Drop in yields dryland farms conseqeunt on climate change can be minimized by using adapted and improved crop varieties and opting for soil and water management innovations, says the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in southern India.
Climate change will modify the length of the growing period across the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but this can be dealt with by re-targeting and re-deploying the existing crop varieties.
The impact of climate change on dryland crops is expected to be two-fold - there would be an increase in temperature, and there would be increased frequency of droughts and floods. ICRISAT studies show that predicted temperature increases have greater negative impacts on crop production than relatively small (plus or minus 10%) changes in rainfall.
According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, better formulated and targeted policies that facilitate and support the conduct and adoption of agricultural innovation today assume even greater urgency. Not only will they improve the welfare of rural population today but will do a great deal to cope with the impacts of future climate change.
Allocation of improved financial resources and policy support to agricultural research to enable dryland crops to overcome the adverse impacts of climate change will help the poor farmers of the semi-arid tropics to sustain their productivity and their incomes in the medium- and long-term, Dr Dar said.
ICRISAT studies have generated a "hypothesis of hope", which states:
The impact of climate change on the yields under low input agriculture is likely to be minimal as other factors will continue to provide the overriding constraints to crop growth and yield.
The adoption of currently recommended improved crop, soil and water management practices, even under climate change, will result in substantially higher yields than farmers are currently obtaining in their low input systems.
The adaptation of better 'temperature-adapted' varieties could result in the almost complete mitigation of climate change effects that result from temperature increases.
The crops on which ICRISAT works - pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea - are by themselves hardy and drought tolerant. By strengthening these crops to be resilient to withstand the negative impacts of climate change, ICRISAT is ensuring that the poor dryland farmer copes with it and sustains his/her agricultural productivity and income.