7) Climate change adaptation innovations bring hope to dryland farmers

Modeling studies undertaken by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) on the potential impact of climate change on dryland crops show that the drop in yields can be minimized through the use of adapted and improved crop varieties plus soil and water management innovations. The interventions can be further strengthened through developing improved varieties and hybrids that are better targeted for climate change adaptation including enhancing capacities of the farming communities.

ICRISAT studies show that 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.

ICRISAT’s Operational Research Plan (ORP) to deal with climate change adaptation in the semi-arid tropics is based on a two-fold objective:

  • Unless risk averse and vulnerable farming communities in the semi-arid tropics are empowered to cope better with current season-to-season rainfall variability through improved climate risk management, adapting to future climate change will be a daunting challenge for most and perhaps impossible for many.
  • Since a lead time of many years is required to produce ‘finished products’ of adapted germplasm, ICRISAT’s research is combining ex ante (before the event) assessments of the impacts from climate change scenarios on the performance of the Institute’s mandate crops. These assessments will project what are the required crop characteristics that will reduce the negative and exploit the positive impacts of climate change.

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.

For further information, contact Dr Peter Cooper at .

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