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Climate change triggers shift in India's pearl millet cultivation zones

A new study by ICRISAT and ICAR-AICRP urged a timely revision of the classification criteria governing pearl millet cultivation in India. (Image source: ICRISAT)

A new study by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research - All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet (ICAR-AICRP) has suggested a re-evaluation of pearl millet cultivation zones in India

Amidst changing climatic conditions and evolving agricultural priorities, the study used data from ICRISAT's District Level Database (DLD) to re-examine the classification criteria governing pearl millet cultivation zones, originally established in 1979.

Given that pearl millet is a vital crop for India's food security, director general of ICRISAT, Jacqueline Hughes mentioned that it was imperative to recalibrate the approach towards nurturing this crop for dryland communities. Hughes also applauded the study, while stating, "This new classification system aims to optimise pearl millet production, to effectively assist policymakers, researchers, and farmers make better evidence-based decisions."

Using digital technology and crop models, the study re-evaluated the zones and created a digital twin of the pearl millet system, which helps design crops and strategies tailored to the current and future climate conditions of each region. 

India's zones that are currently based on rainfall and soil type have classified arid regions in Rajasthan as A1, semi-arid regions in North and Central India as A and semi-arid regions with heavy soils in South India as B. The new zones however, also take into account the complexity of the system in response to the changing climatic conditions. Therefore, the existing A zone can be broken down into three district subzones covering states in North and Central India namely, G, AE1 and AE2. According to this, the G zone encompasses Gujarat, AE1 covers East Rajasthan and Haryana, and AE2 covers Uttar Pradesh. 

In brief, the AE1 zone with its favourable soil and climatic conditions, represents the core of India's pearl millet production. This region has therefore led to a significant increase in overall yield. Similarly, the AE2 zone shows promising yield progress and better farming practices, hence offering potential for export-oriented grains. On the other hand, as a result of climate change and more rainfall experienced in the region, farmers in the G zone have moved away from pearl millet cultivation during the summer months and gradually shifted to cash crops.