Not just rising sea levels, one of the major areas where the real impact of climate change will be felt is in agriculture as drier weather can hamper how crops are grown and harvested. To tackle the potential of rising global temperatures to disrupt agricultural practices, Indian scientists have been working on climate resilient crop varieties. A bunch of such varieties with “special traits" is now being released by PM Narendra Modi “to create mass awareness for adoption of climate resilient technologies. Here’s what you need to know.
What Are The New Varieties Of Crops To Be Released?
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has said that as many as 35 crop varieties that have been boosted for climate resilience and to provide higher nutrient content have been developed in 2021 by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to address “the twin challenges of climate change and malnutrition".
Among these are a drought-tolerant variety of chickpea, wilt and sterility mosaic-resistant pigeonpea and an early-maturing variety of soybean. Further, scientists have also created disease-resistant varieties of rice and bio-fortified varieties of wheat, pearl millet, maize and chickpea, quinoa, buckwheat, winged bean and faba bean, the PMO said.
A report in The Indian Express also said that the PM would be releasing two herbicide resistant varieties of basmati rice developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). These varieties, the report said, are the first non-genetically modified (GM) “herbicide-tolerant rice varieties that can be directly seeded and significantly save water and labour compared to conventional transplanting".
The PMO said that varieties with special traits have also been developed in soybean, sorghum, and baby corn, etc.
What Is The Need For Climate Resilient Crop Varieties?
According to the National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), a project under ICAR, “climate change has become an important area of concern for India to ensure food and nutritional security for (its) growing population". It notes that while climate change has global impacts, “countries like India are more vulnerable in view of the high population depending on agriculture".
Climate change-related projections in the medium-term (2010-2039) estimate “significant negative impacts" for Indian agriculture with reduction of between 4.5 to 9 per cent predicted in crop yields “depending on the magnitude and distribution of warming".
Agriculture makes up about 16-20 per cent of India’s GDP and, NICRA says, a “4.5 to 9 per cent negative impact on production implies cost of climate change to be roughly up to 1.5 per cent of GDP per year". Which is why research and development to cope with climate change in agriculture is an area of high-priority research.
A presentation shared by the Union Ministry of Finance as part of the release of a Rs 6.28 lakh crore Covid-19 relief package in June this year had noted that whereas the “earlier focus of research was on developing higher yield crop varieties", efforts are now being directed towards working on climate resilient crop varieties that are high on nutrition.
“Varieties tolerant to diseases, insects pests, drought, salinity, and flooding," are also being developed along with those that are “early maturing and amenable to mechanical harvesting", the Finance Ministry had said.
The PM had in his 2021 Independence Day speech said that by 2024, all rice distributed under government schemes will be fortified rice to address the issue of malnutrition and lack of micro-nutrients, which leads to the problem of ‘hidden hunger’, which is the undernutrition that occurs due to inadequate consumption of vitamins and minerals.
Noting that the concentration of important nutrients in foods was far below the required level, the Finance Ministry presentation said that ICAR has also developed “bio-fortified crop varieties having high nutrients like protein, iron, zinc, vitamin-A".
How Will The New Varieties Address ‘Anti-Nutrition’?
Among the 35 crop varieties to be released are also those that “address the anti-nutritional factors found in some crops that adversely affect human and animal health", the PMO said.
‘Anti-nutritional factors’ are defined as those substances that arise in natural food substances through “the normal metabolism of species and by different mechanisms… which exert effects contrary to optimum nutrition", for example, through “inactivation of some nutrients, diminution of the digestive process or metabolic utilisation of feed".
The PMO said that prominent among the crops developed to counter such anti-nutritional factors are the ‘Pusa Double Zero Mustard 33’, which is described as being the “first Canola quality hybrid RCH 1 with <2 per cent erucic acid and <30 ppm glucosinolates.
Erucic acid is "a monounsaturated fatty acid found in rapeseed and mustard oil". High concentrations of erucic acid in edible oils can impact the functioning of the heart and increases blood cholesterol, among other things. Higher consumption of glucosinolates is "detrimental to animal
health" as it can lead to "lower feed efficiency and weight gains particularly in... pigs and poultry".
The PM will also be launching a soybean variety free from two anti-nutritional factors of Kunitz trypsin inhibitor -- which exerts adverse effects on growth of humans, leading to indigestion -- and lipoxygenase, whose absence contributes to better flavour for soybeans.