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India tests ways to help farmers cope with climate change

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Small farmers are especially vulnerable as they lack the resources to cope with an unexpected drought or flood.

“It’s not about fail safe [measures] but ‘safe fail,’” says Radha Kunke of the Watershed Organization Trust, which runs a climate adaptation program in 53 villages in western and central India. “Things can fail but in such a way that it does not cause devastation.”

Agriculture has received relatively little attention in international climate agreements, and much of that has focused on the sector's greenhouse-gas emissions. Only 4.5 percent of the 3,380 climate mitigation projects undertaken in 2011 under the Clean Development Mechanism were related to agriculture, according to the UN-funded Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

“Agriculture is still considered a sideshow in the climate arena,” said Bruce Campbell, head of CGIAR’s climate change research program, in a statement calling for "global action to ensure food security under climate change.”

In India, crop yields need to increase by 30 to 50 percent in the next 20 years to keep pace with its growing population, according to a government report. But a temperature increase of one degree Celsius could significantly bring down wheat and soy yields in the same period, while more erratic rainfall may reduce rice yields in some regions.

Without intervention, “it will be difficult to bridge the yield gaps under climate change scenarios,” says Suhas Wani, a senior scientist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semiarid Tropics.

Reviving old traditions

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