Ground Report: How Heatwave 2022 Devastated Mango and Wheat Farmers
Farmers explain their understanding of living with climate change as extreme events like heatwaves become frequent.
Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan, Mohd Irshad
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
What you see in this picture is a plate of lunch. It has some lentils, chapatis, and some mangoes, because who doesn't love mangoes in their meal on a hot scorching summer day.
The farmer that grew both, the mangoes and the wheat to make the chapati, is in trouble. So we visited villages in Uttar Pradesh's Baghpat district to speak with these farmers.
This year's mango crop was largely damaged, smaller in size, less flavourful, and the total production is less than one-third of the last year's yield.
How Did the Heatwave in March Affect Crops?
The heat shrunk the mangoes, farmers say. When asked about the usual size of a mango fruit around this season, Mohammad Azad, 31, held a fruit in his hands and said it would usually be twice this size.
Holding this year's mango in his hand, Manoj Kumar, 37, said, "This mango would usually weigh around 400 gms. But this year, it is only 50 gms. The sweetness has also reduced by 70 percent."
"Most of our produce is rotten. It was spoiled by pests. All the blossoms withered because of the high heat and fell off," he explained.
This travesty is not limited to mangoes alone, wheat farmers tell a similar story.
"When the weather was supposed to be cold, it became hot. The temperature increased rapidly, which affected the wheat crop," said Brijpal Singh, 53, a farmer.
"One beegha land would yield 440-480 kg of wheat. This year, despite putting in the same effort, the total produce is 320 kg. This means a 20-30 percent fall in production. The extra produce that we would’ve sold to sustain our households is not there anymore. There’s only enough wheat to feed our family now," said Vikram Singh Arya, 70.
Farmers have not even been able to recover their input costs.
Mango Production Down, Huge Losses for Farmers
Smaller-sized mangoes mean a reduction in the total weight of the produce.
This year, the total production from these 30 Beegha orchards is 2,400-3,200 kg, Azad told us. When we asked how much would it have been under ideal weather, he said10,000-12,000 kg.
"We have lost at least Rs 400 on each crate," tells Azad.
"We have incurred a loss of Rs 2 lakh this time," says Manoj.
National data paints a similar picture. The total production and exports have both gone down.
India's total output of mangoes in 2019-20 was 20.26 million tonnes which went down to 27.872.77 tonnes in 2021-22.
The total export in 2019-20 was 49,658.67 tonnes which went down to 27,872.77 tonnes in 2021-22.
Wheat Production Down by 10-35 Percent
"It rained during the season for wheat because of which we could not sow much. In March, the weather should ideally have been a little cold for wheat to grow and for the grain to ripen," says Arya, adding, "But due to the excessive heat, the grain shrunk. It didn’t ripen, it burnt. The smaller grain weighed less, reducing the total produce."
National data for wheat also shows a huge loss in production. India’s total wheat production this season is 111.32 million tonnes, which is 3.8 million tonnes less than last year’s.
Uttar Pradesh’s production has gone down by at least 18 percent. The total loss in north India due to the heatwave is estimated at 10-35 percent, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab.
Unfortunately, this scenario will not be limited to wheat, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says: “Increased temperatures will cause yields to significantly reduce rice production by 10-30 percent, and maize production by 25-70 percent.”
Farmers Struggling To Make Ends Meet
Farmers are in despair. "There are a lot of problems. There are no earnings. We won’t be able to pay our children’s school fees. They will not go to school. Then I will have to do daily wage labour. What else can we do?" asks Mohammad Azad, a mango farmer.
"Farmers are forced into debt. The rate of interest on loans is so high that farmers are dying by suicide," says Brijpal Singh.
"We won’t be able to pay our electricity bills on time. Children’s school fees won’t be paid. Their school admission will be stalled. Their books won’t be bought. Groceries won’t be bought," tells Manoj.
High Heat Has Made it Difficult to Work in Fields
When asked how many hours can he work if the weather is regular, Azad says, "Around 15-16 hours."
When it’s too hot, "just 3-4 hours."
Farmers are complaining not only of high temperatures during the day-time but also of night-time temperatures.
"Our children are falling sick because they’re out in the sun, day and night. We can’t even sleep at night because of the heat," said Arya. "The body has its own limits of tolerance. After that, the body gives up. We just keep drinking water and working."
Climate Change Is Making Things Worse Each Year
Rainfall has reduced each year, and the temperature keeps rising, the farmers tell us.
"There used to be water in the Yamuna river all year round. Now, it’s dry. This is climate change," says Arya. "For irrigation, we are forced to dig in deep because the groundwater levels have gone down further."
The farmers feel that the government needs to accept that the temperature is rising, crops are being destroyed, diseases are spreading, and they need to help farmers.
When asked what will happen if temperatures keep rising in the future? Several farmers had similar answers:
"Then all will be destroyed. Nothing will remain."
"If the temperature rises, everything will end for us. Only losses."
"Why do they have air conditioners in the Parliament if they have abandoned us to die in the heat? They should also experience the impact of climate change. Is climate change left only for us to bear?" said an angry Arya.
(Our on-ground climate journalism needs your insights, ideas, and financial support - as we cover the biggest crisis of our times. Become a Q-Insider so we can bring more such stories to light.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.