New Delhi: Who’s afraid of climate change?
Not coconuts for sure.
Even as India works out its response to threats posed by global warming and climate change that could affect farm output, new research here shows that coconut yields will actually increase as a result of these on India’s west coast because of higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels.
Scientists are trying to develop heat-resistant varieties of crops such as wheat and maize and given the results of the last major study on the issue by the UK’s environment arm, which warned of significant shifts in agricultural patterns and net lower yields, the new findings come as a surprise.
According to these, coconut productivity will increase 10% by 2020, 16% by 2050 and 36% by 2080 only due to climate change in the west coast, but this will be tempered by a decline of 2%, 8% and 31%, respectively, in the east coast.
The research is based on a popular climate change model that is extensively used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Nobel-prize winning global body that significantly influences countries’ positions on climate. The model allows scientists to input various factors such as temperature, vegetation, rainfall, soil-type, moisture and extrapolate scenarios.
However, the scientist behind the study cautioned that the coconut findings are “preliminary estimates”.
“That means that even though we are confident of the interpretation of the model results, we need to see whether more inputs are required,” said S. Naresh Kumar, senior scientist at the Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI).
Kumar’s studies are part of the National Network Project on Impact of Climate Change on Indian agriculture, a major project coordinated by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, which is looking at the effects of climate change on various crops. The results of this project could well influence India’s climate change policy.
Kumar and his associates are yet to find a comprehensive explanation for their results.
Experiments conducted by CPCRI show that coconut seedlings grown in an environment where there is more carbon dioxide had higher root dry matter, chlorophyll, shoot height and a host of such enhanced physical characteristics. The higher temperature resulted in a crop with more nutrient content, including free amino acids, the constituents of protein.
“But more temperature and CO2 (carbon dioxide) doesn’t explain the model results,” Kumar said. States along the east coast such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are expected to register higher temperatures because of global warming, but coconut yields will fall in these states, the research shows.
“We suspect it is going to be a combination of humidity, higher temperature and coconut’s uniquely positive response to elevated carbon dioxide levels that might be responsible for the crop’s yields,” Kumar added.
Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh contribute around 90% of India’s—the country is the third largest producer in the world—total coconut output. Of these, Kerala chips in with around 45% and Tamil Nadu follows with 22%.
“So, high yields wouldn’t be surprising considering that Kerala’s yields are going to be unaffected—even improved, in these scenarios,” said V.N. Ramamurthy, a climate change analyst at the Food and Agricultural Organization.