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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

TCi welcomes new researcher to tackle climate change and nutrition impacts in India

Asha Sharma

Water storage (natural or manmade) is one way in which we buffer against climate risks involving inadequate water. Not only is irrigation a way to deal with the occasional dry spell, but in many places it is critical to maintaining current crop yields. This makes agriculture by far the biggest consumer of water amongst human activities. This dependence on water is responsible for rapid declines in groundwater in large parts of India. Climate change will affect both the demand and supply of water, but our own activities make this relationship even more complex. Recent studies show that widespread irrigation may be weakening the monsoons themselves. Yet as anyone living in India knows, sometimes and in some places, the issue is too much water in too short a time.

However, we deal with climate change in the context of many other large-scale trends: changing cropping systems and practices, rises in population as well as average incomes, and changing tastes, to name a few. The global interconnections in the food system means that what happens in one place may affect what happens halfway around the globe in a good way or bad. At the same time, we are trying to grapple with how specific to the local region the vulnerabilities and adaptations are. My task as TCi’s first post-doc will involve trying to grapple with these very challenging questions. Luckily for me, I can lean on the ears and brains of the fantastic group of experts in many different disciplines we have here within TCi and at Cornell.

Over the last few years, delayed monsoons in India, droughts in the southwestern US, and heat waves in Russia have all received major news coverage. Climate risks to agriculture are as old as agriculture itself, and improvements in technology (the word being used here in the broadest sense) have helped reduce the vulnerability of agriculture to the vagaries of climate. Yet even in the richest countries, agriculture is far from immune to nature’s whims. Now the agricultural, science and development communities face the question of how climate change will change these risks over the coming decades. Some of what we will see is unprecedented in human history – for example, we do not know exactly how higher carbon dioxide levels will affect crop yields and nutrient levels.