01 Nov 2015
Topics India

Climate change is a complex policy problem that is characterised by a high degree of uncertainty. Since the 1960s, India has launched several policy pilots in the agriculture sector to address production risks and uncertainties.

Indian agriculture is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change. Nearly two-thirds of the agricultural land in India is rain-fed and over 600 million people depend on it for their livelihoods and sustenance. The sector also accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total water use in India.

Focusing on uncertainties due to climate variability and change, one way of categorising these pilots is based on their contexts. In this case for example, it relates to whether there has there been a low or high change in climatic variables (primarily rainfall and temperature) and accordingly, has there been a low or high change in the policy response? Following this, pilots are broadly classified into four types.

Landscape of policy pilots under uncertainty

The first type of pilots involve small adjustments to regular land and water management techniques to maintain or increase agricultural productivity in response to small changes in the climate. For example, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a package of rice production practices that has been demonstrated to reduce the amount of seed needed per hectare, reduce water usage and yield more rice per liter of water compared to standard management practices. Power subsidies for agriculture and shifts in cropping patterns from traditional crops (millets) to rice have also resulted in extremely high levels of groundwater pumping over the years. In India nearly 1.7 million farmers are estimated to have adopted SRI on > 7.5 lakh hectares across 160 districts. SRI was introduced into India in 2000 and extension efforts commenced in 2003. Andhra Pradesh is one of the pioneer states in India for adoption of this technology. Andhra Pradesh is prone to multiple climatic stresses. The SRI technique is also being tested on other crops in the state.

The second type of policy experiment includes short-term coping strategies, such as crop insurance that are introduced to reduce the impacts and hedge risk caused by a sudden and high degree of change in climatic variables. A case study on crop insurance in India has been developed as teaching material for the LKY School. The main question that this case puts forth is what would be the design and feasibility of a comprehensive insurance scheme in India that is accepted by most stakeholders at the Centre and the state level, that protects the interests of the farming communities and that increases the rate of adoption of insurance Schemes by the farmers? With each scheme having their own share of pros and cons, a larger question is whether such a consolidated scheme is even possible for India, and if yes what are its design features? And if no, what are the alternative combinations to the current crop insurance set-up that are recommended?

The Indian government has been experimenting with different designs of crop insurance schemes for decades in order to address risks due to changes in both crop yields as well as market prices for the crops. A National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS) was introduced in 1999, and is continuing till date despite the recognition of several issues in its design and implementation. The NAIS operated like a social-welfare scheme with heavy liabilities on the Central government in terms of compensating for yield losses as well as premium subsidies. Furthermore, the total financial liability for the Government was always uncertain as the claims were determined after conducting cumbersome crop-cutting experiments that took over a year.

NAIS was followed by different pilots with the plan to gradually roll-back this Scheme. A National Crop Insurance Programme (NCIP) was introduced in 2013-14, merging three of the previous pilot schemes viz. a modified form of an ongoing National Agriculture Insurance Scheme. However, many Indian states have been sceptical about the burden of payment of additional premiums that would fall on the farmers (or the state) under NCIP .

The third type of policy experiments include technological innovations that aim at increasing efficiency or performance even under low levels of change in the climate, as an anticipatory mechanism to plausible higher changes in the future (transitions), for example introduction of specific climate-tolerant crop varieties. Punjab produces 12 percent of India’s 234 million tons of food grain, and nearly 40- 60 percent of the wheat and rice that buffer the nation’s central pool of food stocks. Many climate-tolerant wheat and rice varieties have been introduced in Punjab. The state also has a long history of experimenting with different crop varieties, being a pioneer of the Green Revolution in India launched to boost agricultural productivity.

The fourth type of policy experiments include experiments that are highly flexible and adaptive and open to incorporating feedback to promote resilience under dynamic climatic conditions. Integrated Agrometeorological Advisory Services (IAAS) were launched by the government with different collaborating organisations (2007-08) for providing real time crop and agro-met services at the district-level, with the objective of reducing weather and climate related risks in agriculture. The service generates weather observation and forecasts for the next five days, converts weather forecasts into farm-level advisories, an extension component with two-way communication between farmers and agricultural scientists and an information dissemination component employing mass media.

Under such uncertainty, pilots form a common and important form of policy response involving the “phased introduction of major government policies or programmes, allowing them to be tested, evaluated and adjusted before being rolled out nationally” . Classifying these pilots can be a basis for detailed case study analysis and a start towards studying their design features and ability to guide future policy development under different levels of uncertainty in the environment.


The LKY School’s case studies cover issues in public policy and public administration in a wide array of contexts with a focus on Asia. The cases have been developed to facilitate discussion-based, interactive learning in our degree and Executive Educationprogrammes. For many of our cases, teaching notes have been developed as a resource for case teaching. Visit our website to read our cases, or email us at decb64_bGt5c3BwY2FzZUBudXMuZWR1LnNn_decb64 to request for the accompanying Teaching Note.

Sreeja Nair is a PhD candidate at the LKY School. Her research interests are climate change adaptation, decision-making under uncertainty, adaptive policies, and long-term policymaking. Her email is decb64_c3JlZWphLm5haXJAdS5udXMuZWR1_decb64

Topics India