Climate scientists and farmers working together to tackle water security in South Asia

Dr Lisa Bunclark

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World Water Day is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis and ensuring adequate water for food production is another important aspect of water security. Researchers at Newcastle University are currently working on a project that will help to ensure that small holder farmers in South Asia have enough water for their crops into the future.

The work of Professor Hayley Fowler and Dr Nathan Forsythe, builds upon multiple collaborative initiatives with research institutes in South Asia, and focuses on finding grassroots-scale solutions to mitigate drought impacts on local communities and build resilience to climate change impacts. The project looks at ways to mainstream climate adaptation in three countries across South Asia with case study villages in contexts such as the rural areas of Nainital district in Uttarakhand state, India. Similar focus areas will be selected in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The project focuses on translation of sophisticated climate model outputs into pragmatically useful “climate services” that help communities prepare for climate change, and understand its effects on crop yields at the local level. Cropping simulations generated from large-scale regional climate models will be refined based on information generated by the smallholder farmers themselves.

Communities will provide modelers with local knowledge on cropping practices (planning dates, seedling densities, soil properties), to reduce uncertainty in the simulation of crop yields from smallholder farms.

In parallel community-based weather observations and water resources monitoring helps increase awareness of the influence of climate change on weather at the grass roots level. Ultimately, computer modelling and field activities will merge with dialogues between researchers and stakeholders.

The research enables deeper exploration of the threat that water scarcity poses to farmers’ crop yields and potential strategies they can adopt to ensure that crops receive enough water to grow sufficiently. These strategies could include harvesting and storing rainwater runoff in small reservoirs for use as supplementary irrigation during droughts.

As well as helping communities in the case study sites as part of the project, the research team aims to work with local academics and development professionals to help build local technical capacity for water resource assessment and management, ensuring water security for more farmers in the region into the future.

For further information contact: Dr Nathan Forsythe nathan.forsythe@newcastle.ac.uk.

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