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Climate change risk for rainfed rice cultivation

Posted on 21 June 2017

New research at the University of York highlights the vulnerability of rainfed rice cultivation in India to climate change, which may put the livelihoods of low-income farmers at risk

More than 50% of rice cultivated in India comes from rainfed cultivation where farmers are dependent on seasonal rainfall, particularly the summer monsoon, rather than irrigation infrastructure. Given the dependence of rainfed rice on monsoon rainfall, future changes in climate could reduce the suitability for growing rainfed rice. In the study published in Agricultural Systems, we estimate that 15% - 40% of current rainfed rice growing areas in India may decline in climate suitability by 2050. Our study helps to identify locations where livelihoods of low-income farmers and regional food security may be threatened in the next few decades by climate changes.

Lead author, Kuntal Singh, a Ph.D. student at the Department of Biology said: “we analyse how the area under rainfed rice cultivation may be affected by climate change. Our climate envelope models use temperature and rainfall data during the summer monsoon to investigate changes in the suitability of the climate for growing rice.”

Prof. Jane Hill, Project-leader and co-author at the Department of Biology said: “The study shows that significant areas in northern and eastern India could see a decline in climate suitability. Historically, the crop yields in these regions have been low compared with irrigated rice areas and a further decline in climate suitability could put the livelihoods of subsistence farmers at risk.”

Director of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI) and co-author of the paper, Prof. Sue Hartley said: “the results of this work should be seen in the context of crop breeding programmes. There is a need to develop new drought-tolerant cultivars that are capable of maintaining yield under water-stress, and to support their successful deployment and uptake by farmers”.

Co-author Dr. Colin McClean, from the Environment Department at York said: “there is a suite of global circulation models that differ in their projections for future rainfall and temperature. We use outputs from multiple global circulation models to account for the uncertainty in future climate projections.”

Co-author Dr. Patrick Büker, from the Stockholm Environment Institute at York added: “there is a focus on improving crop yields of rainfed areas under the Government of India’s initiative of Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India. The results of this study could be used by policy makers to identify agricultural regions most at risk from climate change”.

Further information:

Kuntal Singh collaborated with Jane Hill (Department of Biology), Colin McClean (Department of Environment), Sue Hartley (York Environmental Sustainability Institute) and Patrick Büker (Stockholm Environment Institute at University of York). The paper “Mapping regional risks from climate change for rainfed rice cultivation in India” is published by Agricultural Systems and is available here

The project was funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for International Development and (through a grant to BBSRC) the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), under the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development programme, a joint initiative with the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology For more information about the University of York's Department of Biology, please visit the Biology Web pages