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Wheat production: India is better prepared than Pakistan to handle climate shocks

Wheat production: India is better prepared than Pakistan to handle climate shocks

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Being part of the same landmass, conducive weather conditions in India and Pakistan are helping them to achieve record wheat output this year, but India, having developed many indigenous heat-resistant and short-duration seed varies, is better prepared than its neighbor to handle climate change impact, experts say.

Globally, India and Pakistan are the second and the eighth-largest wheat-producing countries. However, India is self-sufficient in wheat output, the latter imports 2 to 3 million tons, the media reported on Saturday, quoting agri-scientists.

Pakistan is still dependent on imports to meet domestic requirements because it failed to develop indigenous varieties of climate-resilient seeds.

In the current harvesting season, India has projected wheat output to touch a new record of 114 million tons in the 2023-24 crop year (July- June), while Pakistan has set an ambitious target of 32.2 million tons from an area of 8.9 million hectares.

Despite the adverse impact of climate change on wheat crops since 2010, the current year has been exceptionally favorable to them as there have been no events of terminal heat waves or unseasonal rains affecting the crop.

“The climate has been favorable this year. During the crucial period of mid-January and February, there were no incidents of sudden heat waves, unseasonal rains, and lodging. We are expecting a bumper crop,” ICAR-Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research (ICAR-IIWBR) Director Gyanendra Singh was quoted as saying.

He said the availability of newer seeds varies and greater awareness among farmers, has encouraged them to sow climate-resilient wheat varieties in more than 80 percent of the total wheat area of 34.15 million hectares in India this year.

Out of 600 indigenous wheat varieties released so far in India, more than 100 climate-resilient varieties are in the seed chain now. Around 14 new varieties were released in the current year itself, he said.

Unlike other countries, India is doing much better in taking various agronomic measures such as changing planting dates and short-duration varieties besides promoting raised bed cultivation, sprinkler irrigation, and soil-water-nitrogen management, Naresh Kumar, Principal Investigator at ICAR’s National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), said.

Wheat crop is highly sensitive to temperature increases. Hot and unseasonal warm weather cut India’s wheat output in 2022 and 2023, leading to a drawdown in state reserves. A 5.5 percent decrease in wheat yield was reported in the past 30 years (1980-2010) because of a decadal temperature increase of 0.13 degrees Celsius. With temperature rising further, studies have reported a decline in wheat production across the world.

According to Rajbir Yadav, Wheat Breeder, and Principal Scientist at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), the climate-smart seed varieties that India has developed can be easily grown in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal also.

“It can fit well in some areas as agro-climatic conditions are the same,” he said.

The situation of wheat farmers in Pakistan is, however, different despite sharing similar agro-climatic conditions for growing wheat.

Since 2021, Pakistan’s agriculture department has released 31 wheat varieties through international collaborations to help cultivated fields become more productive, climate-resilient, and disease-resistant.

While the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) has acquired over 4,000 wheat germplasm varieties from various international sources for evaluation and utilization in national breeding programs, it has yet to indigenously produce quality seeds and species that can absorb climate shocks.

Pakistan has failed to improve seed quality for over 20 years. The hybrid seeds from countries with different climates present dual challenges i.e. non-compatible with local agro-climatic conditions and disease-carriers. During the late 20th century, a hybrid seed from the US carried a pest, locally named “AmrikanSundi,” which could not be eradicated, a farmer said.

Climate change has necessitated changes in sowing and harvesting seasons as well.

“The availability of seeds, inputs, fertilizer, and water must be ensured on time to ward off the La Niña and El Niño effects,” Dr. Zahir A Zahir, Professor of Institute of Soil & Environmental Sciences, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, said.

His university in collaboration with Washington State has developed and acclimatized germplasm, a hybrid seed variety, which requires less water and gives more yield.

“Pakistan has turned from net exporter to net importer of wheat in just five years, because of the formidable twin challenges of climate change and population explosion affecting in tandem,” Mushtaq Ahmad Gill, Chief Executive, South Asian Conservation Agriculture Network (SACAN), said.

Highlighting the importance of water amidst raging global warming, Gill, a former Director-General of Water Management, in Punjab, Pakistan, lamented that his country only had water storage capacity for 30 days.

“Half of the year, we face drought, the other half, floods,” he said and called for increasing water storage and saving precious water worth billions of dollars from going into the sea yearly.

“We, the agricultural scientists and farmers from India and Pakistan, regularly stay in touch with each other and hold online/YouTube sessions to benefit from each other’s experiences. We exchange technology, expertise, and products to help each other get optimum yields,” Gill said while stressing the need to maintain regular contact.

However, Punjab’s Minister for Agriculture Syed Ashiq Hussain Shah ruled out any climate impact on wheat crops. “We are expecting a bumper crop this year,” he claimed.


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