Click here for search results

Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture in South Asia

South Asia & Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture

South Asia & Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture

Agriculture in South Asia

November 30, 2007 - Poverty in South Asia is still largely rural. About 70% of South Asia’s population lives in rural areas, and it accounts for about 75% of the poor. Most of the rural poor depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Agriculture employs about 60% of the labor force in South Asia and contributes 22% of regional GDP. The Green Revolution of 1970s and 1980s substantially increased food grain productivity and increased rural wages. Recent agricultural growth in South Asia, however, is less than 3% and is far below the growth rates of other economic sectors.

Agriculture growth & Poverty

Agricultural growth is especially effective in reducing poverty. Estimates show that overall GDP growth originating in agriculture is, on average, at least twice as effective in benefiting the poorest half of a country’s population as growth generated in nonagricultural sectors. In sum, agricultural growth can reduce poverty directly, by raising farm incomes, and indirectly, through labor markets and by reducing food prices.

Revival of Agriculture

The recently released World Development Report 2008 entitled "Agriculture for Development," calls for revival of agriculture in South Asia in order to take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to reduce massive poverty and confront widening rural-urban income disparities. While highlighting that agriculture alone will not be enough to massively reduce poverty, the report says that agriculture has proven to be uniquely powerful for that task.

Effects of Climate Change

In this context, the impact of climate change on agriculture is an issue of great significance to the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor people in South Asia who depend on agriculture for survival. It is not an issue that can be left to the future as the impact is already felt in many parts of the region.

Analysis on the Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture

William Cline, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD) and the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

William Cline
William Cline
  • - Your recent research indicates that India could see a drop of 30-40% in agricultural productivity? How did you arrive to this conclusion? (2m:25s) wmv
  • - Is agriculture a major source of greenhouse gas emissions? If so, how could we address it? (1m:37s) wmv
  • - Do you think the effects of global warming on agriculture will disproportionately affect the poor? (49s) wmv
  • - Will better agriculture technology mitigate the effects of global warming? (1m:56s) wmv

Commentary on World Bank's Role in Mitigation

Richard Damania, Senior Environmental Economist for South Asia Region, talks about the impact of Climate Change in South Asia.

World Bank’s Senior Environmental Economist for South Asia Region, Richard Damania
Richard Damania
  • - Recent reports suggest that India could see a drop of 30-40% in agriculture productivity? What role can the World Bank play in mitigating this risk? (1m:09s) wmv
  • - Has the World Bank implemented climate change as a variable in development operations in the region? (1m:01s) wmv
  • - Damania's analysis on the impact of climate change in South Asia (Read More »)

Increase in Temperatures

William Cline expects that of all potential damages which could occur from climate change, the damage to agriculture could be among the most devastating.

Since agriculture constitutes a much larger fraction of GDP in developing countries, even a small percentage loss in agricultural productivity would impose a larger proportionate income loss in a developing country than in an industrial country. According to Dr. Cline, “India is among the most adversely affected with losses of 30-40% (in agriculture productivity) depending upon whether higher carbon dioxide provides a significant fertilization effect.”

He noted that in the southern parts of India, damage will be substantial and similar to that in other countries also located close to equator. In these locations, where temperatures are already at high levels, an increase in temperature will surpass crop tolerance levels. In North India, the unusual increase in rainfall combined with higher temperature could result in a higher decline in productivity than one would expect from where it is located relative to equator.


Answering whether agriculture could be a source of greenhouse gas emissions, Dr. Cline said that “the principal way in which agriculture is a source of greenhouse gas emissions is slashing and burning of forests and when that happens there are large emissions into atmosphere.”

Dr. Cline warned that expanding agricultural lands in order to overcome the decline in productivity could prove to be a double-edged sword. “Where agriculture is conducted on the basis of cutting down standing forests to clear the land, the agriculture will be a big contributor of green gas emissions.”

Technological Solution

Dr. Cline’s research shows that there has been a slowdown in the green revolution, and globally the pace of technological change in yields per hectare has been slower in the last 25 years than in the l960s and 70s. He recommends that “…special emphasis on developing new varieties that are resistant to drought, that are resistant to heat would be highly desirable.”

While highlighting that there is a strong need to put renewed emphasis on technical change, Dr. Cline, however, said that “… the principal message is that technological change is not a panacea. You can not count on it to make this problem disappear.”

Dr. Cline pointed out that developing countries are important stakeholders in finding solutions to this problem and that “there will not be solutions if the developing countries simply do not participate in a globally integrated approach to this problem.”

Additional Resources

- Climate Change in South Asia
Climate change is no longer an issue for the distant future. Climate change is already taking place, and the South Asian countries, particularly the poorest people, are most at risk. (Read More »)

- Blog - End Poverty in South Asia
Shanta Devarajan, World Bank Chief Economist for South Asia, shares insights about the fight against poverty in the region. (Read More »)

- South Asia: Development Data
A wide range of social and economic measures on South Asia, including links to the World Bank's most important online development databases. (Read More »)

- South Asia: Analysis and Research
Compilation of all the World Bank's publications on South Asia, with 'search' options and links to analysis and research on other South Asian countries. (Read More »)

- World Bank Program in South Asia
Launching pad to all information on World Bank activities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.(Read More »)

Permanent URL for this page: