increased intensity and frequency of natural disasters and its cost in terms of human, physical, financial and environmental losses have a significant impact on growth. The vulnerability to and impacts of natural disasters also differ across segments of society, which then becomes an additional dimension to existing economic disparities. Natural disasters affect inclusive growth by constraining the participation of vulnerable segments in the development process. They also lead to the diversion of resources, which otherwise could be allocated for pro-poor development activities. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture in Sri Lanka and Possible Response Strategies

By B.V.R. Punyawardena

In spite of the technological advances made on improved crop management, irrigation, plant protection and fertilization; weather and climate remain the key factors of agricultural productivity in any country.  Farming systems and agronomic practices in most agricultural regions of Sri Lanka have evolved in close harmony with the prevailing conditions of the respective climatic regions of the island.  However, it has been made evident during recent decades that the heritage of farming experiences and accumulated weather lore of centuries are no longer useful in the process of agricultural planning at any level.  The Climate of the island has undergone a change to such an extent that the expected rainfall does not come at the correct time and severely handicapping farmers during growing season.  Variability of both summer and winter monsoon rains and rains of convectional origin has increased significantly during recent decades (Table 1).  As a result, both extremes, i.e., water scarcity and excess water have become a recurrent problem faced by crop production in Sri Lanka.  Meanwhile, increasing ambient temperature has also resulted in several direct and indirect negative impacts on crop growth.  However, intensively managed livestock sector of the country is not so vulnerable to climate change compared to the food crops sector.  But, the situation is obviously different for extensively managed livestock sector where it is purely dependent on the rain-fed pastoral systems.  Meanwhile, additional pressure coming from ever-increasing population, poor terms of trade, weak infrastructure, lack of access to modern technology, and information and civil disturbances will restrict the options available for people to cope with the negative consequences of climate change (Punyawardena, 2002).

Monday, 3 September 2012

Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture in Sri Lanka

By C. Shanthi de Silva

Human activities have been recognized as the primary cause for global warming. The build-up of greenhouse gases (GHGs) threatens to set the earth on the path to an unpredictably different climate. A key challenge, in that instance would be food security, crucial to sustain the growing world population. An enormous amount of water is required to produce food. Irrigation needs vary according to the balance between rainfall and evapotranspiration, and the resultant fluctuations in soil moisture status. Anthropogenically induced climate change is expected to influence rainfall and temperature patterns.  Since climate change will influence temperature and rainfall patterns, there are likely to be direct impacts on soil moisture.  Changes in soil moisture due to global warming will have other hydrological effects which will, in turn, affect agriculture around the world.   

Sri Lanka is no exception to this, as it is also prone to natural disasters. During the last few decades, for instance, Sri Lanka has witnessed a number of extreme rainfall events in south western regions during south west monsoon season (May to September) and in contrast northeast and north central regions experienced severe drought during the paddy and other field crop growing seasons. Farmers used to start paddy cultivation during maha season, expecting the north east monsoonal rains. Sri Lanka is experiencing uncertainty and inadequacy of north east and inter-monsoonal rains, during these years which caused damage to the paddy and other field crop cultivations. Each year, the Government of Sri Lanka spends huge amounts of funds on drought, floods and other, relief services.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development

By W.L. Sumathipala


The Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment which was adopted in Stockholm on the 16th June 1972 recognized the importance of protecting the environment. Afterwards, at the first summit in 1992, also held in Rio de Janeiro, a historic set of 27 principles on Environment and Development - the Rio Declaration; as well as Agenda 21, a detailed plan of action was adopted.  This was also the occasion for the opening for signatures of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

Prior to Rio+20 (in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20-22 June 2012) Rio+10 was held in Johannesburg in 2002 where the Rio Declaration and related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were discussed and a platform for implementation (Johannesburg plan of implementation) was agreed upon. 

RIO +20

The United Nations General assembly (A/RES/64/236) established the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and one of the themes set up was, “a green economy in the context of sustainable development”.  Since the aim of the summit was to agree on a draft decision, the co-chairs of the Bureau prepared and released “zero draft” as an initial working document in January 2012.  There were several meetings in different parts of the world, held in order to negotiate the text and a Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting held to finalize the document.  This was hosted at the same venue as Rio+20 a week prior to the summit, where world leaders met from 20-22 June.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Coconut

By Sanathanie Ranasinghe

There is enough scientific evidence to conclude that climate change is taking place. Plantation agriculture is one of the high priority sectors where the impacts of climate change exceed tolerance limits, with implications for the livelihoods of millions of people who are dependent on this sector as well as to the national GDP contribution of coconut.  The Coconut Tree, also referred to as the “Tree of Life”, is an important part of the Sri Lankan diet with an estimated per capita fresh nut consumption of 129 nuts per year (including oil).  Coconut provides approximately 15 % of the calories in the daily diet and is the sole source of fat for much of the rural population. The annual national coconut production during 1996-2010 averaged at 2673 million nuts from which about 80 % is locally consumed and the balance, exported as desiccated coconut, copra, oil, mature nuts, milk powder and other processed products (Coconut Development Authority and Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka). The coconut sector makes a substantial contribution of about 1.4% to the GDP (of 2.7% of total plantation crops) and 3.57%  of foreign exchange earnings (Central Bank, 2009) to the country. On account of the important role it plays in the country, it is imperative to identify adaptation and mitigation measures to make coconut a sustainable industry even in the event of anticipated climate change.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Assessing the Risk of Sea Level Rise: The Way Forward for Sri Lanka

By S.S.L.Hettiarachchi and S.P.Samarawickrama
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Moratuwa

Climate Change and Sea Level Rise  
Climate change will have significant impacts on the oceans and on the coastal zone on a global scale. It will introduce new hazards and increase existing hazard potential, both with respect to magnitude and frequency of occurrence, in coastal regions. The hazards would be both chronic (e.g., sea level rise) and episodic (e.g., storm events). Sea level rise is one of the more certain responses to global warming and presents a major challenge in the administration and management of coastal zones, including that of Sri Lanka. A large percentage of Sri Lanka’s population is located in coastal regions and these regions play a vital role in the economic growth of the country.

Sri Lanka is one of the few countries which have a fully operational National Coastal Zone Management Plan, and the Government’s Coast Conservation Department has  full responsibility for its implementation. In Sri Lanka, the Coast Conservation Act has defined the coastal zone on geo-physical considerations using linear dimensions. This narrow and geographically defined coastal zone does not recognize the interconnections within coastal ecosystems, its resources, and the human interactions. This limitation in the definition of the coastal zone could become a critical constraint when implementing action plans to respond to sea level rise in the country.

Analyzing the Impacts of Sea Level Rise 
Investigations conducted in Sri Lanka have revealed that climate change will result in changes to critical forcing parameters of the coastal zone which would affect the physical condition of the shoreline. Rising sea levels, change in wave patterns arising from changes in wind pattern and water depth, increased rainfall and the occurrence of extreme events more frequently, are some of these. Sea level rise on its own would lead to several issues:      

        (i)  Inundation and displacement of low lying coastal areas and wetlands
       (ii)  Coastal erosion and degradation of shorelines
       (iii) Salinisation of estuaries and freshwater aquifers, and
       (iv) Changes to and migration of coastal eco-systems and habitats.

Friday, 20 April 2012

National Climate Change Policy and the Role of Citizens in the Post-Durban Era

By L.Padmini Batuwitatge

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed that climate change is already occurring, mostly as a result of human activities. Many natural systems are being affected by regional climatic changes, particularly temperature increases, changes of rainfall patterns, and extended draughts, which are different from what we have been experiencing before.

As a response to climate change, the global community adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) twenty years ago on 9 May 1992. The Convention entered into force on 21st March 1994 and it now has 197 State Parties, making the Convention one of the most universally-supported/agreed Multilateral Environmental Conventions.  

The ultimate objective of the Convention, and any related legal instruments that the Conference of Parties may adopt, is “to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. It was further stated that such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.   

Friday, 9 March 2012

Traditional Rice Farming in Sri Lanka: Still Viable with Climate Change

By P.B. Dharmasena
Former Deputy Director -  Field Crops Research and Development Institute, Mahailluppallama, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has experienced many changes over the last century which has had a significant impact on traditional rice farming in the country. A change in the climate can be seen as the island has faced a reduction of rainfall and an increase in air temperature in certain areas of the country. Furthermore, land used for vegetation has been put to other uses resulting in a loss of 50 per cent of forest cover. The population has also increased by 15 million in a land area of 6.54 million hectares over the last 60 years. Occurrence of natural disasters such as droughts, floods, cyclones, landslides, epidemics, etc., has made life difficult for people to go about with their activities. Traditional sustainable agriculture shifting towards modern technology-intensive mode is partly to be blamed for these natural disasters.   

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Our Water and Climate Change

By Dr. Herath Manthrithilake
Head, Sri Lanka Programme, IWMI HQ

Not so long ago, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the authorities rang the alarm bells about power cuts due to not having any rains in catchment areas. Just a few months ago, and last year as well, we had unprecedented devastating floods. What is really happening?

Based on historical data, experts say rainfall over the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka is reducing and over some parts of Wet Zone it is increasing. The highest decrease of rainfall is observed in the Mahaweli catchment areas. At the same time, we are witnessing a very high amount of rainfall over a short period, i.e., the intensity of rainfall is increasing, causing floods, after which there is no rain for longer periods, causing droughts. Similarly, it is noticeable that the longer-term average day and night time temperatures are increasing and the gap between them is reducing. They say the sea around us too, would gradually rise above the current level. These are now accepted as the impacts of climate change.

Whatever said and done, the predictions seem to be correct: the frequency and the severity of occurrence of these extreme events are increasing. In many areas, water-related extreme events have already become more frequent and/or more severe, and projections indicate a further increase of frequency and severity. If  this is the case, the crucial question is, “are we factoring these valuable observations into our plans and programmes?”  

Studies, which spell out accurate future climate scenarios for Sri Lanka are scarce and even the ones that do exist appear to have contradictory projections, especially with respect to future rainfall. Therefore, accurate quantification of climate change impacts is difficult. The identification of suitable adaptation strategies depends on the quantified impacts.

These impacts trigger a wide variety of secondary effects on water resources, agriculture, livelihoods, health and well-being, and the economy and nature as a whole.

Whether these are due to climate change or not, we may not be able to stop them occurring continuously. If we can’t stop them, we need to adapt and live with them.  We may be able to mitigate some impacts by adopting certain measures.

In my view, we have two options: first and foremost we need to improve the current management practices. We may not be able to and should not manage our water and related infrastructure the way we have done for the last 100 years. We need to manage things differently and we should begin now, especially by introducing better practices than what we have now, before starting special or extraordinary measures.

After the floods, authorities were concerned about reservoir and spillway capacities to accommodate such a high influx of water. However, we should not forget that existing reservoirs seldom get filled and therefore, encroachments are not only along the spill traces but also in and around reservoirs. This brings to mind the hard fact that water management can no longer be passive or reactive. It should be active and strategic.

The problem scientists and engineers face is that the current practices of estimation based on historical data may not be valid under the new conditions. They need to develop new methodologies to estimate suitable measures. We may have to build new reservoirs, look at spillways and discharge traces, and redesign bridges, culverts and pipes increasing their capacities to pass excess water. We need to deal with encroachments and protect the lands in and around water bodies and along natural streams, allowing them to transmit large quantities of spill water without damage to life and property.

In order to avoid disasters and wasteful expenditure, we should adopt “no regrets” options available to us and “climate proof” all new and old infrastructures, similar to Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

One of the ‘no regret’ adaptation measures recommended is to increase water storage across a continuum: from increasing soil moisture, recharging groundwater, wetlands, to surface storage (from minor to larger reservoirs) where possible. This recommendation is important for Sri Lanka because we are solely dependent on rainwater. Although we repeat his sayings many a times and are proud of King Parakramabahu’s water management policy, we still use only about 4 - 5 % of our rains tapping from surface and groundwater sources and more than 30% still flows to the sea without serving mankind. At the same time, we need to be mindful that many of our existing reservoirs are not getting filled for many years and they get emptied very quickly. This could be due to design data errors or poor water management, or both.

We should cherish our small tank cascades system - an ideal solution for climate woes. Thanks to the untiring efforts of a knowledgeable few, the single-tank approach has being somewhat shelved and the cascade approach is being adopted. It should move further from cascade to ‘mini watersheds’ surrounding those cascades. The cascade system would not function properly unless the surrounding catchments, including other elements of the system, are functioning and protected. However, what we often see are haphazard settlements and misuse. Smaller water bodies in the catchments are meant for sediment trapping, groundwater recharging, and for the use of animals. Those are part of the same system of tank cascades and not appendages. Increasingly, those smaller waterholes are converted to irrigation tanks under the guise of ‘participatory rehabilitation’ through the projects.

In the water catchment areas of the central highlands, we need to stop soil erosion on slopes and increase the moisture retention capacities. Otherwise, our rivers will run dry, anicut schemes will have to be abandoned, and all irrigation systems located in the Dry Zone will suffer from water shortages. As a result, hydropower generation will be in jeopardy. There will be more land and mudslides, denuded hills, dried waterfalls, devastated tea and vegetable gardens, and rampant poverty. In the lower lands, most of the suitable areas for water storage are already occupied and it is not feasible to allocate land for reservoirs which only fill up once in 10-15 years. Also, the existing reservoirs are heavily polluted, silted, and have poor storage capacities.

Heavy rains during short periods may not help recharge groundwater. Pollution and over-abstraction could hamper the available limited quantities of groundwater, particularly in coastal areas. Coastal zone freshwater could become salinized either by over-extraction or sea level rises which will in turn  threaten the  livelihoods of millions of people.

Water is not the only area which affects climate change. That is why climate change has to be mainstreamed into programmes and policies.

Dr. Herath Manthrithilake serves as the Head of the Sri Lanka Development Initiative of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which is one node of a research network called Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). He has vast experience in civil engineering, water resources management, watershed management, rural infrastructure development, environment conservation, teaching at postgraduate institutes and on project management

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Combating Adverse Impacts of Climate Change on Tea Production in Sri Lanka with “No-Regret Strategies”

By  M.A Wijeratne
Senior Research Officer & Officer-in-Charge - Tea Research Institute, Low Country Station, Ratnapura

The human impact on the environment associated with economic growth and development is believed to be a primary cause of global warming.  Such warming has profound impact on living beings and plant life. For instance, photosynthesis, the process by which plants produce organic compounds is largely governed by ambient temperature, carbon dioxide concentration and soil moisture (rainfall). Changes to these environmental factors can  incur profound impact on photosynthesis and in turn, affect crop growth and yield.

Temperature rise, enrichment of ambient carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and  variation of total and pattern of rainfall distribution change crop environments, thus affecting crop growth and yield of non-irrigated plantation crops such as tea. Pest behaviour and disease infestations which are impacted by environmental changes are also closely linked to the productivity of tea land.  Moreover, changing environment can adversely affect product quality. In the recent past, scientists have begun to explore  climate change and assess its impact on crop growth and yield. Fortunately, such studies have paved the way for scientists to identify appropriate measures in which adverse impacts of climate change on agricultural crops such as tea can be mitigated.

Climate Change Impacts on Tea Production 

Tea is Sri Lanka’s topmost agricultural export. It is one of the major plantation crops grown from nearly sea level to around 2200m amsl. The total tea land is estimated to be 200,000 ha of which approximately 60% is managed by smallholders contributing to about 70% of the national production. In 2010, Sri Lanka produced 329 million kg of tea earning an estimated Rs. 155,376 million (Central Bank of Sri Lanka, 2010). The industry is said to employ over 1.5 million people..

Close analysis of climate change impacts on tea production in Sri Lanka shows that tea cultivations at high elevations (>1200 m amsl) are least affected. Rising temperatures are beneficial to tea grown at high elevations as it helps to reach optimum temperature for tea (22 oC). However, it is predicted that rising temperatures and dry weather conditions in warmer regions where the present temperatures are above optimum for tea (low; <600m amsl and mid; 600-1200m amsl elevations) will mask the benefits of CO2 enrichment and limit tea production. In addition,  poor soil conditions and ageing tea bushes make tea lands highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.  In order to mitigate such adverse impacts on tea lands in Sri Lanka, it is crucial to adopt good agricultural practices that are also known to be “ no regret strategies”.

Adapting Measures 

Proposed adaptation measures seek to minimize  adverse impacts of extreme (high) temperatures and moisture stress and, ensure that the beneficial effects of CO2 enrichment is properly exploited for sustaining tea yield. They are primarily aimed at improving soil conditions, aerial environment, and adaptability of the crop to stress conditions.


The adoption and long-term implementation of “no-regret strategies” detailed above hinges on two factors; firstly, the profitability of tea cultivation which in turn, limits the capacity of the tea grower (affordability) to effectively adopt such strategies in the field, and secondly, the availability of labour and other resources and required materials  which will facilitate such good agricultural practices that have so far  not been fully adopted in tea lands . It is contended that financial assistance to tea growers will markedly improve the rate of adoption of such “no-regret strategies” whilst minimizing the adverse impacts of climate change.


M.A.Wijeratne is a Senior Research Officer and the Officer-in-Charge of the Tea Research Institute - Low Country Station, Ratnapura. He has published extensively in both local and international journals and books in the areas of tea agronomy and physiology, mechanization of field practices, climate change and land degradation. He was awarded the General Research Committee (GRC) Award of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS), and the Science and Technology Award for his outstanding contribution to research in Sri Lanka. He is a member of the Faculty Board of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna and a visiting lecturer of the University of Ruhuna and Uva Wellassa University, Passara.

M.A.Wijeratne is an inventor and has received patent rights for inventing a selective tea harvester, collapsible tea plucking basket, hand pruner and deep fertilizer applicator. He has received two Presidential Awards in Sri Lanka and two Gold Medals from Geneva, Switzerland for his inventions. He has been appointed as an Assistant Commissioner to the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission.

He obtained his BSc in Agriculture from the University of Ruhuna in 1987 and  his PhD in 1994 from the Wye College, University of London, U.K.