December 12, 2010 – Original source: Financial Express, India
Climate change is springing an unpleasant surprise on agriculture in India, catching both farmers and governments unprepared. The erratic and deficit rainfall pattern and rise in temperature in recent years has even forced farmers to change cropping patterns and several areas have been declared drought-hit.
Agricultural scientists acknowledge that even a mere one degree increase in average day temperature would adversely impact production of both wheat and rice crops (total annual production is close to 180 million tonnes). In fact, agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan says the total wheat production loss is estimated to be 8 million tonnes in case of one degree rise in mean temperature in northern India.
A model prediction by climatologists warns that India will suffer severe climactic changes, including longer drought, lesser amount of total rainfall, unequal distribution of rainfall with very heavy precipitation at shorter duration causing flooding, high temperature flux and higher incidences of tropical storms. Scientists have also called for speedy development of various stress-resistant varieties of rice for sustaining production in the future.
“Future farming and food systems will have to be better adapted to a range of abiotic and biotic stresses to cope with the direct and indirect consequences of a progressively changing climate,” says TK Adhya, director, Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI). Adhya notes that rice varieties need to be developed that can deal with abiotic stress, which is caused because of high temperature, drought and submergence because of flood and salinity. Besides, varieties resistance to pests and diseases need to be altered.
Swaminathan warns that climate change could be a mega disaster if the government does not take corrective measures. “All the 127 agro-climactic zones need to have separate climate risk management system and research and training centres. In every panchayat and nagar palika, at least one woman and one male member has to be trained as climate risk managers,” he suggests.
Abderbagi M Ismail, senior scientist, International Rice Research Institute, has learned that with shrimp cultivation taking over, paddy cultivation in countries having long coastlines, including India, is expected to come under pressure. “Over-exploitation of natural resources on coastal regions have ensured that communities are vulnerable in case the sea rises to due to increase in temperature,” Ismail says. In case of horticulture crop too, HP Singh, deputy director general, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), says with the changing environment, many new types of diseases are emerging, which the current crop of seeds are incapable of facing.
Meanwhile, a unique exercise to prepare a contingency plan at the district level is currently being undertaken for preparing the district administration to deal with any eventualities. Initiated by the agriculture ministry through ICAR and state agricultural universities, a district plan looks at specific districts from sectors such as agriculture and allied areas, including fisheries, animal husbandry and dairy farming. Currently, the government has data about these sectors from state or at the agro-climactic zone levels—a small effort that needs to be intensified and even magnified.