The Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Dr William Dar, has signed the Copenhagen Communiqué on climate change, joining a host of global institutions that have endorsed the initiative. Other signatories include the Adidas Group, Cable & Wireless plc, Cathay Pacific Airways, HSBC, Procter & Gamble and Swiss Re, amongst over 350 companies of all sizes and background.

The Communiqué is an initiative of The Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) on Climate change, University of Cambridge program for sustainability leadership in the context of the crucial United Nations negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen this December.

The Communiqué, which is being issued by a number of global institutions, calls for an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal on climate change that responds credibly to the scale and urgency of the crises facing the world today. The CLG will launch the Communiqué to the international media in the week commencing 21 September, and this Group aims to hand it personally to Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, at a public event in New York.

Farming challenge

ICRISAT works in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where one-sixth of the world’s population and more than 500 million of the world’s poorest people live. With climate change, the farmers of these regions will have to deal with delayed sowing, changes in cropping patterns, higher pest and disease incidence, frequent and persistent droughts, less water and lower crop production leading to decreased incomes. Ultimately, they will be forced to shift towards non-farm occupations or migrate elsewhere as environmental refugees, an ICRISAT release said.

Dr Dar said, “ICRISAT is well placed to respond to this challenge. Along with our partners, we recognize the importance of the issue and firmly believe that our approach will benefit the livelihoods of communities who are the most vulnerable to climate change.”

ICRISAT’s research is focused on crops that are important for the livelihoods of the people in the dryland areas. They are pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, pigeon pea and groundnut. These crops have several natural evolutionary advantages for the global warming scenarios. Both pearl millet and sorghum have high levels of salinity and heat tolerance, and hence are better adapted to areas that are likely to become saline due to global warming.

A three-fold strategy

ICRISAT’s plan to deal with climate change has a three-fold objective. In the short- to medium-term, the focus is to help dryland farmers’ deal with current weather and rainfall variabilities. In the medium to long-term, the focus will be to develop crop varieties that are adapted to a water-scarce and warmer world.

The Institute considers that improving crops to better adapt to climate change is the key to dealing with the future. For a successful strategy there is need for early planning, flexibility and dynamism in research, making the best use of information and developing strong and effective partnerships with institutions to deliver the best research products for the farmers.

Modelling studies carried out at ICRISAT show that there would be a drop in agricultural productivity with climate change in the semi-arid tropics. However, with a combination of climate change-ready varieties plus improved agronomic practices, the empowered dryland farmer will be able to almost overcome the adverse impact of a warmer world.