Tuber crops lend key to survive in a hot future

October 29, 2012 0 Comments

Study coordinated by CTCRI explores their resilience to drought and potential as substitute crop

Scientists from agricultural universities in 18 States from across the country are studying the resilience of tuber crops to climate change, in a research project aimed at reducing the impact of climate change and ensuring food security.

The project, coordinated by the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) in Thiruvananthapuram, involves the study of tubers in different climate zones across the country to assess their capability to withstand extreme climate conditions.

“In controlled conditions, tubers such as cassava, yams, and aroids have been found to withstand extreme drought. This attribute will help policy planners promote tuber as a substitute crop to meet exigencies,” says James George, coordinator, All India Coordinated Research Project on Tuber Crops (AICRPTC).

Tapioca and yam

“Tubers generally shed leaves during drought, leaving just a few to sustain the life of the plant with minimum photosynthesis. The plants sprout fresh leaves with rain. In greenhouse experiments, 7 to 8 degrees above the ambient temperature, tapioca performed reasonably well while the performance of elephant foot yam was comparable to that in the best conditions. The only difference was that the lifecycle of the plant, from planting to maturity, came down by about three months.”

This, Dr. George explained, proved the potential of tubers to be farmed as an alternative to cereals and pulses during drought conditions. “When rain-dependent kharif crops fail in the absence of monsoon, tuber crops will survive with just life-saving irrigation during the planting season.”

Agricultural scientists from 18 States and Andaman and Nicobar islands have started monitoring tuber crops grown in different agroclimatic conditions. “The major component of the programme is to study the phenology, the growth of the plant over different phases from sprouting to maturity. It also involves monitoring of climatological parameters such as rainfall, humidity, and wind velocity. Then we work out the correlation based on a statistical package,” Dr. George said.

The data, both climatological and phenological observations, is integrated through an electronic network linking all the universities involved in the programme.

The information collected over a three-year period will be analysed at CTCRI. “The preliminary data has started trickling in. We have developed a simulation model to assess the crop growth under different agroclimatic regimes. The model is expected to help formulate a mitigation strategy against the uncertainties of climate change.”

Dr. George said the project was aimed at developing models to predict the impact of climate change on tubers in different agroclimatic conditions. “Promoting tubers as an alternative to cereals should augment food security,” he said.