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Navigating the challenges of climate change in the Himalaya

Climate destruction_Nawang Tankhe.PNG

Illustration by Nawang Tankhe

The heart of the mighty Himalaya is witnessing a profound transformation shaped by the relentless force of climate change. With Himalaya playing a crucial role in shaping the weather patterns across India, climate change is disrupting these patterns. And the Western Himalaya Region comprising of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand characterised by complex geography with various local warm and cold zones is affected differently from one location to another.

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather patterns that affect local, regional, and global climates on earth. Most of us are familiar with greenhouses that are commonly used to grow vegetables in winter, because the temperature inside these enclosures stays warmer than outside. A greenhouse keeps the enclosure warm by letting in as much light as possible and then trapping it as thermal energy. Now imagine what might happen if our planet acted similarly? In fact, it is because the earth works like a large greenhouse, that our planet can support such a wide variety of life. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect. However, a rapid rise in burning of fossil fuels over the last 150 years has significantly increased the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere leading to increased warming and a rise in unforeseen weather events.

Research findings paint a stark picture of the Himalaya’s changing climate. Over the years the region has witnessed a noticeable rise in both seasonal maximum and minimum temperatures. The difference between daytime and night-time temperatures is also getting larger, indicating a warming trend. Snowfall events have shown variability in terms of intensity and timing. Scientists note a decrease in early snowfall during December and January, accompanied by an extension into February and March. While rainfall intensity remains relatively unchanged, there is a notable shift in its timings. Monsoon rains, once confined up to mid-August, now linger beyond their traditional timeframe, accompanied by a rise in cloudburst events. This shift, intertwined with delayed snowfall, alters the distribution of rainfall and cloud cover across the region.

The impact of this climatic transformation is not an abstract concept but a harsh reality affecting various sectors. Agriculture, the lifeline of many in the region, is particularly vulnerable. In the Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh, delayed snowfall has cast its icy shadow on apple orchards. The blossoming, bearing, and overall yield of apples have suffered due to altered chilling conditions. Orchards, once thriving in lower elevations, now seek refuge in higher altitudes, affecting not just the geographical landscape but the very quality of the produce.

In Ladakh's western regions, horticulture crops like apricots and walnuts are facing severe challenges. Spring seasons are turning cooler, delaying the fruiting process and impacting the quality of the produce. Barley, a locally grown crop, is witnessing a substantial reduction in yield, echoing the broader struggle against a changing climate.

Villagers in Spiti tell a poignant tale of declining green pea production, a crucial revenue-generating crop. This decline, attributed to persistent water scarcity, reached its peak in 2022 when Langza village faced complete crop loss due to the unavailability of water. The transformation is not confined to the fields; it seeps into the very identity of these regions.

Agriculture in Uttarakhand, highly vulnerable to climate change, experiences shift in production dynamics, causing changes in crop yield, reduced diversity, and a surge in pest invasions. In districts like Pithoragarh, Chamoli, and Uttarkashi, climate change is altering the traditional collection period of non-timber forest products, impacting livelihoods.


An aerial view of flood-ravaged Rudraprayag, in Uttarakhand; Wikimedia Commons


The farmers, the custodians of the land, echo this change.

Earlier, we could not see stars in the sky for the whole of July and August. Continuous rains for days during the monsoon season in old times was good for the soil and the crops. But now, sudden and untimely torrential rains are spoiling the soil as well as the crops. The rains have completely disappointed us.

A farmer from Uttarakhand


Summers are more intense and drier now because of which the crops ripen at an early stage without proper grain development.

An elderly farmer from Uttarakhand


Earlier the snow was about a foot high and it used to stay for weeks but now if ever there is snowfall it is less than 5 inches and melts within a day.

A farmer from Himachal Pradesh


Every year, we travelled from Zanskar to Kishtwar by crossing the glacier. Over the years, this glacier has been reducing. The new snowfall is not sufficient for settling, posing challenges to our traditional migration routes.

A pastoralist from Ladakh


This replacement about 50-60 years ago, which turned agri-culture on its head did not come with the Green Revolution (more appropriately called Greed Revolution) then but was the consequence of what had emerged as the industrial revolution two-three hundred years ago. And it started with de-legitimising traditional society’s existence, identity and knowledge by naming it ‘backward’ and following it up by seeking to shame people’s knowledge systems and their seeds. It was crucial and strategic that this society begin to have an inferiority complex about oneself. This was the first essential stage of the conspiracy. Once this was achieved, it was followed by a systematic replacement of the principles, methods, seeds with the means that it had created. As a result, a creative, productive and self-reliant society has today become a dependent slave farmer society.


About the Storyteller 


Akshata Anand

Akshata Anand completed her masters from Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research, Pune and investigated the enduring impact of climate change on traditional and cash crops in the Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. She now works with the Nature Conservation Foundation in Himachal Pradesh, focusing on community-based conservation.

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