In their conversations with farmers, all that the researchers heard was climate trauma, centred on the vagaries of weather. Geethalakshmi Vellingiri heard farmers in her study site—Manapparai taluk in Tiruchirapalli district, Tamil Nadu—agonise over hotter summers, unseasonal rain, and extreme fluctuations in the amount of precipitation. Geethalakshmi is an agroclimatologist at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, and principal investigator of the “Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP): Integrated Crop and Economic Assessments” study carried out in south India. 

A major international research programme, AgMIP focuses on agriculture in the face of climate change, presenting information on regional and global integrated assessments and adaption recommendations for food security under changing climate conditions. The studies are published in the Handbook of Climate Change and Agroecosystems, a joint publication of Imperial College Press (ICP) with the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), and the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA). The India studies are published in a volume whose special focus is the AgMIP regional integrated assessments carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia from 2011 to 2014.

In the study for north India, in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, part of the Upper Gangetic agroclimatic region of the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP), Nataraja Subash also heard farmers carp about extreme events and unseasonal rain becoming the norm. 

They spoke of rain in March when wheat is nearly ready for harvest. Rain at that stage can be lethal for the crop. In April temperatures keep shooting up and the crop is forced to mature earlier, thus reducing grain size and yield.

Human-driven climate change is leading to a massive shift in our natural systems—land, oceans, and atmosphere.

Subash is an agroclimatologist at ICAR-Indian Institute of Farming System Research and also the lead principal investigator of ICAR-AgMIP Collaborative Project, Modipuram, UP.

According to AgMIP protocols, the researchers categorised Global Circulation Model output into five future climate scenarios—hot-dry, hot-wet, cool-dry, and cool-wet, and the last one intersecting all the previous four. The results show, in some scenarios, sooner, and in some, later, declining yields, falling per capita income, and increasing vulnerability to poverty. Climate change is affecting farmers for the worse, especially marginal farmers. They noted a consistent rise in temperatures and increasingly truant monsoon, both of which make life more difficult for the farmer. 


Human-driven climate change is leading to a massive shift in our natural systems—land, oceans, and atmosphere. “There are multiple pressures on individuals and society, and often they don’t just add but multiply. Extremes with climate change can push things over the brink where they break,” says Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist in the climate analysis section at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, U.S. “This happens both locally and regionally now,” he adds. During the Chennai floods of 2015, he had hypothesised that “climate change has set the stage, El Nino has further bolstered the odds, and then chance weather has topped it off with a series of flooding events.”

In 2015, heat rose to such levels that it melted roads. In May of that year, New Delhi experienced 43C  for five consecutive days. 

Loss of life due to heat was staggering: according to reports, it killed 1,443 people in 2013, 549 in 2014, 2,081 in 2015, and some 1,600 in 2016, to bad weather, of whom 557 were felled by the heat.

Climate change impacts are visible now: research, as referenced in the Indo-Gangetic Basin paper, shows declining monsoon rainfall, increasing frequency of heavy rainfall events with light rainfall events decreasing.

How a rise in average temperature of 0.5C has lethal consequences is shown in a study from the University of California, Irvine, by climatologist Omid Mazdiyasni. Published in Science Advances in 2017, the study used the Indian Meteorological Department’s data between 1960 and 2009 to analyse “changes in summer temperatures, the frequency, severity, and duration of heat waves, and heat-related mortality in India.”

The study shows “mean temperatures across India have risen by more than 0.5C over this period(1960-2009)...correspond to a 146 per cent increase in the probability of heat-related mortality events of more than 100 people.”

Climate change impacts are real and visible now: earlier research, as referenced in the Indo-Gangetic Basin paper, shows declining monsoon rainfall, increasing frequency of heavy rainfall events with light rainfall events decreasing. “It’s also projected that under, RCP 4.5, the temperature increase will be 1.10C in the rabi (winter) season in 2035, and 3C in 2100. The corresponding increase in rainfall will be 4 per cent and 14 per cent; in the kharif (summer) season, temperature rise will be 0.9C and 2.4C, while rainfall will be 6 per cent and 13 per cent.

If business continues as usual, the model projects mean warming in India in the range of 1.7-2C by 2030 and 3.3-4.8C by 2080, from industrial times; rainfall may increase by 4-5 per cent by 2030 and 6-14 per cent by 2080 from the baseline of 1961-1990,” the study says.

All the changes that are occurring and will continue to occur in temperature and rainfall have huge consequences for our agriculture and food security, especially as the food basket mostly comprises wheat and rice. AgMIP studies suggest adaptation practices. Moreover, if government polices continue to promote only a few crops highly sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall, climate change will, in a beneficent twist, make India go for climate-tolerant crops.


Sonali McDermid has studied the Indian monsoon processes for many years. Photo: Special arrangement.

Agriculture is the only profession Sonali Shukla McDermid can think of that requires you to exercise every single component of your humanity. It’s just not about growing food. “It’s the only profession that brings everything you’re together in one place,” she says in a chat on Skype.

An assistant professor at New York University, McDermid was born and brought up in the US though her parents are first-generation immigrants. She had felt “a deep curiosity” about India. So she decided to study monsoon processes in graduate school, often going back to India “to understand this whole other part of me”.

India and South Asia are the most interesting places for her, extreme in so many ways: from really dry to very dry in summer to very wet in monsoon, extreme rainfall even without climate change, and a massive food and cultural heritage. Then there is  El Niño that affects monsoons; the Indian Ocean can affect it; as can aerosols. “Everything that’s possibly going on in the world today, it’s happening there in one place. For every problem, there is a solution. Everything is in the region,” she says

That also makes it very difficult to understand because so much is going on in one place at the same time that it’s “the ultimate complexity and ultimate problem to understand”.

 As a climate scientist McDermid began to lean towards agriculture and the climate change impacts on it. She started looking at agriculture in a personal way, sparked by health issues that made her consider what she ate, where the food originated, how it was grown, and all the other things. She realised that there were nutrient deficiencies in the way the western world consumes food, especially in the US—nutrient-poor, protein-rich diet. Obesity is a problem. In addition, people are not getting necessary nutrients. Then there is heart disease and high cholesterol.

From a personal standpoint, she mulled over how we are responding to the crisis, the incentives, how we’re growing our food, what’s being promoted, and if people want to eat that. “Industrial agriculture and its effect on the environment started to disturb me,” she says. When she returned to India, which was often, she found how varied the diets are, “at least my family was cooking them”. She realised that the way the west practices agriculture is entirely different from South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, or anywhere else on the planet.

Most of the food crop grown in the US is maize, soya bean, wheat—most of it not directly feeding people. It’s going to animal feed, into products like sugar, ethanol for fuel. It is a recipe for food insecurity. 

Much of the food grown in India and sub-Saharan Africa, in contrast, goes to people. These regions “have a major role to play in achieving food security”.


As it is, agriculture in India is wilting, almost all of the problems originating in policymaking, political structures and economics. The government encourages mostly rice and wheat, with a few others throw in, through instrumentalities like “minimum support price”. 

If the government promoted a system that incentivises growing soil nutrients and improving soil fertility, you might get away with the changes warming might inflict on you.

Subsidising rice and wheat, maybe a few other crops, is not a robust system. Putting all those eggs in a single basket is a recipe for disaster every time the farmer plants. If the crops fail, the farmer has nothing to fall back on, and he goes into debt on top of what he owes in the previous crop season.

An offshoot of chemically-intensive agriculture and subsidies for a few crops is mono-cropping on such a huge scale that India’s diverse food cultures are on the brink of being lost. Soils are depleted, water is contaminated, farmers’ incomes are forever falling, and food security is getting harder to achieve for all of India.

As McDermid puts it, “This is economics—because of the current practice of chemically-intensive agriculture, when you sell a farmer a crop, you are selling the whole package, not just seeds but also  irrigation water, pesticides, herbicides, all inputs small farmers cannot really afford, every single time they plant for every stage of plant growth.” Fertilisers and pesticides beget more fertilisers and pesticides, and the small farmer is forever indebted.

Instead, she continues, if the government promoted a system that incentivises growing soil nutrients and improving soil fertility, you might get away with the changes warming might inflict on you.

“You could have a more integrated farm with animals, but these systems don’t produce a cash crop as often, and might not be as economically productive, even if they are agriculturally productive,” she says.

Thus farmers don’t see incentives in the marketplace or from the government. So policy and attendant economics lock farmers into a regressive loop and keep promoting a degraded system.

The government has a responsibility to rectify the situation; they recognise that but do not implement it. The public too can do what they can, she says, the city dwellers asking for more coarse grain, more pulses, more millets.

“You don’t want a western diet regime where there are only a couple of foods all the time.” The city dwelling public need to keep the connection to the landscape somehow to help farmers, to give them options.

In fact, government policies and the way they lock farming in a vice makes it all the more vulnerable to climate disruptions. 

It’s not a problem just for farmers. Conservation, too, suffers. “Neglected plants don’t get research funding, nobody cares about them. We might lose them,” McDermid says. 


To understand the dynamics at play—how climate change impacts India’s agriculture and how agriculture affects climate—McDermid and colleagues from India have worked with AgMIP. Since its inception in 2010, AgMIP has grown into a global community of science, with over 700 members from over 40 countries; the goal is to understand climate change impacts at the farm level, and provide adaptation recommendations.

In the last five years, researchers in India fanned out across two areas, as mentioned—one in the north (Modipuram) and the other in the south (Manapparai), to connect with farmers. They would “go out into the fields, connect with farmers, try to understand what they need from a science perspective, how they implement management practices and what they care about.” They were both published in 2017. 

The studies are the first of this nature with integrated impact assessment of climate change on agricultural productivity by linking climate-crop-economic models. The distinguishing feature of these studies is that they are not based on experimental data, which comes from research test plots. The researchers had to get all that farmers did over the course of time from farmers themselves. Data relating to weather, soils, management practices, and cultivar profiles had to be fed into the models to get a realistic picture of what happens, and what might happen in future. So the researchers conducted extensive surveys and collected data intensively.

First, though, they focused on three core questions at the international-level workshops: impact of climate change on present crop systems; impacts on future agricultural systems; then, the adaptations that are required. Also, researchers estimated impacts by developing what are called Representative Agricultural Pathways (RAPs), which is the visualisation of present and future conditions by all the people involved, including scientists, policy makers at different levels, and farmers. Based on the climate analysis, they developed five different various future climate conditions.



Geetalakshmi at an interaction in Coimbatore. Photo: Special arrangement.

Geethalakshmi  and her colleagues, including McDermid, worked on the AgMIP (I) project in south India, and published  the paper titled , “Integrated Assessment of Climate Change Imapcts on Maize farms and farm Household Incomes in South India: A  Case Study from Tamil Nadu”.

With more than 56 per cent of people in Tamil Nadu depending on agriculture and related sectors, and 65 per cent of the state’s population rural, agriculture is the most important source of livelihood for people.

“In the discussions and workshops, there was so much cross-learning happening. It is great to be part of this project,” Geethalakshmi says.

In each of these conditions researchers estimated that if the present agricultural system was subjected to climate change, it would lower mean net returns, lower per capita income and raise poverty levels on irrigated maize farms.

In the future climate conditions, maize yields would decline by 14.16 to 20.25 per cent, according to some estimates. At least 94 per cent are losers; loses in net returns range from 12.61 to 19.33 per cent, and are higher, leading to huge falls in per capita income.

With appropriate adaptation practices such as shifting the sowing window, altering fertiliser application levels and time, giving irrigation at critical growth stages, etc., farmers can mitigate some climate impacts, Geethalakshmi says.


AgMIP’s north India study was led by Nataraja Subash. He and his collegues published their paper titled “Integrated Climate Change Assessment through Linking Crop Simulation with Economic Modeling—Preliminary results from the Indo-Gangetic Basin”. The study area, Modipuram in Meerut district, has  semi-arid tropical climate. 

“It’s a great learning experience, linking climate to crop yields and then to economics to adaptation,” Subash says of his work on the project. He learnt to deal not only with scientists from different backgrounds but also with policy makers and farmers.

 Rice and wheat, sugarcane-wheat are the predominant cropping systems of the study area. One crop model shows the present system with climate change registering a decline in mean rice yield of 8 per cent to 23 per cent; wheat 17 to 29 per cent. The present situation shows mean net farm returns declining by 12 to 16 per cent under all five climate conditions. Per capita income would come down by 8-10 per cent according to one model and 2-6 per cent by another model. 

For the future, the forecast is equally bleak, with losses in mean net farm returns of 23.4 to 25.4 per cent. According to the analysis, 39 to 64 per cent of population is vulnerable to climate change.

So an adaptation recommendation that advances the date of sowing by 10 days for wheat gives farmers some chance to minimise losses.

“We need more studies of different agroclimatic zones (India has been broadly divided into 15 agroclimatic zones) involving more farming/cropping systems in India to get a real estimate of the impacts of climate change,” Subash says.



Subash (second from left) with farmers in Modinagar during the north India study. Photo: Special arrangement

The evidence of climate change impacts is clear, the pain real. According to the 2017-18 Economic Survey, Chapter 6 of Volume 1, climate change would affect farming in three ways: “an increase in average temperatures, a decline in average rainfall and an increase in the number of dry-days.”

Its key findings are: First, “the impact of temperature and rainfall is felt only in the extreme; when temperatures are much higher, rainfall significantly lower and the number of “dry days” greater than normal. 

Secondly, “these impacts are significantly more adverse in un-irrigated areas (rainfed crops such as pulses) compared to irrigated areas (crops such as cereals).

“Applying IPCC-predicted temperatures and projecting India’s recent trends in precipitation, and assuming no policy responses, give rise to estimates for farm income losses of 15 per cent to 18 per cent on average, rising to 20-25 per cent for un-irrigated areas. At current levels of farm income, that translates into more than `3,600 per year for the median farm household,” the report says.

To mitigate the effects of climate change, the report suggests “drip irrigation, sprinklers, and water management—captured in the ‘more crop for every drop’ campaign... And of course, the power subsidy needs to be replaced by direct benefit transfers so that power use can be fully costed and water conservation furthered.”


Before all these welcome changes happen, however, millions of farmers right now are having to deal with the impact of climate change. But they cannot afford to think beyond a particular season, while climate scientists and policy makers think long-term. When to plant seeds, when it will rain and how much—these are the things most useful to farmers. Big gaps exist in what information climate science can give farmers for their short-term timeframes. 

There are efforts going on around the world to bridge that.

“We are trying to be sensitive, responsible, these are the people who need information to act in the case of an extreme event or in case of a heat wave or something else,” McDermid says.

“Right now, we are talking to learn as much as possible, try to get a really good understanding of what info they want and need, and also, how can you recommend adaptation methods. How to bridge the gap? How do you make decisions in the face of uncertainty, this is the big question, going forward for farming in the future.”

We can make connections between larger scale weather patterns  and local weather variables like rainfall and ground temperatures. From these observations, we can establish relationships that aid us in prediction—for example, if we observe a given pressure pattern, we might be able to anticipate a dry period.

None of the climate change projections are truly accurate, certainly not at small-time scales in the range of two weeks, or in the course of a season.

The problem is always with the short-term prediction. In the long term, we are going to face challenges. There are two types of models: global climate models and statistical models. 

McDermid who works more on long-term climate projections explains:  global climate models are based on actual processes, on basic physics principles like conservation of mass, conservation of energy, and the conservation of momentum. They have 100 by 100 km grids. If you change the temperature in them, you are going to have less rain through thermodynamic relationship to rainfall. You work with these models by providing initial conditions like temperature and use process equations to project what’s going to happen in the future. That’s how you get what it’s going to be like in 2050. It takes time for these models to find equilibrium.

Statistical models, on the other hand, are not necessarily based on any kind of physical processes. They really require a large number of weather and climate observations so, “We can make connections between larger scale weather patterns (patterns of high and low pressure systems for example) and local weather variables like rainfall and ground temperatures,” McDermid says, “From these observations, we can establish working mathematical relationships that aid us in prediction—for example, if we observe a given pressure pattern, we might be able to anticipate a dry period.” 

The model is as good as your number of observations or quality of information. If there are errors at initial stages of those observations, it’s going to compromise the model.

In order to make a really good short-term prediction there is what is what is called the initial value problem. Let’s say in order to forecast 10, 15 minutes ahead, you need to really know the exact conditions now.

If there are errors in the state of the atmosphere right now, these errors will get bigger and bigger as you move forward in time. “That is the way the system works. It’s chaotic in nature.”

If the initial values are not correct it’s impossible to make short-term predictions that are reliable. Lots of seasonal forecasters are trying to improve that by installing more weather stations, the quality of information coming out of them, having really good coverage and radius of weather stations around a particular area. “Improved data can make for improved prediction,” McDermid says.

Although India has some good coverage, there are huge gaps in the data. India has an extremely varied landscape; you can have rainfall differences in maybe fewer than 50 km. Instead of the process-based models that look at all these processes, statistical models construct a representation based on statistical analysis. 

India’s people in general, and farmers in particular, live and die by and in the monsoon, and the monsoon is riddled with uncertainty.

“It turns out that those kinds of models work to an extent at small time-scales, short-term timeframes. The problem with them is that they don’t factor in climate change. So when you have a strong extreme weather event pattern because of climate change that has not appeared before, the model doesn’t capture that. There are efforts around the world to bridge the gap.

“On the other hand, though process-based models take a long time to find equilibrium, they are better at looking at everything, changes in averages, changes in mean states. When you look at thunderstorms, for example, they don’t happen at those scales.” 

The climate science community is trying to devise ways to harness the strengths of both these models, to put them together.


The uncertainty gets more pronounced in rainfall prediction. India’s people in general, and farmers in particular, live and die by and in the monsoon, and the monsoon is riddled with uncertainty. Land heats up a lot faster than the ocean in April-May around the Indian peninsula. Hot air starts to rise, and the sea breeze comes in to fill the void. The air coming off the Arabian Sea is laden with moisture. It has to rain down and it does, and the moisture accounts for roughly 70-80 per cent of the rainfall. That’s the simple version, McDermid explains.

It’s a lot more complicated than that. A lot of other things happen—storm systems, depressions coming off the Bay of Bengal, moisture on the subcontinent that adds to and sustains the monsoon. 

In fact scientists call this a coupled land-ocean-atmosphere system, meaning if you change one of these, changes ripple through the others, changing the mechanics of the monsoon. The land-sea interaction suddenly becomes more complicated with climate change. 

One of the things “we can see under climate change conditions is the land is going to heat up faster than the ocean.” On top of that we have climate change, we have more water vapour in the atmosphere. It has to rain somewhere. (For every degree Celsius of warming of the planet, seven per cent extra moisture gets added.) 

Climate models suggest increased rainfall with all the warming going on. But when you look at the aggregate India rainfall from 1950s—depending on what data set you use—up until now, it actually shows a decrease in rainfall.

“We are in a weird situation where observations tell us the opposite thing to the models we use to project future climate change,” McDermid says. “Some of the models don’t do a good job of representing all the monsoon components, except the land-sea breeze. Sea surface temperatures matter; the way energy is going into the system matters.”

“It’s complicated, so we are having a difficult time reconciling future climate projections with what are seeing now,” she says.  

For farming, monsoon changes are really important. McDermid says two things matter: Decline in rainfall, and most importantly, the timing of the rain. “We are not seeing it all across India, but in central India and as you go towards the east, there are declines and a little bit more variability than previously,” she says.

If it’s not too variable that’s okay because farmers might get a shot at adaptation. “If anyone in the world knows anything about climate resilience, it’s the Indian farmer. The problem, though, is not with variability, but with extremes.” So variation beyond a normal range of variability changes rainfall patterns. Across India, high production systems are irrigated; there is not going to be that much of a problem with changes in rainfall.  If it’s rain-fed agriculture, “what would you do?”

Then there is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), warmer temperatures across the equatorial Pacific. As a result the air rises but it has to come down somewhere, subside. A part of that air coming down kind of head butts the monsoon system and area, which is all of south Asia. That air coming down makes it difficult to lift moisture and have convection happen in the Indian Ocean region.

“You can imagine all of that air coming down and it gets really difficult to lift the air from the Indian Ocean. In order to have storms or rain, you need to lift the air.”

El Nino is associated with reduction in monsoon rainfall. For India, it comes in two flavours. According to a paper published in Science in 2006, Krishna Kumar, who was then with Pune-based Indian Institute of the Tropical Meteorology (IITM),  and his colleagues, showed that the sea surface temperature anomalies in the central Pacific are more effective at producing drought in India than the sea surface temperature anomalies in the eastern Pacific.

Another interesting thing to figure out is the Indian Ocean Dipole  (IOD)that makes it difficult to find a pattern here.

The biggest question is the 1997-98 El Nino (apart from another huge 2015 event) when nothing happened. That may be due to the IOD event brewing in the Indian Ocean. It is clear that something is changing in the Indian Ocean, it could be that basic circulation patterns are changing.

To be able to forecast and predict we should know all the physical conditions that affect the way the system is circulating and moving. They are circulation patterns and everything that affects them, basically the air-sea breeze, storm fronts that are coming in, jet streams that originate in the ocean off the African coast and move to Saudi Arabia at higher levels.

Thousands of years ago, in Pliocene-climate, temperatures across the Pacific were so high that there was a kind of permanent El Nino.

“The thing with El Nino is that it bumps up the global temperature, which doesn’t really come down even when it wears off. It stays at that level because climate change is happening underneath it.” McDermid says. In 2015-16 El Nino extended over eastern Africa and as a result food production continues to be affected even today. Climate change as a whole could be affecting the total seasonal rainfall, impacting extreme events, and the grace periods within the monsoon systems. 

Even as uncertainty stalks the monsoon, in terms of what it will do and how it will change, India’s small farmers don’t have any more blessings left if, indeed, they have any at all.


McDermid and her colleagues at ICRISAT are working on chickpea in Nandyal in Telangana, and groundnut in Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. (The paper on chickpea is in the works.)

For the first, they collected data from 70-110 farmers on their management practices and what they actually do on a day-to-day basis in the fields. Within the district, they found a big difference in rainfall, in two different places. Half the farmers received higher rainfall than the average than the other half. So, they stratified them into big and low rainfall categories. The results showed that high-rainfall farmers were able to get more income than the low-rainfall farmers. They didn’t want to assume that it was only because of the rain. The high-rainfall farmer didn’t suffer as much as the low-rainfall farmer under climate change conditions. Low-rainfall people saw lower yields.

What this means from the policy standpoint, she continues, is that if you target a population, not just anyone—governments always have limited funds—who are the people you’re going to target the most, to help them survive with climate change? Allocation priorities should go to the low-rainfall farmers.

Research shows that climate change in varying degrees has a negative impact on agriculture. For rice and wheat, people need not be sure adaptation will work in the Gangetic plain. 

In another project in Madhya Pradesh, McDermid is focusing on how chickpea fares as a winter rotation crop. It seems to hold up well.

It doesn’t perform as well as wheat in terms of yields in a good year but in a bad year it doesn’t do as badly as wheat, she says. So, she continues, we need more research in crops like chickpea, and we can use chickpea’s performance metrics to breed well. (India is the world’s largest producer of chickpea, and lack of suffcieint rains resulted in poor yields over the years. To make up for that, India had to import it from Australia and other places, thus spiking the prices worldwide.) 

In yet another project in Tamil Nadu where farmers are rapidly adopting SRI, McDermid and her collegues are looking at the science behind it. SRI is a set of management practices that should allow farmers to get good rice yields. Her team cannot reproduce the results in their test plots, and there is controversy over its efficacy in the literature. Maybe it has to do with things like the size of the farm and where it is located.

She is collecting data on how farmers are implementing it, what  management practices they’re adopting, and she plans to incorporate all that data into models and scientific framework.

The way to go about climate change, she says, is that you combine top-down climate science perspectives with farmers’ bottom-up development perspectives. That’s because “we say that climate change projections are a guide but they are not going to be something that you can rely on every season. How do you handle the uncertainty, resilience in the face of uncertainty that comes from the bottom-up approach?” 


Research shows that climate change in varying degrees has a negative impact on agriculture. For rice and wheat, people need not be sure adaptation will work in the Gangetic plain. 

India’s food basket today is not changing that much—mostly wheat and rice, some pulses and mixed vegetables, a bit of dairy and fish and meat. Wheat and rice comprise 50-60 per cent of the food basket. Rice and wheat were developed as part of the chemical agriculture boom since the 1950s and 60s. The places where wheat is grown are irrigated, high production zones. Commercial wheat is irrigated. 

If it continues water quality will be a problem. If you keep using ground water at some point you are also going to face a soil salinity problem.

Rice, too, is temperature sensitive. Rainfall may become much more variable. Seasonal averages may not change but rain could be so crazily distributed through the season that it may not be useful at all for farmers. It may instead swamp the fields.

“It (rice) will be challenging because of the water demand and variability/availability of irrigation water. With improved management there are opportunities to reduce the water application/consumption—such as alternate wetting and drying techniques,” McDermid says.

(The paper on rice is in the works and should be out in 2019, where adaptation recommendations will be discussed.)


Temperatures seem to be playing a more disruptive role than rainfall. For systems that are rain-fed, it’s a double problem of temperature and rainfall. So, “expect change, maybe 20-30 years,” McDermid says.

 If policies don’t change our food basket by bringing in diverse crops to replace the wheat-rice binary model, climate change, ironically, will do that, for the better, in that sense. As always, on the road to the better, the costs of climate change fall on the small farmer.

Before rice and wheat came on the scene before independence,, India’s diet consisted of millets, sorghum, pulses, with a little bit of rice and wheat.

McDermid says, “Revert to the older tradition, combine plants that are both climate-tolerant and nutritionally dense. That’s good in a way. I think that’s inevitable, something that we should welcome.”

Ancient crops haven’t seen research investment. They grew in a different climate, and thrusting them into a new climate would require some doing now that they are under climate change conditions they have never grown in.

 The other side is the meat component. Although meat consumption has not grown as in China, it has to avoid the imbalance found in the US.

“A rainbow of foods on the plate, some vegetables and coarse grains and small meat component, with little bit of rice and wheat, but they are not dominant.”

“Frankly, India doesn’t have much of a choice except to reinvigorate the ancient, indigenous varieties of plants because with temperature going up and rainfall erratic, I think changes in the food basket are inevitable.”

Update, March 18, 2018: Photo credits added. The sentence, "... in the long-term we are dead", replaced with "in the long term there are challenges"  for the sake of clarity.