Article the impacts of climate variability on crop yields and irrigation water demand in South Asia

Qurat Ul Ain Ahmad*, Hester Biemans, Eddy Moors, Nuzba Shaheen, Ilyas Masih

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Accurate (spatio-temporal) estimation of the crop yield relation to climate variables is essential in the densely populated Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra (IGB) river basins of South Asia for devising appropriate adaptation strategies to ensure regional food and water security. This study examines wheat (Triticum aestivum) and rice (Oryza sativa) crop yields’ sensitivity to primary climate variables (i.e., temperature and precipitation) and related changes in irrigation water demand at different spatial (i.e., province/state, districts and grid cell) and temporal (i.e., seasonal and crop growth phase) scales. To estimate the climate driven variations in crop yields, observed and modelled data applying the Lund-Potsdam-Jena managed Land (LPJmL) model are used for six selected study sites in the IGB river basins over the period 1981–2010. Our statistical analysis underscores the importance of impacts assessments at higher spatio-temporal scales. Our grid cell (aggregated over study sites) scale analysis shows that 27–72% variations in wheat and 17–55% in rice crop yields are linked with temperature variations at a significance level of p < 0.001. In the absence of irrigation application, up to 39% variations in wheat and up to 75% variations in rice crop yields are associated with precipitation changes in all study sites. Whereas, observed crop yields show weak correlations with temperature at a coarser resolution, i.e., up to 4% at province and up to 31% at district scales. Crop yields also showed stronger sensitivity to climate variables at higher temporal scale (i.e., vegetative and reproductive phases) having statistically strong negative relationship with temperature and positive with precipitation during the reproductive phase. Similarly, crop phase-specific variations in climate variables have considerable impacts (i.e., quantity and timing) on irrigation water demand. For improved crop water planning, we suggest integrated climate impact assessments at higher spatio-temporal scales which can help to devise appropriate adaptation strategies for sustaining future food demand.

Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number1
Early online date29 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Climate variability
  • Crop growth phases
  • Crop yield
  • Irrigation


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