India is among many developing countries whose agriculture has been impacted by climate change but the country has the capacity to adapt to changes, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the top government farm research body, said on Wednesday.
For the first time, the ICAR said there was empirical evidence to show that change in weather patterns affected at least two cropping cycles in recent years. “The impact of changing climate on Indian agriculture is inevitable but we have the capacity to initiate mitigation and adaptation measures,” Swapan Kumar Dutta, ICAR’s deputy director general of crops, told HT from Patna.
The ICAR said the winter onion crop in Maharashtra in 1997 failed due to high temperatures during the crop’s “bulb formation” stage and, in 1998, due to Purple Blotch and Stemphylium Blight diseases, which were “induced by high rainfall”.
Rising temperatures and unpredictable monsoon are two major threats looming over the farms, evidence culled from long-term ICAR studies suggests.
The ICAR also said the apple belts of Himachal Pradesh were shifting upwards due to warmer temperatures between November and March. HT had carried a report on this last year.
The June-September monsoon is a critical for India, Asia’s third biggest economy, as two-thirds of Indians depend on agriculture. Last year, the farm economy was hammered by a severe drought, the worst in three decades.
Patchy rains last year — 22 per cent deficient — cut rice output by 14 per cent and sugar by 13 per cent. It set food prices soaring, which had risen to an 11-year high of 19.95 per cent on December 5 last year.
The monsoon is also vital to maintain levels in 81 centrally monitored reservoirs, critical for irrigation, power and drinking. The levels dipped below the 10-year average this month.
Extreme temperatures and heat spells could alter patterns of monsoon rains, vital for India's agriculture and water needs. Scientists warn that India will experience a decline in summer rainfall by 2050.
"Situation will substantially worsen by 2050, marked by higher temperatures, less precipitation, depending on where in South Asia you are," G. Nelson of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, who completed a study on climate change's impact on South Asia, told HT.