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Minimizing yield losses via conservation agriculture

Last year, climatic variability such as untimely rainfall was devastating in northwest India. Mid-season rainfall resulted in massive yield losses during winter 2014-15. Starting that season, a case study of wheat adaptation to climatic risks was undertaken in Karnal by Sakshi Baliyan, a young female student, as an internship project under CIMMYT-CCAFS. The project aimed to evaluate yield losses as evidence of the difference zero till makes in coping with unseasonable rainfall.

The study focused on the vulnerability of wheat yields to untimely mid-season rainfall by comparing conventional vs. conservation agriculture (CA) practices. To construct the database, during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 winter seasons, wheat yield data were collected from 100 randomly selected farmers who produced wheat using conventional tillage and conservation agriculture in 14 climate-smart villages (CSVs) in the Karnal district of Haryana.

The results revealed that CA-based systems produced higher wheat yields (6% higher in 2013-14 and 13% higher in 2014-15) than conventional tillage systems. The study also found that farmers who practiced conventional tillage during winter 2014-15, which had untimely heavy rains, averaged a 19% yield loss, whereas those practicing CA averaged a yield loss of only 10% in the same locations.

These interesting results indicate that the next step should be to introduce climate-smart agricultural practices (CSAPs) in policy decision making. A more in-depth study should be undertaken to verify the results and establish environmentally and farmer friendly policies at the state and national levels. Policies that calculate subsidies and compensations considering the agricultural practices used by farmers are required to motivate them to adopt CSAPs. This will not only reduce losses in times of uncertainty, but also generate gains in favorable times.