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ICAR Laboratories Begin Research on Developing Climate-Resilient Agriculture

Plantation crops, fruit crops, and spices are all important aspects of horticulture. Climate change has an impact on all of these crops. These are becoming infested with new pests and diseases, causing crop damage and significant losses for farmers.

Shivam Dwivedi

Climate change is having an impact on all aspects of life, including agriculture. Major crops such as coconut, cashew nut, arecanut, bananas, mangoes, pineapple, spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and an array of vegetables are grown on the west coast and are being severely impacted by climate change, causing massive losses to farmers, including in Goa.

As a result, a number of ICAR laboratories have begun work on developing climate-resilient agriculture. The CCARI in Goa is one of these institutes, with jurisdiction over India's entire coastal belt to conduct strategic research for the conservation and sustainable use of coastal agriculture and allied resources.

"We knew the east coast was particularly vulnerable to cyclones. On the west coast, cyclonic activity has recently been observed. Unseasonal rains, temperature swings, and increased humidity are all wreaking havoc on crops. Being on the coast, Goa is equally affected by weather vagaries," said Dr. A R Desai, Principal Scientist, Horticulture, ICAR-CCARI.

Plantation crops, fruit crops, and spices are all important aspects of horticulture. Climate change has an impact on all of these crops. These are becoming infested with new pests and diseases, causing crop damage and significant losses for farmers.

"One crop that has been severely impacted by climate change is mango. It's an extremely delicate crop. The physiology of the mango flowering pattern is being disrupted as a result of early and prolonged rains. Flowering is not only delayed but also staggered, causing early varieties like Mancurad to mature later. Early rains are falling. It was not supposed to rain at this time, but it is. We had rain in March and April, and we're expecting rain in May as well," he said.

The regular monsoon is expected to begin earlier than usual, in the second fortnight of May rather than June 6. This is an unexpected circumstance.

"By September or October, the rainy season should be over. Last year, however, the rains lasted until January. This is a crucial time for mango flowering because it should be dry at the end of November and December so that it becomes stressed and flowering can occur. If the soil has moisture at that time, it will not flower but will continue to give vegetative growth only, disrupting the flowering pattern," Desai explained.

Flowering is being delayed as a result of the prolonged rains. The temperature swings are exacerbating the problem. The daytime temperature in Goa is around 33-34 degrees Celsius, while the nighttime temperature is around 15 degrees. Mango flowering and fruit sets are affected by the temperature difference between the maximum and minimum temperatures. It's also causing an increase in the number of insects attacking the fruits, such as fruit flies. Mango yield and quality are being harmed as a result of these factors. Similarly, drying of flowers and production of excessive male flowers occur in cashew, reducing yield.

Strategy to Address Climate Change Issues

"We can't control nature's whims all at once." However, we can alter the cropping pattern. Some crop varieties are responding to climate change differently than others. As a result, instead of focusing on a single variety, farmers can focus on multiple high-yielding commercial crop varieties at the same time," Desai explained.

Mangoes, for example, do not go well with only Alphonso or Mancurad. Stagger the planting of different varieties. Farmers will not lose everything because it will act as a shock absorber.

"The same strategy should be used with cashews." This must be combined with standard protection practices such as the use of fruit fly traps and regular insecticide spraying. "Organic measures like having beehives in the garden must be combined with arecanut and coconut," he said.

Coconut isn't a year-round crop. It never stops yielding. It is expected to produce 12 coconut bunches in a year. If we can protect the remaining nuts, whatever flowering panicles and bunches are affected by unusual weather, we should leave them alone. The introduction of beehives is one such step. It will improve the nut set per bunch while also providing additional income and jobs.

Climate Resilient Crops

In order to combat climate change, CCARI is conducting research on climate-resilient agriculture in collaboration with other research institutes and state agriculture universities in the region. However, the results will be delayed due to the research time frame.

Then, in the case of cashew, 'germplasm' is gathered from all over the state. It's kept in a field germplasm bank as a repository for many yield traits and abiotic stress tolerance genes that will be used to breed climate-resilient varieties in the future.

Climate change simulated conditions would be used to study the impact and screen the genetic resources tolerant or ability to withstand the onslaught of the weather aberrations caused by climate change impacts, based on prediction models developed using long-term past weather data.

Most climate-resilient crops, such as jack fruit, Jamun, kokum, traditional tuber crops, bamboo, and others, need to be given more attention in order to be included in the production system, in my opinion. Another important strategy for protecting the plantations is to plant forestry/timber trees and bamboo as windbreaks all along the plantation's perimeter.

Protected cultivation is another important strategy for successful production, especially for high-value vegetables, because the production system is partially or completely under control. "These are some of the strategies that can be used to combat climate change's effects," he said.

In response to increasing rainfall incidents, CCARI's Senior Scientist (Genetics & Plant Breeding), Dr Manohara K K, says the Institute has developed flood and salinity-resistant paddy varieties.

"Goa has Khazan lands, which are vast expanses of paddy plantations. Two major issues here are flooding and salinity. Farmers in this area used to grow Korgut and Assgo paddy varieties. We considered enhancing those regional varieties. They're called Goa Dhaan-1 and Goa Dhaan-2. These are extremely resistant to submersion and salinity," Manohar explained.

Paddy variety was obtained from the International Rice Research Institute and improved and grown as Goa Dhan-3 on Chorao Island in Goa. "We also created Goa Dhan-4, a cross between the local varieties Jyoti and Korgut." Jyoti is a high-yielding paddy variety native to Goa, but it struggles in saline environments. "The crossbreed is thriving," he said.

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