In today’s Finshots we talk about Cyclone Tauktae, its impact and how this might affect the farm economy in India.


The Story

Cyclones Tauktae’s trail of destruction is there for the world to see. It has damaged life, property, and agriculture. The pre-monsoon cyclone destroyed several seasonal summer fruit crops which sustain thousands of farmers throughout the west coast of India. Tauktae pretty much single-handedly disrupted mango harvests across the west coast. The strong winds knocked down ripe mangos and ruined the unripe produce, alongside it, adding to the damage. Export varieties like Kesar and Alphonso from coastal areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra were the worst affected. And since mangoes from these areas make up around 25% of India’s export basket, we will likely witness a substantial dip in mango exports from India.

And the impact won’t just be limited to this season’s harvest alone.

In some parts, the cyclone uprooted decades-old mango trees in a matter of minutes. Trees that weren’t uprooted were so horribly battered by cyclonic winds that they were rendered useless. It takes years even decades to grow quality mango trees. You have to tend to them, nurture them, and care for them incessantly for several years. And when a cyclone uproots your life’s work, it can set you back 10–15 years. It can ruin you.

The worst part however is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Cyclones can be damaging in many ways. When they make landfall during a hightide, they can push water inland and damage low-lying agricultural fields along the coastlines. If it happens consistently, the soil saline content will show some change as well. This could have an impact on farm yields for decades. And you also have to worry about torrential rainfall. High-intensity cyclones can drop up to six inches of rain per hour. If they linger for long they can flood entire coastlines. They could damage farmlands, warehouses, transport infrastructure, and uproot entire communities.

At this point, you’re probably thinking — “What do you do about these climactic events. It’s nature after all. No man can tame her fury, right?”

Sure, it’s difficult to mitigate some of the impact, but it’s time we started paying more attention to the patterns here. Anyone that has lived on the west coast knows that cyclones aren’t a prominent feature of the Arabian sea. But that notion is changing and it’s changing quick.

The Arabian Sea is warming at a rate faster than any other tropical oceanic body in the world. Its surface temperature has increased by as much as 1.2–1.4 degrees Celsius between 1982 and 2018. And if you have trouble understanding the writing on the wall, let us break it down for you — This is cause for concern. Because as oceans grow warmer, they become a hotbed for cyclonic storms. It’s likely that you’ll start seeing these events more often. Don’t believe us? Look at the data in front of you. Scientists project that the Arabian Sea will continue to heat up as carbon emissions aid global warming. And so far, they’ve got it spot on. Cyclone Tauktae is the third consecutive cyclone (after Vayu in 2019 and Nisarga in 2020), to rise from the Arabian Sea. And it was by far the most intense.

Bottom line — We aren’t making a dent in the global warming trends. So might as well start making our economy cyclone-proof. For starters, we could invest in infrastructure, that can break high tides and rapid winds. We could also start planning ahead. Nudging people in low-lying coastal areas to switch crops — Perhaps those that have a high tolerance for submergence. But more importantly, we need to empower farmers once the damage is done. Because right now, when they’re affected by a cyclone, they rely on cash grants and menial labor. And as one report notes — “This reduction in status from honourable farmers to daily wage labourers badly affect their self-esteem. Surveys of farmers’ behavioral changes, using open-ended questionnaires, has suggested that nearly 80% of respondents decide to abandon agriculture and were expecting the government to announce relief packages for their livelihood and alternative employment opportunities.”

So the hope is that we can alleviate some of these concerns and help them get back on their feet empowering them to do the one thing they’ve always done — Farming.

Until then…

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