Spring spike sets off alarm - Hindustan Times
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Spring spike sets off alarm

ByHT Editorial
Feb 20, 2023 06:49 PM IST

Unusually high temperatures are reminiscent of last year’s heatwave in many parts of the country, and will test climate policies

The vanishing spring appears to be moving from a vagary to a more enduring facet of the Indian season. Last year, an unprecedented heatwave in March wilted the wheat crop, forcing the government to make a public U-turn and ban wheat exports after belatedly realising that production was tipped to fall short of estimates. This year, temperatures have begun rising even earlier and more sharply. As a report in this newspaper noted late last week, in states along the western coast, days recorded 5-10 degrees Celsius warmer than normal, and meteorologists said the trend was as bad, if not worse than the conditions in 2022. In seven states, including Punjab, the third largest wheat producer, the average maximum temperature on at least one day reached levels usually seen in the middle of March. In another 10 states, including Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the largest wheat producers, the maximum was around two weeks ahead of schedule.

The heatwave last year killed around 90 people across south Asia, stoked forest fires in Uttarakhand, scorched reservoirs and shrivelled the wheat cro (HT ARCHIVE) PREMIUM
The heatwave last year killed around 90 people across south Asia, stoked forest fires in Uttarakhand, scorched reservoirs and shrivelled the wheat cro (HT ARCHIVE)

The heatwave last year killed around 90 people across south Asia, stoked forest fires in Uttarakhand, scorched reservoirs and shrivelled the wheat crop — all signs of how the climate crisis was increasingly becoming the most important determinant of food security and agriculture policy. The lower-than-expected wheat production last year also emerged as a key pressure point for inflation and the government’s procurement efforts that were critical to funnel food subsidies. This year, the pressure of the latter is less due to a rationalisation of the food subsidy (the guaranteed grain endowment under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana has been phased out), but the other dangers remain clear and present.

With another week left in February and March set to be even hotter, the task is cut out for the authorities. This year will be a test of whether India has put in place systems to deal with climate shocks, including a more sensitive and advanced crop information system that will give the government updated information about yield and harvest — information that could have helped the authorities avoid a sudden clampdown on exports that hurt farm incomes this year. It will also be interesting to see what kind of policy support, including hiking minimum support prices to provide a higher cushion, the government considers if adverse weather hurts the wheat output — given that the general elections are only about a year away. The government must be nimble to shield stocks, farm incomes, and food security from rapidly changing weather patterns while readying the population to adjust to a changing climate.

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