Climate change has transformed pearl millet cultivation zones in India

East Rajasthan, Haryana now India’s core pearl millet production area; farmers in Gujarat shifting from pearl millet to cotton, castor  

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 08 September 2023
Pearl millet. Photo: iStock__

India’s core pearl millet or bajra production zone has shifted to 18 districts spread across eastern Rajasthan and Haryana between 1998 and 2017. Increase in rainfall triggered by human-induced climate change has led to this development, according to a new study.

The paper, published in April this year in the Agronomy Journal, examined data from crop models and digital technology and suggested a revision of the Indian pearl millet Total Population Environments (TPE).

India classifies pearl millet cultivation zones based on rainfall patterns and soil types.

The arid regions of Rajasthan, which receive less than 400 millimetres (mm) of rainfall, are categorised as Zone ‘A1’.

Semi-arid regions in north and central India, including southern Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, which receive more than 400 mm of rainfall per year, form Zone ‘A’.

Semi-arid regions with heavy soils in southern India and central western India with over 400 mm of rainfall form Zone B.

The paper revised ‘A’ into three subzones — ‘G’, ‘AE1’ and ‘AE2’. Zone ‘G’ covers Gujarat while AE1 covers eastern Rajasthan and Haryana. Zone ‘AE2’ covers 12 districts spread across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

‘AE1’, which is now as India’s core pearl millet production area with 39 per cent production, saw an increase in production of 46 kilograms per hectare, amounting to 1,694 kg per hectare owing to increase in rainfall.

The researchers noted that technological investments in irrigation, fertilisation and new varieties that favoured intensified cultivation practices also led to increase in the zone’s pearl millet production.

‘AE2’ saw an average increase of 1,860 kg per hectare in bajra production between 1998 and 2017. The increase in production was attributed to moderate increase in rainfall, with a 7 mm per year increase of an average annual precipitation of 504 mm.

“It is interesting to emphasise that AE2 is characterised by the lowest pearl millet price (on average 682 INR/100 kg), which is around 20% less than in A1 (843 INR/100 kg),” the study noted.

The paper also noted that climate change is contributing to more rainfall in Zone ‘G’ covering seven districts in Gujarat. This has led to farmers changing their cultivation patterns and switching from pearl millet to cash crops.

Farmers are now preferring cotton or castor bean due to an increase in rainfall as well as irrigation surface by 2.2 per cent annually.

The study was conducted by International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research – All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet (ICAR-AICRP).

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