Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Adaptation in agriculture: Opinion from India

Business Standard (India): India's agriculture will be badly affected by global warming, but timely action could help mitigate the impact considerably.

Climate change is bound to affect almost all walks of life. But its impact on agriculture will be direct and relatively more pronounced. The production of not only food, vegetables and fruit crops, but also that of livestock and fish can come under severe strain. The wheat crop has already been the victim of temperature rise in recent years. Other crops and sectors could begin displaying the impact in the near future if measures are not put in place to cope with the menace that has already begun unfolding itself.

…A study by the Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has indicated that the overall wheat production could drop by 4 to 5 million tonnes with every increase of 1 degree Celsius in temperature throughout the growing season of this crop. The output of other crops, too, would be adversely hit by changes in the climate.

Even minor variations in temperature and rainfall, for instance, could have a significant bearing on the quality of fruits and vegetables, besides that of tea leaves, coffee and aromatic and medicinal produce. This could, in turn, impact the prices and trade of these products.

Recent reports released by the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have reckoned that India could witness a 10 to 40 per cent loss in crop production due to the rise in atmospheric temperature by 2080-2100. Some other global bodies have also come to similar, albeit scarier, conclusions.

…However, the silver lining to this dismal scenario is that it is not impossible to mitigate the impact by suitably adapting to the impending changes. As the official note points out, small changes in climatic parameters can be managed reasonably well by altering the dates of planting, plant density in the fields and input management. Even the projected wheat production loss of 4 to 5 million tonnes could be contained to mere 1 to 2 million tonnes by planting the crop on time and using appropriate varieties.

… New technologies, including energy and natural resource conservation techniques, can help improve the efficiency of applied inputs like water and fertilisers without sacrificing the yields.

…what is needed urgently is to ensure adequate funding for research and the development of strategies to change agriculture systems in tandem with the changing climatic conditions. The government will also have to come out with policies to help farmers switch over to new farming systems capable of yielding high returns under changed circumstances.

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