Climate study for better agriculture

Fri Jul 12 2013

Divya Goyal

Climate study for better agriculture
Climate study for better agriculture

Snowfall in Pathankot on January 6-7, 2011, 400 mm rainfall in 24 hours in Ludhiana on August 12, 2011; -4°C in Bathinda on February 9, 2012. Coming within such a short span, these deviations from what is seen as normal for Punjab have caused alarm among agricultural scientists, who stress the need for continuous research on the impact of climate changes on the agriculture of a state whose produce feeds half the nation.

Punjab Agricultural University established a School of Climate Change and Agriculture Agro-meteorology this season. It is the country’s second agriculture university to have a specialised department on the subject. Kerala Agriculture University had established its Academy of Climate Change Education and Research in 2010.

“We studied the temperature readings from 1960 to 2012. What we found was alarming. There has been a 1°C increase in the minimum temperature of Punjab, which is huge,” says Dr S S Kukal, director in PAU’s School of Climate Change.

The increase in minimum temperature is not a good sign for rice and wheat, says Dr Kukal. “Wheat is a rabi crop and rice a kharif one. The annual rabi and kharif seasons’ average minimum temperatures have increased 0.01 to 0.06°C a year in all districts except Amritsar and Nawanshahar. Production of the two staple crops for India will be affected by the climate change and we need to find solution to that.”

The decision to set up the centre was prompted also by abnormal rainfall spells that can have an adverse impact on agriculture. “On June 16 this year, it rained 180 mm in a single day in Ludhiana. Now had our department been only for weather forecasting, we would have closed the matter by saying Ludhiana had got normal monsoon. But 25 per cent of the total expected rain in one day is not really normal. Most of the rainfall went as runoff, not into the ground. It is a good spread of rainfall spells that crops need, not all the rain in one day,” says Dr Kukal.

“That is what we aim at studying; how to tackle such situations,” he adds.

The university has applied to the Centre to grant its school the status of a centre of excellence for research in climate change. Its team includes agro-meteorologists, soil scientists, water management experts, soil water engineers, horticulturists, and a plant protection team with entomologists and plant pathologists. “If the temperature rises, the number of pathogens too will rise. You cannot ignore any aspect,” says Dr Kukal, stressing the need to have a “complete team”.

Where it differs from the Kerala Agriculture University’s centre is that PAU’s school is yet to begin courses in climate change. KAU started an MSc course in climate change in 2010 itself, “We are in the process of making a proposal,” says Dr Kukal.

This wheat harvesting season, Punjab suffered a five- to eight-per-cent drop in its wheat production solely on account of the steep increase in temperature over the last six to eight days of the milking period. “If six to eight days can lead to such a loss, one can well imagine what we have to deal with in future,” says Dr Kukal.

Their studies of rainfall trends have observed a progressive decline in nine districts — Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Nawan Shehar, Ferozepur, Bathinda, Sangrur, Fategarh Sahib, Rupnagar and Fardikot — and an increase in the districts of Mansa, Ludhiana and Patiala. Besides, sunshine hours in Punjab have decreased over the past four decades, which Dr Kukal describes as not a good sign for agriculture.

Countries worldwide are spending more and more on climate change, and Dr Kukal stresses the timeliness of the decision in Punjab. Projections made by PRECIS (Providing Regional Climate for Impact Studies) say the “annual maximum and minimum temperatures in Punjab may increase from baseline by 2-3°C by 2020-50″. The PRECIS model has predicted the possibility of increasing floods and drought.

World Bank estimates warming of about 1.25°C in India over the next three decades, which will reduce the average land productivity across Punjab’s districts by almost 17 per cent. This is really going to be a shocker for the agriculture sector and we need to think about it now,” says Dr Kukal. Courtesy Indian Express.

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