Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a new era of collaboration on agricultural research in the face of climate change. In fact, efforts have been underway since 2009: the Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) has been working for the past two years with India’s Ministry of Agriculture and other institutions to improve forecasts of the seasonal monsoon rains that water much of the nation’s farms, and to help farmers manage drought.
“Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution,” said Obama during a Nov. 8 joint session of India’s Parliament in New Delhi. “Now, as farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution.” He and Singh later issued a joint pledge to pursue initiatives on clean energy, health and jobs, as well as agriculture and climate.
Shiv Someshwar, director of the IRI’s Asia and Pacific regional program, said that the two leaders “sent a clear signal that scientific and technological advancements in managing weather and climate risks are critical for making rural communities more resilient. The dual emphasis on better climate prediction and its uptake by farmers and policy makers is exactly right. The IRI’s work with Indian partners over the past two years has been built on this very premise.”
More than 60 percent of farmland in India lacks irrigation, and thus depends on monsoonal rains, which come roughly from late May to early October. A failed monsoon often means complete loss of a crop, and even below-average rainfall often results in increased food prices and hurts economic growth. The government spends massive sums on drought relief–according to the agriculture ministry, about $5 billion during the last major drought, in 2002. A lesser, but still damaging, drought took place in 2009.
These costs have sparked interest in identifying ways to plan ahead, particularly as concern grows over the potential for climate change to affect monsoon cycles. IRI’s effort is funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and India’s Ministry of Agriculture, which together plan to issue detailed forecasts to farmers starting in the 2011 rainy monsoon season. The IRI project, known as the Extended Range Forecast System for Climate Risk Management in Agriculture, is aimed not only improving the forecasts, but helping farmers and policy makers prepare early for adverse conditions. In addition to conducting field-based research, IRI has co-hosted training events in India and sponsored Indian scientists for research visits to the United States to improve their forecasting and risk-management abilities. Partners include the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; India Meteorological Department; National Center for Medium-Range Forecasting; Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and a number of state agricultural universities. For full details, visit the project home page or download this flyer.
Below are Obama’s remarks about agriculture. (The entire transcript of his speech is here):
Together, we can strengthen agriculture. Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution. Today, India is a leader in using technology to empower farmers, like those I met yesterday who get free updates on market and weather conditions on their cell phones. And the United States is a leader in agricultural productivity and research. Now, as farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution.
Together, we’re improving Indian weather forecasting systems before the next monsoon season. We aim to help millions of Indian farmers — farming households save water and increase productivity, improve food processing so crops don’t spoil on the way to market, and enhance climate and crop forecasting to avoid losses that cripple communities and drive up food prices.
And as part of our food security initiative, we’re going to share India’s expertise with farmers in Africa. And this is an indication of India’s rise —- that we can now export hard-earned expertise to countries that see India as a model for agricultural development. It’s another powerful example of how American and Indian partnership can address an urgent global challenge.