Crisis in the making: Climate change will impact crop yields by the end of this century

Published: September 19, 2017 4:09:44 AM

Yields at the end of the century are predicted to decrease by 44% for corn, 33-34% for soybeans & 26-31% for cotton even under the slow warming scenario.

Climate change will have a substantial impact on crop yields by the end of this century (Reuters)

With dwindling natural resources and growing population, there has been a lot of pressure on the environment and on the earth. We have exploited our natural resources to enable industrialisation, urbanisation and to meet the growing demands of a burgeoning population. Unfortunately, by doing this, we are exposing ourselves and also our future generations to the risks of climate change. Depleting water tables, year-long droughts and floods in different parts of the world, changing patterns of rainfall, and rising temperatures are some indicators of climate change. All these indicators have a direct impact on agriculture.

Climate change, global warming and food security have been key topics of discussion among global leaders. The Paris Climate Summit, or COP 21, was a milestone meeting of leaders, scientists, policy-makers and experts from over 200 countries. They agreed upon ways to combat climate change as it directly impacts food security. If we do not take immediate remedial action, climate change will have a long-term effect on our farms. Once set in motion, these changes will be difficult to reverse. It is believed that climate change will have a major impact on crop yields by the end of this century. In fact, a 2009 study by Schlenker and Roberts in PNAS—one of the world’s most-cited and comprehensive multidisciplinary scientific journals—states that yields at the end of the century are predicted to decrease by 44% for corn, 33-34% for soybeans and 26-31% for cotton under a slow warming scenario, and 79-80%, 71-72% and 60-78%, respectively, under a quick warming scenario.

In addition, according to a 2012 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report titled USDA Technical Bulletin 1935, climate change is likely to have a significant impact on the American agricultural output. This holds true for all countries where farming is the primary occupation for a majority of the population. As a result, farmers will be pushed to change the way they cultivate crops. They will need to adopt new farming technologies that can address the changing environment. Also, countries will have to incur significant investment to combat the expected changing patterns of pest, disease and weed incidence.

We must understand that climate change could have a higher impact on developing countries, including India. El Nino effects, alarmingly low water tables and extreme temperatures are signs of climate change experienced in the country today. Its effects are most dire on our farming community. As Indian farms largely depend on the monsoon rainfall for productivity, our farmers are directly impacted. We got no time to waste, and must think about ways to mitigate the dangers of climate change. This includes adopting various sustainable models, both in agriculture and other areas. And innovation is the single most effective way to address these challenges. Just as in other fields, innovation in agriculture has played a significant role in making the sector more productive, less labour-intensive and more profitable for our farmers. It has also addressed various farm challenges caused by climate change. Innovation in seed technology can help crop plants cope with not only environmental stresses, but also those caused by biotic factors such as pests, diseases and viruses.

In order to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and to promote sustainable agriculture by 2030, it is imperative that we focus on agriculture and seed innovation. This will enable the deployment of climate-resilient technologies that address drought-tolerance, salinity-tolerance and other environmental challenges. As a country, we must address climate change as a priority challenge and prepare ourselves without delay. A supportive policy environment towards farm innovations and technologies, especially crops that can withstand climate change, will be critical for the growth of our agriculture sector. With this, we will not only hopefully provide solutions for our farmers, but also help them compete in domestic and global markets. To make our farms sustainable and protect our farmers from the uncertainties of climate change, innovation in agriculture and seed technologies is the need of the hour.

Bharat Char
Lead, Biotechnology, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Pvt Ltd (Mahyco)
Views are personal

Get live Stock Prices from BSE and NSE and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.