Heatwave reduced India's wheat crop yield by 10 to 30% this year: Report

New DelhiUpdated: May 23, 2022, 11:55 PM IST
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Photograph:(The New York Times)

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The report by World Weather Attribution (WWA) said the intense heat has either damaged or reduced the quality of the yield,

A latest report has said that the devastating heat waves in March and April reduced India's wheat crop yield by 10 to 30 per cent this year.

The report by World Weather Attribution (WWA), a global initiative and collaboration of scientists around the world, said the intense heat has either damaged or reduced the quality of the yield, causing the government to reverse an earlier plan to supplement the global wheat supply that has been impacted by the war in Ukraine.

In the months from December to April, northwest India and Pakistan receive precipitation through western disturbances which are responsible for most of the winter precipitation, crucial for growing wheat, scientists said.

The heatwave came early this year because of a lack of rainfall in this region and a significant decrease in the number of these western disturbances.

It said that a particularly notable effect of these early and prolonged hot conditions was the impact on wheat crops and yields in the wheat-growing regions of northwest India, the bread basket of the subcontinent, and southern Pakistan, where the wheat harvest season lasts from February through May. 

An export ban on wheat from India based on concerns about domestic food security is already putting further stress on global food prices and food security in a tight market given the war in Ukraine, scientists said.

"Around 10-30 per cent of the wheat production was affected in March and April. That is the time when wheat crops are supposed to ripen the most. The quality of grain was affected. It doesn't mean that all the grain may go bad. It may be that some of the grain may not ripen as good as the other and the farmers may need to sift."

"For a large country like India, this would push prices (of wheat) up. It's a vulnerability of different sorts, so the farmers are affected, and then, when the prices go up it's the poor people who are affected, who are buying the food. So, to protect them, the Indian government just halted exports at the moment and it does affect the importing countries but it's a difficult choice for any government, they must have calculated this," said Aditi Kapoor, one of the authors of the report.

India is currently the second-largest wheat producer globally, yet production is mainly sold in domestic markets. The extreme heatwave hit at a critical time, right at the final period of the growing season for wheat causing extensive impacts on the agricultural sector.

India was planning to boost its wheat exports to account for the wheat crisis resulting from the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Global food prices have reached their highest level ever recorded in March this year.

Yet, with extreme temperatures affecting crop production and increasing local prices, the Indian government decided to ban most wheat exports to protect India’s internal food market further affecting the global wheat market and food dependent countries.

Scientists say that climate change has made devastating early heat in India and Pakistan 30 times more probable in the current climate scenario.

In Pakistan and India, extreme heat hits hardest for people who must go outside to earn a daily wage like street vendors, construction and farm workers, traffic police and consequently lack access to consistent electricity and cooling at home limiting their options to cope with prolonged heat stress.

The report of the World Weather Attribution found that 90 people succumbed to severe heat across India and Pakistan. They say these were the numbers reported officially, but they could be more.

“High temperatures are common in India and Pakistan but what made this unusual was that it started so early and lasted so long. Across much of both countries, people had little relief for weeks on end, with the costs particularly high for hundreds of millions of outdoor workers. We know this will happen more often as temperatures rise and we need to be better prepared for it.” said the report's co-author Krishna AchutaRao.

India has rolled out heat action plans for about 130 cities and towns, but scientists believe that there is definitely a need to scale it up much more both to save lives and to protect the livelihoods of the people.

According to the authors of the report by WWA, global temperature has risen by 1.2 degrees Centigrades since pre-industrial times and with future global warming, heat waves like this will become more common.


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