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[NEW DELHI] Indian farmers could be producing less rice and wheat and more legumes as a result of global warming, a senior crop scientist has said.

Climate change would have a negative impact on cereal crops such as wheat and rice, Bandi Venkateswarulu, director of Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad, told a South Asia media workshop on climate change in Delhi this month (17 November).

On the other hand, Venkateswarulu told the workshop organised by the Delhi-based non-government organisation, Centre for Science and Environment, legumes such as soybean and groundnut will benefit from the change in temperature.   

The productivity of most cereals in India would decrease due to rise in temperature and decline in water availability. "A projected loss of 1040 per cent will occur in crop production by 2100," he said.

A rise of one degree Celsius could reduce yields of major food crops by three to seven per cent in India, with higher losses during the winter (rabi) crop season, he added. 

The growing period for crops in rain-fed areas, which account for two-thirds of India's cropland, could reduce.

Rainfall variations would impact summer (kharif) crops; while changes in minimum temperatures would influence the winter crops. Both temperature and rainfall changes would affect rice production in the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Wheat production in irrigated lands is projected to decline by six per cent by 2030. “The higher temperature will also make the wheat crop susceptible to wheat rust because wheat is found to be more susceptible to rusts at higher temperatures,” he observed.

Soyabean yields are projected to rise by 813 per cent and groundnut by up to seven per cent by 2030, he said.

"Apart from this, it has been found that there has been a shift of the apple belt to higher elevations in Himachal Pradesh state because of inadequate chilling in the plains — crucial for good apple yields," Venkateswarulu said. 

Lobzang Tsultim, executive director of the non-profit Leh Nutrition Project in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, said: "I don't know if one can call it climate change or attribute it to any other natural process, but we are certainly experiencing a lot of changes around us. This certainly leaves an impact on the livelihoods of farmers. Last year the floods deposited a lot of silt on their farmlands and destroyed their crops."

An October 2009 ministry of environment and forests report on the impact of climate change on agriculture outlined a five-point strategy to help farmers adapt.

Included are weather services, agro-advisories and community banks for seeds and fodder; intensifying food production systems through technology and inputs; improving land and water management; strengthening research on adaptive capacity and enabling policies.