18) New crop varieties for a changing climate

As climate change becomes more felt all over the world, the United Nations is currently holding a climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, which encompasses the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP16) and the sixth Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP6).

Speaking at the conference that runs from 29 November to 10 December, Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and incoming President of COP16/CMP6, said "With political will and a pragmatic outlook, Cancun can be the beginning of a new era of agreements on climate change."

Taking a pragmatic outlook even further, the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has gone ahead and developed climate change-ready cultivars of dryland crops.

ICRISAT Director General William Dar affirms, “ICRISAT is well placed to respond to the climate challenge. Along with our partners, we recognize the importance of the issue and firmly believe that our new strategy, following the inclusive market-oriented development approach, will benefit the livelihoods of communities who are the most vulnerable to climate change.”

ICRISAT’s research is focused on crops that are important to the livelihoods of the people of the dryland tropics. These are pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut. These crops have several natural evolutionary advantages to withstand global warming.

Both pearl millet and sorghum have high levels of salinity tolerance, so are better adapted to areas that are becoming saline due to global warming. Some of the pearl millet varieties and hybrids, developed from ICRISAT’s germplasm are able to flower and set seed at temperatures more than 42 degrees centigrade in areas such as Western Rajasthan and Gujarat in India.

Improved sorghum lines have also been developed that are capable of producing good yields in temperatures of 42 degrees C, and have stay-green traits that can enhance terminal drought tolerance.

Short-duration groundnut varieties such as ICGV 91114 have good levels of drought tolerance, and are already replacing more susceptible older varieties. For chickpea, ICRISAT has developed extra-early (85 to 90 days to maturity) and super-early (75 to 80 days) varieties that can escape terminal drought. More recently, ICRISAT researchers have identified chickpea lines that have high levels of heat tolerance, which will enable them to be grown in areas with higher temperatures during the heat-sensitive pod filling stage.

Modeling studies carried out at ICRISAT show that there will be a drop in agricultural productivity with climate change in the dryland tropics. However, with a combination of climate change-ready varieties plus improved agronomic practices, dryland farmers will be able to overcome the adverse impacts of a warmer world.

COP16/CMP6 is the 16th edition of Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) and the 6th Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). The Parties refer to all the national states that signed and ratified both of the international treaties, committing to observe and comply with its terms regarding international cooperation against climate change.

 

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