21) Science leads to adaptation with climate change

As the world celebrates Environment Day, science is continuously mobilized to help mitigate the threats caused by global warming and climate change.

Along with this, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), headquartered in Patancheru, Hyderabad in southern India, is intensively working with its partners to develop science-based strategies that empower vulnerable communities to cope with climate change in the dry tropics of the world.

These strategies will help farmers to face the challenges of climate change on two fronts:

  • Short to medium-term: Helping farmers and their support agents to cope better with current rainfall variability as a prerequisite to adapting to future climate change.

  • Medium to longer-term: Adapting dryland crops (sorghum, millet, groundnut, chickpea and pigeonpea) to grow in a warmer world.

“Climate variability and change is an important consideration for ICRISAT given our mandate for the improvement of rainfed farming systems in the dry tropics of the developing world,” says ICRISAT’s Director General William D Dar.

Satellite data shows that the dry tropics, where rainfed agriculture provides 60% of the world’s food, will be the most vulnerable to climate change. ICRISAT data shows that increases in temperature will have a significant (8% to 30%) reduction in grain yields of dryland crops. Nevertheless, due to their evolutionary advantage, dryland crops are better adapted than other major food crops (rice, maize and wheat) to environmental stresses such as drought.

“ ICRISAT believes that the ability of agricultural communities and agricultural stakeholders must first be enhanced to enable them to cope better with current climatic variability if they are to adapt to the predicted future increases in climate variability,” added Dr Dar.

Watershed management has also contributed to improving the resilience of agricultural incomes despite the high incidence of drought as evidenced from the drylands of India. This shows that where rural communities have viable livelihoods, adaptation to climate change is feasible.

ICRISAT has identified long-term strategies that will result in crop varieties and cropping systems that are adapted to a changing environment. An Integrated Genetic and Natural Resources Management (IGNRM) approach is pursued which considers factors such as:

  • Higher temperature tolerance
  • Increased root stresses due to soil salinity, acidity, nutrient availability, drought, flooding
  • Changed severity and distribution of pests and diseases
  • Migration of dryland crops into geographical areas already marginal for crops currently being grown

Dr Dar confidently affirms, “ICRISAT is well placed to respond to this challenge with goals of developing resilient ecosystems and crops. Along with our partners, we recognize the importance of the issue and firmly believe that our approach will benefit the livelihoods of communities who are the most vulnerable to climate change. World Environment Day is an excellent reminder about our mission in the dry tropics.”

ICRISAT is one of 15 global agricultural research Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It works with a wide array of lead organizations dealing with meteorological services and climate science research worldwide. Research focuses on making better use of natural resources and developing innovations that have a high probability of success.

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