climate change

Climate Change, India, and the Price of Onions.

In India, onions are everything.”

“In India, onions are everything,” my roommate Apurva told me as we waited outside our local vegetable stand. That summer, unseasonably heavy monsoon rains devastated onion crops across central India, causing shortages, soaring prices, and a major disruption to daily life. As I watched many of my neighbors check the prices and walk away empty-handed, I caught a glimpse of a not-so-distant future in which a major staple of the Indian diet was inaccessible.

Climate Change is Happening Now

Living in India in 2019, each day I watched a split-screen narrative play out before my eyes. On one side, economic growth lifted millions out of poverty each year. On the other, heavier rains, higher temperatures and longer droughts made onion shortages just one of many concerns accompanying a rapidly changing climate.  In reality, these two paths aren’t divided. The economic and environmental prospects of countries like India are deeply intertwined, shaping and re-making each other over time. In order to truly improve the futures of people across the globe, we must also ensure the future of our planet.

I moved to South India to work at a sustainable rural development foundation, where I frequently spent time in rural villages in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh collecting data on the progress of the organization’s livelihoods, gender and education programs. Though India, like most of the world, is witnessing high rates of migration to urban areas, nearly 70% of the Indian population still lives in a rural community. These communities experience some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, particularly among those who rely directly on natural resources for their livelihoods.

While in the field, I often conducted interviews with community members who had watched their neighbors move away from their native villages in search of opportunity that was increasingly unavailable outside of urban centers.

In addition to their economic difficulties, many interviewees would mention the inability to go out in the middle of the day due to 120-degree Fahrenheit temperatures and wells that had dried up in certain parts of town after a weakened monsoon season.

While much of the popular conversation around climate change currently centers on decarbonization and the need for future mitigation, for the people of rural South India, climate change is happening now. Adapting to these changes, and quickly, is a priority.

Investments Alone Aren't Enough

This past year’s Glasgow Climate Pact saw the inclusion of a goal to double developed nations’ funding for adaption in developing nations to $40 billion by 2025. However, investment alone is not enough to build resilience against the worst consequences of climate change. Governments, private and social sector organizations working on climate adaption must ensure that robust evidence and evaluation processes are embedded in their activities to direct investment towards those solutions with the greatest impact. And they must focus on truly sustainable adaptation by guaranteeing that environmental, economic and social indicators are all considered in program design.

While society’s response to climate change must clearly involve curbing and removing carbon dioxide emissions, it must also give back in the form of skills, resources and capacity building for the most vulnerable nations and populations. Improving the lives of those in developing countries requires meeting them where and how they live.

Taking steps to adapt farming practices and ensure that a cultural staple crop, such as onions, remains viable.


  • Maura Heinbokel

    Maura is a sustainability and impact evaluation practitioner with a passion for natural solutions to climate change and regenerative food and land systems. Having worked with public, private and social sector organizations across the U.S. and India, she specializes in helping organizations use data and evaluate their programs, policies and strategies to improve outcomes for nature and communities. Currently based in London, Maura just completed her MSc in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London.

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