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Reduced rainfall during El Niño events: Need to plant drought-resistant crops

By Kuntal Mukherjee* 

"El Niño," which is a climate pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño is characterized by the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, which can have significant impacts on weather patterns around the world.
During an El Niño event, there is often increased rainfall in parts of South America, drought in parts of Southeast Asia and Australia, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns in North America. El Niño events typically occur every 2-7 years and can last for several months to a few years.

Effects of El Nino on Rainfall:

Increased rainfall in parts of South America: During an El Niño event, there is often increased rainfall in parts of South America, including Peru, Ecuador, and northern Brazil. This can lead to flooding and landslides in these areas.
Drought in parts of Southeast Asia and Australia: El Niño can lead to reduced rainfall in parts of Southeast Asia and Australia, including Indonesia and the Philippines. This can lead to water shortages, crop failures, and forest fires.
Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns in North America: During an El Niño event, there can be changes in temperature and precipitation patterns in North America. This can lead to milder winters in the northern United States and wetter conditions in parts of the southern United States.

Effects of El Nino in India especially on Central India:

El Niño can have significant impacts on the monsoon rainfall patterns in India. During an El Niño event, the monsoon rainfall in India tends to be below normal, which can lead to drought conditions and impact agriculture, water resources, and the overall economy. Some of the effects of El Niño on India are:
1. Reduced monsoon rainfall: During an El Niño event, the sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean become warmer than average. This can lead to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, which can result in reduced rainfall over the Indian subcontinent. This can lead to drought conditions and impact crop yields, food production, and water resources.
2. Higher temperatures: El Niño can also lead to higher temperatures in India, particularly in the northern and western regions. This can exacerbate the impacts of reduced rainfall and lead to heat stress, particularly for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and children.
3. Impacts on agriculture: Agriculture is a major sector of the Indian economy, and reduced monsoon rainfall during an El Niño event can lead to lower crop yields and food production. This can lead to higher food prices and impact the overall economy.
It's important to note that while El Niño can have predictable effects on the monsoon rainfall patterns in India, the exact impacts can vary from event to event and are influenced by other factors as well, such as the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Madden-Julian Oscillation.
So, the overall situation (both in doing & being) and steps may be:
* Dry spell may go on with low patch scattered rain in here and there.
* Inputs may be distributed & planned in farm steps and somewhere .
* Fields may not be totally empty & fallow but crops sown are in very low health stage and mere chance to survive.
* Broadcasted paddy may 2-3 inches tall & is suffering in weed competition; may face 30% yield loss due to scare moisture in root zone.
* Farmers may try dry seed bed and maintain crops to provide water from outside especially in irrigated plots.
* Vegetable nursery may done also in water scarcity condition.
As because Paddy is a main crops of Kharif season and main paddy producing states are in mainly Central Eastern part of India: The paddy crops physiology need to understand:

Vegetative Phase

The vegetative phase starts at seed establishment (germination) and ends at the onset of panicle initiation, during the late vegetative phase. The number of days in this phase varies in different varieties. For example, the 120-day rice variety will have 55 days in the vegetative phase, while the 150-day variety may take 85 days. Further, low temperature or long day length can increase the duration of the vegetative phase.

Reproductive Phase

The reproductive phase begins at panicle initiation and ends at flowering, usually taking 35 days. At this phase, the plant is most sensitive to stresses such as low and high temperatures, and drought. The number of days in the reproductive phase and the ripening phase are the same among most rice varieties.
During this phase the culm elongates (increasing plant height), tiller number declines and the flag (last) leaf emerges. This phase is when booting, heading and flowering of the spikelets occur. Panicle (The terminal shoot of the rice plant that produces grain) initiation occurs about 25 days (I have assumed 3 weeks – which could be adjusted in the table, considering a month is not 4 weeks but 30 or 31 days) before heading when the panicle has grown to about 1 mm long and can be recognized visually or under magnification following stem dissection.
Flowering (anthesis) begins with heading or on the following day. Within the same panicle, it takes 7 to 10 days for all the spikelets to complete flowering; the spikelets themselves complete anthesis within 5 days. It takes 10 to 14 days for a rice crop to complete heading due to variation between tillers on the same plant and between plants in the same field. Heading is usually defined as the time when 50% of the panicles have headed.

Ripening phase

The ripening phase starts at flowering and ends at maturity. This stage usually takes 30 days. Rainy days or low temperatures may lengthen the ripening phase, while sunny and warm days may shorten it (click here for table).
Temperature also play very important role in panicle initiation and emergence. Under controlled environment conditions rice variety IR8 was subjected to night temperatures of 15, 20 and 25°C during each of the three periods (a) sowing to floral initiation, (b) initiation to panicle emergence, and (c) panicle emergence to maturity, with day temperatures of 30°C throughout. Night temperatures of 15°C prevented floral initiation throughout the experiment (source: P. C. Owena, Division of Land Research, CSIRO, Canberra, Australia in 1999). This temperature sensitivity holds good for other varieties also. In this region night temperature starts falling below 15 degree Centigrade after middle of October. So varieties need to be selected and nursery should be sown considering this factor so that panicle emergence is completed before temperature falls below 15 degree Centigrade.
Farmers traditional decision on selection of rise variety based on land type (basically moisture regime availability in lands) had been working well in the past with deshi (tall indica) type of rice, which were photo-period sensitive (varieties which enters reproductive growth (that begin with initiation of panicle) phase in response exposure reducing day-length. There are some early autumn varieties which initiate panicle formation in reducing day-length period (i.e. after 22nd-23rd of June – When Sun is perpendicular on tropic of cancer) but most of these varieties produce flowers only after exposure to less than twelve hours day-length (or actually more than 12 hours of night length - that happens after 22nd -23rd of September). The advantage of deshi varieties is, farmers can plant those early; any months after winter and as late as September, it will flower only after it receives exposure to shorter (less than 12 hours) day lengths.
But, now a days in many places farmers have entirely replaced all the deshi varieties with High Yielding Varieties (HYV) which are only temperature sensitive so far their reproductive growth phase is concerned but are not photoperiod sensitive. Rather these varieties need minimum time to complete vegetative growth phase before they enter reproductive phase. Thus a variety which requires 90 days to complete vegetative growth must complete those 90 days before 2nd or 3rd week of September (vary from location to location within same state region itself – from Bastar to Surguja to Raigarh) so that it gets 35 days for panicle initiation and flowering before 15th or 21st October. We have cases when farmers reported that the crop was very good up to tillering but did not produce any panicle or panicle failed to come fully out of the boot leaf.

So, the consequences are:

Since the nursery raising is delayed and rains are sporadic and scanty, the transplanting of paddy is will be delayed.
If it rains well in July (200-300mm), the transplantation will go in August, and the long duration high yielding variety (Mansuri, Swarna, 6444, 1010, Pankaj, Sita etc.) paddy can fail to flower in second fortnight in October in the areas where minimum temperature drops to 15 degree C. As these dwarf Japonica rice varieties are day-length insensitive but duration and temperature sensitive. They flower when their vegetative phase (80-85 days in case of 145-150 days and 55-60 days in 125-130 days duration vaieties) is over, and if the temperature is low at the time of flowering, they fail to flower. While the indigenous tall indica rice (still grown in many villages) are day-length sensitive i.e. the flower when the day-length changes, regardless of their stage. So late sown long duration paddy may fail to flower.

So, in this situation:

1.Growing nursery for 140-150 days old HYV paddy in July third week is a risky affair.
2. Under this delayed condition, in the lowland area it is better to go for the traditional tall indica varieties, if done with SRI system it will give high yields than long duration HYV transplanted late.
3. The medium duration paddy in the medium uplands may also face the low temperature risk if transplanted in the second week of August, and it may also suffer from moisture stress in October if monsoon recedes normally.
4. In the medium upland areas, farmers should also grow, shorter duration paddy varieties like, Khandagiri, Parijat, Vandana,MTU-1010, lalat or local / traditional seeds which mature in 100-125 days.
5. It is also understood from above is “if the nursery period is shorter, the rice plant gets more time in the main field for vegetative growth, produce more tillers, SO IF IT RAINS NOT ADEQAUTELY IN JULY/AUGUST, SRI /DSR SYSTEM GIVES MORE OPPORTUNITY TO RICE PLANT TOPRODUCE MORE GRAINS.
6.There will be a competition for labor between paddy field operations and attending to the vegetables.
If the rains are not adequate for rice in the medium uplands, transplantation doses not occur by 15 August, there is opportunity to replace the paddy with Pulses/Vegetables/millets to take residual moisture in mind because cynodon the seminal weeds is already there in low water content with dry high value biomass conserving organic matter (click here for table).

Other Mitigation Strategies Can be:

Improving water management: During an El Niño event, there can be reduced rainfall in some areas and flooding in others. Improving water management strategies, such as increasing water storage capacity, can help mitigate the impacts of drought and flooding.
Developing drought-resistant crops: Drought-resistant crops can help farmers mitigate the impacts of reduced rainfall during El Niño events. Planting drought-resistant crops can help ensure that farmers can still produce a viable crop even if rainfall is lower than normal.
Improving early warning systems: Early warning systems can help communities and governments prepare for the impacts of El Niño events. These systems can provide advance notice of reduced rainfall or flooding, allowing communities to take appropriate measures to protect themselves and their property.
Developing heat stress management strategies: Higher temperatures during El Niño events can lead to heat stress, particularly for vulnerable populations. Developing heat stress management strategies, such as providing access to cooling centers and ensuring that outdoor workers, have access to shade and water, can help reduce the impacts of heat stress.
Investing in climate adaptation and resilience: El Niño is just one of many climate-related hazards that communities around the world are facing. Investing in climate adaptation and resilience measures, such as improving infrastructure and building more resilient communities, can help reduce the impacts of all climate-related hazards, including El Niño.

The Steps with village level collectives can be

* Campaign to discourage farmers to sow Swarna and other long duration varieties and request the farmers to immediately sow nursery with HYV low duration /local low duration seeds, using the CRP/CSP network, SHG Clusters, SHGs by meeting/ canvasing/postering/walling/ miking/letters etc.
* Explore with ATMA/local market regarding availability of shorter duration crops seeds ( Not more than 120 days), Pulse seeds make them available to farmers.
* Influence more convergence with collectives on millets mission and Pulse mission.
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Kuntal Mukherjee completed his Master in Agriculture and presently based in Chhattisgarh and associated with an NGO named PRADAN. Author is working in North and South part of tribal belt of Chhattisgarh over a period of 12 years especially on Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resource Management. Author is a National Resource Person on sustainable agriculture of DAY-NRLM and NIRD , MoPR and RD

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