By 2050, the world population will reach nearly 9.5 billion, which effectively means that we will have to produce 70% more food for over two billion additional mouths. Hence, the food and agriculture systems need to adapt fast to the changing climate and become more resilient, productive and sustainable. This would require judicious use of natural resources and minimised post-harvest losses coupled with improved harvesting, storage, packaging, transportation and marketing practices as well as appropriate infrastructural facilities. Aptly, theme for this year’s World Food Day is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too”. Ever since 1979, it is being celebrated on October 16 with the aim to raise public awareness regarding hunger challenges and encourage them for necessary actions to fight hunger. The global goal for achieving ‘Zero Hunger’ is 2030 which cannot be reached without addressing climate change – food security being highly vulnerable to changing climatic patterns.
Food security refers to an ability to access/utilize sufficient quantities of safe and nutritious food; however, the related challenges are afflicting the urban/rural populations in wealthy/poor nations alike. FAO estimates nearly 194.6 million Indians (15.2%) were undernourished during 2014-16.
Climate change – a catalyst of crisis and food/nutrition insecurity
By the end of 21st century, global temperature is predicted to rise by nearly 1.4-5.8˚C leading to a substantial reduction in food production. As per ISRO, the Himalayan glaciers already on retreat (shrinkage during the last 15 years: 3.75 km) may disappear by 2035. Ill effects of climate change include growing deserts and escalation in extreme weather events like droughts, cyclones, floods and droughts. Such situations often pose worst effects on the poorest of the poor (many being farmers) and are, thus, a serious threat to our goal – ending hunger by 2030! Hence, concerted action on climate change is crucial for sustainable development. Ironically, agriculture is also considered amongst the big contributors to climate change. On 2 October 2016, India has ratified the Paris Agreement which aims to combat climate change and limit global temperature rise to well below 2˚C.
To quote, our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji “The world is today worried about climate change, global warming, natural disasters. Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhayay had understood the need for striking the fine balance between human development and the need to preserve natural resources….to be vigilant about the exploitation of natural resources. Human race has only now realised the disastrous impact of our material development on the nature”.
Since a consistent increase in greenhouse gases is the major cause for climate change, it is imperative to ensure the wellbeing of ecosystems by reducing their emissions. In the context of Indian agriculture, key issues of climate change include – vastness of the nation with diverse climatic conditions; varied cropping/farming systems; excessive monsoon dependency; climate-change hampering water availability; small land holdings; lack of coping mechanisms; poor penetration of risk management strategies; extreme rainfall events (droughts/floods – esp. in coastal regions); high incidence of pests/diseases; speedy oxidation of carbon-print affecting soil fertility and extinction of biodiversity. Though, India has been successful in achieving self-sufficiency in grain production, it has not been able to address chronic household food insecurity. It is likely that climate change will exacerbate food insecurity, particularly in areas vulnerable to hunger/under-nutrition.
For our country, where a large chunk of our population is poor and nearly half the children are malnourished, ensuring food security is of utmost importance. While access to food is directly/indirectly affected via collateral effects on household/individual incomes, food utilization gets impaired due to poor access to drinking water and its adverse health effects. India is likely to be hit harder by global warming – affecting more than 1.2 billion, particularly those residing in flood/cyclone/drought prone areas. Climate change is a significant ‘hungerrisk multiplier’ which can affect all the dimensions of food/nutrition security – Food availability, accessibility, utilization and stability.
Attaining and sustaining food security is one of the biggest challenges worldwide. Food security plans must emphasise on effective handling of threats, efficient storage/distribution of food along with suitable monitoring/surveillance according priority to corrective actions. Adaptive measures such as modified cropping patterns, innovative technologies and water conservation become rather important, particularly in arid/semi-arid areas. Therefore, necessary efforts should be directed towards carbon sequestration and mitigation of green-house gases. In this regard, there is a dire need for awareness generation and efficient involvement of the public at every step.
Some of the governmental initiatives for ensuring food/nutrition security in India include –Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Soil Health Card/Soil Health Management Schemes, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Annapurna Scheme, MGNREGA, National Food Security Act, ICDS and MDMS etc. However, all these programmes need effective implementation, and monitoring to bridge the gaps, particularly for the vulnerable groups. It is rather important to protect and judiciously use our precious natural resources, prevent environmental pollution by adopting eco-friendly approaches, safeguard our forests and avoid food wastage at all levels – from farm-to-plate. Apart from laying more stress on plant foods vs. animal foods, wastages can be avoided by purchasing/cooking only the needed amounts coupled with appropriate storage and judicious use of leftover foods.
At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit-2015, world leaders were served dishes reformulated from ‘trash’ (vegetable scraps, rejected apples/pears and off-grade vegetables). This is an exemplary utilization of unwanted/would-be-wasted food – highlighting the crucial issue of global food wastage and its harmful effects; otherwise this food would have ended up in landfills, got rotten and emitted methane – a potent greenhouse gas.
There is an urgent need for investing in “climate‑smart food system” that is more resilient to the impact of climate change on food security. Millets – the drought resistant crops, require fewer external inputs, can grow under harsh circumstances and are, therefore, called ‘crops of the future’. These nutri-cereals have a rather short sowing-to-harvest period (~65 days) and if stored properly, can be kept for two years and beyond. Unlike paddy (contributing immensely to green-house gases from water-drenched rice fields), millets help in mitigating the climate change by reducing atmospheric CO2; while wheat production (a heat-sensitive crop) is liable to adverse effects. Owing to wide capacity of adaptation, millets can withstand variations in moisture, temperature and soil type including infertile lands. Further, millets contribute to the economic efficiency of farming by providing food and livelihood security to the millions, particularly small/marginal farmers and people in rain fed/remote tribal regions.
Rome Declaration on Nutrition and Framework of Action (Nov, 2014) recognized the need to address the impact of climate change on food/nutrition security – particularly the quantity, quality and diversity in food production; and recommended policies/programmes to establish and strengthen the food supply institutions for enhancing resilience in crisisprone areas. Thus, mitigating climate change is a global issue; appropriate adaptation strategies being the immediate solution to ensure livelihood/food security. India needs to sustain its ecosystem for meeting the food/non-food needs of its ever-growing population. Major thrust of the concerned programmes should be on soil conservation, appropriate/judicious use of the natural resources including rainwater harvesting. Raising population awareness regarding adversaries of climate change on crop production is one of the prime-most solution for attaining food/nutrition security.