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Climate change is fueling India’s heat waves, driving up wheat prices – food tank

Record-setting heatwaves affecting India are threatening crop yields amid rising global demand for grains. In response, the Indian government recently imposed a ban on wheat exports.

According to the India Meteorological Department, the early arrival of the heat wave marked India’s hottest March on record. High temperatures continued in the following months and into June, nearing 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Record temperatures affected wheat crop development, growth retardation and projected yield. “India’s National Planning Commission, Niti Aayog, estimates that wheat production will fall by 10 percent from the expected level of 110 million tons,” said Dr. Prabhu Pingali says to the food tank. “The most affected lands have poor or unreliable access to irrigation,” he adds. Fortunately, says Pingali, “the heat wave has not affected other crops to any significant extent.”

India is the second leading producer of wheat in the world and the steady increase in India’s wheat production over the past three years has boosted projections for this year’s growing season.

Before the heat waves, India stood as a notable candidate to help freeze grain price inflation caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Combined, Russia and Ukraine will account for a quarter of the world’s wheat exports in 2020. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted the supply chain and caused sanctions, resulting in a global wheat shortage. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to send food relief to the affected countries.

Despite these intentions, as temperatures reduced crop yields, the country decided to ban wheat exports to ensure adequate supply for national needs.

As a result, “a majority of wheat farmers, most of whom are cultivating less than two hectares of land, have not benefited from the rise in global prices,” Pingali tells Food Tank.

Pingali adds, “India has large enough buffer stocks to ensure that crop losses and rising wheat prices do not seriously affect India’s rural poor, who are served by the public distribution system, the world’s largest subsidized food distribution program.”

But food price inflation still creates uncertainty for the “poor in urban areas, especially migrant workers”. [who] Often have poor access to such food programs. Rising food prices can seriously affect their food and nutritional security,” explains Pingali.

Research by World Weather Attribution shows that heat waves are likely to intensify. Their latest conclusions are that “human-caused climate change has made this heat wave hotter and more likely” and “these types of heat waves will become more common and hotter.”

Pingali argues that agriculture in India needs to adapt to reduce future threats from climate change. Regional agricultural experts are meeting to identify strategies to help farmers in India persevere. These best practices “include using low-tillage methods, use of crop varieties that tolerate high temperatures, more efficient water and fertilizer management, and better management of crop residues,” says Pingali.

Tata-Cornell is working with smallholder farmers in the state of Bihar to increase crop production and reduce emissions through changes to farming systems. He hopes to make Bihar a model for other Indian states and other countries facing similar climate challenges.

“By diversifying production away from the wheat-rice system and towards crops that are more nutritious and less dependent on irrigation, such as millets and other coarse grains,” Pingali tells Food Tank, “we can improve nutritional outcomes, reduce emissions and make food systems more resilient against climate change.” is resilient.

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Photo courtesy of Tata-Cornell Institute

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