In a concerning development for the northeastern region of India, experts warn that despite covering only 8% of the country’s total geographical area, the region is not immune to the adverse effects of climate change and global warming. According to a report by news agency IANS, the once-thriving biodiversity hotspot is now grappling with a myriad of challenges, including declining forest cover, diminishing water bodies, rapid urbanization, and the indiscriminate implementation of developmental projects.
One of the most significant impacts has been observed in the tea industry, a vital sector for Assam and Tripura. Assam, the largest tea producer in the region, is responsible for approximately 55% of India’s tea output, employing over 10 lakh workers in organized sectors. Tripura follows as the second-largest producer in the northeast, with experts highlighting climate change as one of the top challenges faced by the industry.
Dr P Soman, an agronomist and plant physiology expert, emphasized the industry’s climate dependence during a recent workshop in Assam. He discussed how changes in agronomy, coupled with micro-irrigation technology, could potentially enhance crop performance amid challenging conditions.
Official studies reveal that between 2001 and 2021, the northeast region experienced the highest loss of forest cover. According to the India State of Forest Report 2021, the forest cover in the region’s hill districts decreased by 902 sq km (0.32%), with all eight states showing a decline, especially in mountainous districts.
As the region’s climate undergoes significant changes, the distribution of rainfall has become uneven, leading to concerns about the overall drying up of the region. Assam and Mizoram have been identified as the states most vulnerable to climate change according to the Climate Vulnerability Assessment in 2018.
Apurba Kumar Dey, Secretary of the Centre for Aquatic Research and Environment (CARE), emphasized the need for collaborative efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. He highlighted that vulnerable populations, including those in remote and hilly areas, tribals, farmers, and the poor, are disproportionately affected.
Sankar Prasad Das, Principal Scientist of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), expressed concern over extreme climate events such as excessive rainfall, floods, and cyclones, stating that the region is not adequately prepared to handle such disasters. While crop varieties have been developed to withstand rising temperatures, the region still faces challenges due to insufficient irrigation.
As the northeastern region, home to 45.58 million people, contends with these environmental challenges, the recent southwest monsoon brought deficient rainfall to Assam, Manipur, and Mizoram. The uneven distribution of rainfall in the past few years has impacted agriculture, with some states experiencing deficits of up to 46%, according to the IANS report.
Experts and officials emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive strategies, scientific interventions, and community engagement to address the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change, deforestation, and the changing environmental landscape in the northeast region of India.