The effects of climate change are particularly being felt by the agriculture sector. This year, for instance, farmers have had to grapple with untimely rains, hailstorms and delayed snowfall.

Rabi crops are typically sown during October and November, and they generally mature by March and April. Since these crops are grown in the post rainy season, they require only residual moisture or need less irrigation due to winter conditions in the North and less moisture evaporation.

During late December and early January, rainfall typically occurs owing to western disturbances, which benefits rabi crops. But in the last two decades, rains have largely shifted to late February or early March. The late rainfall along with strong surface winds damage the matured crops and affect grain quality.

These weather conditions are causing varying degrees of damage to mustard, wheat, gram, winter corn, and potato crops. This year, delayed snowfall in the hills and western disturbances have led to rain and hailstorms in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, western Uttar Pradesh, and parts of Madhya Pradesh.

However, the damage to the crops has been in patches and not widespread.

In Uttar Pradesh, districts where crop loss has been pegged at around 30 per cent are Basti (35 villages), Chitrakoot (10 villages), Jalaun (33 villages), Jhansi (32 villages) and Saharanpur (62 villages).

According to the latest Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare estimates, wheat output is estimated to reach around 112 million tonnes, an increase of more than 2 million tonnes over last year’s level. Similarly, mustard production is expected to increase by 0.4 million tonnes during the 2023-24 rabi season.

Rising temperatures

Another problem witnessed recently is damage to wheat crop caused by sudden increase in temperature. The grain filling process is affected, leading to shrivelled grains and a reduction in both the quality and yield.

The realities of climate change necessitate adjustments in cropping patterns to sustain productivity and production. The other solution is to use new breeding technologies like genetic modification, gene editing, speed breeding etc. to produce new cultivars which can withstand these variations..

Every crop breeder needs diverse germplasm and land races to find genetic material which can make the crop withstand these environmental impacts.

The other challenge for the breeders is to reduce the time for development of varieties and hybrids which are tolerant to these stresses. For this, speed breeding offers a solution, wherein a crop is cultivated under controlled light and temperature conditions. Depending on the crop, the growth period can be reduced by up to one third.

Consequently, instead of two crop cycles per year, we can achieve six cycles annually. With gene editing and genetic modifications, new traits can be created in genotypes to withstand biotic and abiotic stresses caused by climate change.

Agri roadmap

By 2050 or before Indian population will surpass China and touch around 1.7 billion. At present we produce 330 million tonnes of foodgrains, but our need is projected to increase to more than 400 million tonnes. Land and water are dwindling resources, exacerbated by climate change, posing challenges to meeting food production targets. We must devise an agriculture roadmap accordingly.

With the expansion of urbanisation, good agriculture land is being converted into urban housing, which will increase resource utilisation, pushing agriculture onto less fertile or degraded soils. Urbanisation also generates pollution which ultimately impacts agriculture. Government should immediately stop converting good land for urbanisation and only non- agricultural land should be approved for urban development.

Water Use Efficiency (WUE) should be improved through drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation rather than flood irrigation.

Rice cultivation in Punjab and Haryana during the kharif season, a water-intensive crop, contributes to declining water tables and pollution from straw burning. The government must incentivise farmers to switch to alternative crops to address these pressing issues.

For sustainability of food production under changing climatic conditions and other resource challenges, intervention of technologies, policies in agriculture, and other approaches has to be implemented to provide sufficient and nutritive food to growing population.

The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Sustainable Agriculture, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)