Business Standard: India’s agricultural research system seems well poised to tackle climate change head-on. Apart from gearing itself up for meeting the immediate challenges with the available technologies and knowledge, it is also putting in place a hi-tech, multi-disciplinary research infrastructure to provide the research-and-development backing required for combating climate extremes in the future. Some of the technical facilities being created for this purpose are unique in Asia, if not in the whole world.
This preparedness is part of the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) launched by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in February 2011. This project, being implemented with the active participation of 21 ICAR research institutes and most state agricultural universities, is being coordinated by the Hyderabad-based Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) under the supervision of the natural resource management division of ICAR.
The basic and strategic research being conducted under NICRA will strengthen the farm sector’s defences against climate change. Technologies for facing situation-specific threats are being demonstrated to farmers in vulnerable districts. Scientists and other officials are also being trained.
Significantly, automatic weather data collection stations are being set up in farm research centres at district level to gather agriculture-specific, real-time weather information for local use and sharing exclusively among farm research institutes. A satellite ground station has been established at New Delhi’s Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) to receive data relating to atmosphere, land and ocean directly from the “X” and “L” band polar-orbiting satellites for purely agricultural applications. “This is the first such system being established in an agricultural research set-up anywhere in the world,” says Dr A K Singh, ICAR’s deputy director-general (natural resources), who is overseeing the NICRA project. This system can be used for monitoring crop condition and putting out early warnings about weather aberrations and other kinds of stresses that might affect crop yields.
A distinct feature of NICRA, which sets it apart from climate change projects in other countries, is that it is not confined to crops alone but extends also to livestock and fisheries. Genetic traits of different livestock breeds are being screened vis-à-vis their susceptibility to variable weather. A well-equipped fisheries research vessel has begun operating in the ocean for monitoring the effect of climate change on fish species. New Zealand is perhaps the only other country that is assessing the impact of climate change on livestock.
This aside, ultra-modern environment observation equipments (technically called Eddy Covariance Flux Towers) have been built to monitor the emission of green house gases (GHGs). Besides major GHGs, like methane and carbon dioxide, these centres are also keeping a watch on the nitrous-oxide level of the atmosphere, especially in high fertiliser-consuming areas.
Four farm research centres, located in Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangaluru and Baramati, have been equipped to utilise the science of phenomics (that studies how the physical and biochemical traits of organisms react to genetic and environmental influences) to screen germplasm for their ability to withstand stresses like drought, water-logging, heat, cold and so on.
About 22,000 strains have been identified that possess the desired genes for resistance against climate change-induced stresses. And, to top it all, special contingency plans focused on the microclimate of areas that are at high risk have been prepared for over 300 districts. Selected villages or village-clusters in many of these districts are already being assisted in putting these plans into action.
Area-specific weather and technology advisories are being communicated to famers twice every week. This is believed to be the world’s largest programme to reach out to farmers on climate change-related issues. All this makes NICRA a rare kind of agriculture-centred climate change intervention programme. Since the research outcomes of NICRA will be available to the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture, one of the several national missions created under the government’s flagship National Action Plan on Climate Change, it is now for this mission to promote these technologies on a country-wide scale.
By Surinder Sud. An ICAR’s unique initiative strengthens the farm sector’s defences
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