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Climate variability and yield risk in South Asia’s rice–wheat systems: emerging evidence from Pakistan

Abstract

Rice and wheat are the principal calorie sources for over a billion people in South Asia, although each crop is particularly sensitive to the climatic and agronomic management conditions under which they are grown. Season-long heat stress can reduce photosynthesis and accelerate senescence; if extreme heat stress is experienced during flowering, both rice and wheat may also experience decreased pollen viability and stigma deposition, leading to increased grain sterility. Where farmers are unable to implement within-season management adaptations, significant deviations from expected climatic conditions would affect crop growth, yield, and therefore have important implications for food security. The influence of climatic conditions on crop growth have been widely studied in growth chamber, greenhouse, and research station trials, although empirical evidence of the link between climatic variability and yield risk in farmers’ fields is comparatively scarce. Using data from 240 farm households, this paper responds to this gap and isolates the effects of agronomic management from climatic variability on rice and wheat yield risks in eight of Pakistan’s twelve agroecological zones. Using Just and Pope production functions, we tested for the effects of crop management practices and climatic conditions on yield and yield variability for each crop. Our results highlight important risks to farmers’ ability to obtain reliable yield levels for both crops. Despite variability in input use and crop management, we found evidence for the negative effect of both season-long and terminal heat stress, measured as the cumulative number of days during which crop growth occurred above critical thresholds, though wheat was considerably more sensitive than rice. Comparing variation in observed climatic parameters in the year of study to medium-term patterns, rice, and wheat yields were both negatively affected, indicative of production risk and of farmers’ limited capacity for within-season adaptation. Our findings suggest the importance of reviewing existing climate change adaptation policies that aim to increase cereal farmers’ resilience in Pakistan, and more broadly in South Asia. Potential agronomic and extension strategies are proposed for further investigation.

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Acknowledgments

This study was financed by German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) jointly; the field research and data collection components of the project were funded by Stiftung Fiat Panis, Germany. The Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), Germany, provided administrative support throughout the span of this research work, which is highly appreciated. We thank the Pakistan Metrological Department for climate data. Peter Crawford and Asad Sarwar Qureshi assisted with advice on heat stress and tillage in Pakistan, respectively. The authors also thank the two anonymous reviewers for useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Muhammad Arshad.

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Arshad, M., Amjath-Babu, T.S., Krupnik, T.J. et al. Climate variability and yield risk in South Asia’s rice–wheat systems: emerging evidence from Pakistan. Paddy Water Environ 15, 249–261 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10333-016-0544-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10333-016-0544-0

Keywords

  • Climate change adaptation
  • Adaptive capacity
  • Pakistan
  • Heat stress
  • Rice–wheat system
  • Yield risk