Sensitivity of crop cover to climate variability: Insights from two Indian agro-ecoregions

Mondal, Pinki; Jain, Meha; DeFries, Ruth S.; Galford, Gillian L.; Small, Christopher

Crop productivity in India varies greatly with inter-annual climate variability and is highly dependent on monsoon rainfall and temperature. The sensitivity of yields to future climate variability varies with crop type, access to irrigation and other biophysical and socio-economic factors. To better understand sensitivities to future climate, this study focuses on agro-ecological subregions in Central and Western India that span a range of crops, irrigation, biophysical conditions and socioeconomic characteristics. Climate variability is derived from remotely-sensed data products, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM – precipitation) and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS – temperature). We examined green-leaf phenologies as proxy for crop productivity using the MODIS Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) from 2000 to 2012. Using both monsoon and winter growing seasons, we assessed phenological sensitivity to inter-annual variability in precipitation and temperature patterns. Inter-annual EVI phenology anomalies ranged from −25% to 25%, with some highly anomalous values up to 200%. Monsoon crop phenology in the Central India site is highly sensitive to climate, especially the timing of the start and end of the monsoon and intensity of precipitation. In the Western India site, monsoon crop phenology is less sensitive to precipitation variability, yet shows considerable fluctuations in monsoon crop productivity across the years. Temperature is critically important for winter productivity across a range of crop and management types, such that irrigation might not provide a sufficient buffer against projected temperature increases. Better access to weather information and usage of climate-resilient crop types would play pivotal role in maintaining future productivity. Effective strategies to adapt to projected climate changes in the coming decades would also need to be tailored to regional biophysical and socio-economic conditions.

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Journal of Environmental Management

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In Press, Corrected Proof