Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
Human beings have learned to live with climate variability on various timescales, from daily to decadal. However, the climate variability we are accustomed to is changing quickly, accompanied by a rise in global mean temperature due to increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Climate change has added to the enormity of India’s food security challenges. While the relationship between climate change and food security is complex, most studies focus on one dimension of food security, i.e., food availability.
At the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are targets to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition. For India, food security continues to be high on its list of development priorities because the country’s relatively high rates of economic growth have not led to a reduction in hunger and undernutrition. India’s gross domestic product at factor cost and per capita income grew at seven percent and five percent per annum, respectively, from 1990-91 to 2013-19. However, the incidence of undernutrition has dropped only marginally from 210.1 million in 1990 to 194.6 million in 2014, and India has failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. About 12 Indian states fall under the ‘alarming’ category of the Global Hunger Index. According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, the proportion of children under five years who are underweight is significantly high in states such as Bihar (43.9 percent), Madhya Pradesh (42.8 percent) and Andhra Pradesh (31.9 percent). While large sections of the Indian population suffer from acute undernutrition, rising incomes and growing urbanisation are rapidly changing the composition of the food basket — away from cereals to high-value agricultural commodities such as fish and meat. As a result, the total demand for food grains is projected to be higher in the future due to an increase in population as well as a growing indirect demand from the feed.
How does climate change affect food security?
The World Food Summit in 1996 defined food security thus: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” According to this definition, there are three main dimensions to food security: food availability, access to food, and food absorption. Thus, adequate food production alone is not a sufficient condition for a country’s food security.
Food security is one of the leading concerns associated with climate change. Climate change affects food security in complex ways. It impacts crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and can cause grave social and economic consequences in the form of reduced incomes, eroded livelihoods, trade disruption and adverse health impacts. However, it is important to note that the net impact of climate change depends not only on the extent of the climatic shock but also on the underlying vulnerabilities. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (2016), both biophysical and social vulnerabilities determine the net impact of climate change on food security.
Climate change presents an additional stress on India’s long-term food security challenges as it affects food production in many ways. For one, it may cause significant increases in inter-annual and intra-seasonal variability of monsoon rainfall. According to World Bank estimates, based on the International Energy Agency’s current policy scenario and other energy sector economic models, for a global mean warming of 4°C, there will be a 10-percent increase in annual mean monsoon intensity and a 15-percent increase in year-to-year variability in monsoon precipitation. The World Bank also predicts that droughts will pose an increasing risk in the north-western part of India while southern India will experience an increase in wetness.
The impact of climate change on water availability will be particularly severe for India because large parts of the country already suffer from water scarcity, to begin with, and largely depend on groundwater for irrigation. The decline in precipitation and droughts in India has led to the drying up of wetlands and severe degradation of ecosystems. About 54 percent of India faces high to extremely high water stress. Large parts of north-western India, notably the states of Punjab and Haryana, which account for the bulk of the country’s rice and wheat output, are extremely water-stressed. About 54 percent of India’s groundwater wells are decreasing, with 16 percent of them decreasing by more than one meter per year. With increased periods of low precipitation and dry spells due to climate change, India’s groundwater resources will become even more important for irrigation, leading to greater pressure on water resources. According to the World Bank projections, with a global mean warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, food water requirements in India will exceed green water availability. The mismatch between demand and supply of water is likely to have far-reaching implications on food grain production and India’s food security.
While there has been considerable progress in understanding the sensitivities of crop production to yield, there are relatively few models which assess the impact of climate change on access to food. According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, depending on the climate change scenario, 200 to 600 million more people globally could suffer from hunger by 2080.The climate change will have significant effects on future undernutrition, even when the beneficial effects of economic growth are taken into account. Climate change will also have an adverse impact on the livelihoods of fishers and forest-dependent people. Landless agricultural labourers wholly dependent on agricultural wages are at the highest risk of losing their access to food.
There are many potential impacts of climate change on food absorption. Overall, the global threat is that climate change could lead to a reduction of production and consumption of certain foods that play a critical role in the diets of poor rural and indigenous populations such as fish, fruits and vegetables, and wild foods. Change in climatic conditions could lead to a reduction in the nutritional quality of foods (reduced concentration in proteins and minerals like zinc and iron) due to elevated carbon dioxide levels. In India, where legumes (pulses) rather than meat are the main source of proteins, such changes in the quality of food crops will accelerate the largely neglected epidemic known as “Hidden Hunger” or Micronutrient deficiency. The micronutrient deficiencies increase the risk of acquiring an infectious disease which in turn worsens the problem of undernutrition, creating a vicious circle. In India, children living in poor rural areas and urban slums are at higher risk of morbidity and mortality from diarrhoeal diseases. The climate change will lead to an average increase of about 13.1 percent in diarrhoea in the Ganga basin. Climate change will lead to the emergence of new patterns of pests and diseases which will affect human health and lower the capacity to utilise food effectively, thereby posing new risks for food security. For instance, more people will be exposed to vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya.
The main problem of Indian agriculture is low productivity. To meet India’s growing food demand, there is an acute need for increasing productivity in all segments of agriculture. But given the vulnerability of Indian agriculture to climate change, farm practices need to be reoriented to provide better climate resilience. India needs to step up public investment in development and dissemination of crop varieties which are more tolerant of temperature and precipitation fluctuations and are more water and nutrient efficient. Agricultural policy should focus on improving crop productivity and developing safety nets to cope with the risks of climate change. Better management of water resources must be a key feature of sustainable agriculture. To develop climate-resilient strategies and make adequate policy interventions, there is a need for an integrated assessment of the impact of climate change on India’s food security. So far, there are fewer studies on the impact of climate change on other dimensions of food security besides production. Research efforts should be directed towards assessing and quantifying where possible the impact of climate change on undernutrition and food absorption.
‘Any error in this manuscript is silent testimony of the fact that it was a human effort’.
Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
Sr. Assistant Professor
Department of Zoology
GDC Bhaderwah, J & K
Mob. No. 9419369557
E-mail: [email protected]