Summer heat this year drives India’s wheat yields to a 20-year low

Extremely high temperatures in March this year lead to shriveling of stalks of maturing wheat, adversely impacting the yield. A scorching summer linked to climate crisis in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, three breadbasket states, saw wheat productivity decline the most in two decades, official data show.

Punjab’s wheat yields dipped to 43 quintals per hectare. On average, yields fell by 20% a hectare, sharper than the 8% fall in 2010. In Punjab, Bathinda and Mansa saw the highest declines, of up to 30%, the data show. In Uttar Pradesh, another large wheat grower, yields dipped 18%, while Haryana saw them go down 19%.

Such losses prompted the agriculture ministry to cut short its projections of wheat output. The ministry is now projecting an estimated 5% overall fall in output to 106.41 million tonnes this year from an initial forecast of 111.32 million tonnes. The actual number may be even lower.

This year’s losses come on the heels of a similar heatwave in 2010 and a milder one in 2019. The perilous impacts on the staple signal the risks posed by climate change to India’s long-term food security, experts say. Farmers say they have been pushed deeper into debt, having suffered losses of anywhere between Rs 12,000 – Rs 18,000 a quintal (100 kgs).

Extreme heat in northwest India in March and April was a marker of changing climate as average maximum temperatures were nearly 4 degrees Celsuis higher than usual, according to Pavneet Kaur Kingra of the department of Climate Change and Agricultural Meteorology, Punjab Agricultural University quoted in a Hindustan Times report.

A 2016 government report on the impact of climate change on India’s agriculture had projected that a rise in temperature between 2.5 degrees Celsius and 4.9 degrees Celsius could trim wheat yields by 41%-52%. However, rising temperatures have already made Indian agriculture more resource hungry. According to ongoing studies by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), farming now consumes up to 30% more water due to “high evaporative demand” in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan.

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