Centre forms panel to save wheat from heat
Last year, a similar disastrous hot spell in March, when temperatures leapt to record highs, crippled wheat yields as output shrank 2.5% in the world’s second-largest producer, stoking a crisis-like situation.
New Delhi: The Centre has mounted an unprecedented interministerial effort to protect the country’s wheat crop, a winter staple, which faces imminent risks from anticipated heatwaves due to an early summer, and has set up a panel to deal with the problem.
Last year, a similar disastrous hot spell in March, when temperatures leapt to record highs, crippled wheat yields as output shrank 2.5% in the world’s second-largest producer, stoking a crisis-like situation. The country, which banned exports of the grain last May, has officially forecast wheat harvests of 112 million tonnes this year, the highest ever.
Scores of state-employed farm scientists from institutions such as the flagship Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research, and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (crop advisory centres) have been deployed to fields in five states to apprise growers of crop protection measures in case of a heatwave, said an official.
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HT said in an analysis earlier this week that temperatures in seven states, including Punjab, a major grower of wheat, are at levels usually seen in mid-March. That, and fears of an El Niño effect later this year have prompted fears of an early and intense summer.
Persisting domestic consumer inflation, which touched a three-month high of 6.52% in January, global food shortages, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and frayed supply lines due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic still weigh heavily on India.
The states that could see a heatwave, amid rising temperatures, are mostly in the northwestern part of the country, in its main food bowl plain, comprising Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Rajasthan, commonly viewed as a desert state, is a major grower of a variety of cereal and oilseeds. It faces the most risk of a heatwave, said an official. Madhya Pradesh, another large grower, faces the least threat because the state’s wheat crop matures earlier than elsewhere.
The committee has got working. Officials from several departments and ministries are coordinating with states to ensure there is sufficient water at sources such as reservoirs and dams to supply canals for protective irrigation. They are also checking supply lines for cheap diesel and ensuring steady electricity supply, which farmers need to run pumps.
Experts from the animal husbandry department are advising farmers on how to protect themselves and their cattle from heat strokes, asking them to keep bovines supported by wet hay shades and ‘desert coolers’, a type of motorised fan that disperses mist, while increasing intake of water, said a third official.
“Farmers know a lot. They are experienced. We are telling them to remember the key things. So far, the crops are good,” said Narender Goyal of Damla Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Haryana. India has one of these centres in nearly each of the country’s 766 districts.
Farmers must check on their crops daily, undertake mulching, which refers to the practice of covering of soil with organic matter to prevent moisture loss, undertake light irrigation and follow weather forecasts, said a scientist.
“There’s no panic. The important thing is that nights are considerably cooler than days. There is no heatwave till now, only higher temperatures. Cooler nights help plants to remain heathy,” said Gyanendra Singh of the Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research.
Also read: India likely to continue curbs on wheat, rice exports
A good harvest is critical in a country where agriculture employs the largest number of people. Ample food stocks drive up rural incomes, which in turn creates growth-propelling demand for consumer goods.
According to the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) classifications, a heatwave condition is declared when either the mercury is higher by 4.5°C to 6.40°C for at least two days or if the maximum temperature of an IMD weather station reaches at least 40°C or more for plains and at least 30°C or more for hilly regions. Temperatures in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana have ranged between 28 and 30°C for the past two weeks.
On Sunday, IMD, the national weather bureau, issued the first heatwave alert for the year, predicting maximum temperatures of 37-39°C in parts of the Kutch and the Konkan regions of western India.
The El Niño effect refers to warmer-than -usual temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon that is associated with hotter summers and a poor monsoon in India. To be sure, experts say it is too soon to hazard a guess on this year’s monsoon.