Author : Shoba Suri

Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Aug 29, 2022 Updated 22 Hours ago
There is an urgent need for a comprehensive examination of the impact of climate change on food security.
Climate change poses the biggest risk to food security in India

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 aims to ‘end hunger, achieve food security, enhance nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.’ However, food security remains a long-lost development goal for India. Despite the economic growth, the burden of malnutrition remains unacceptably high. Climate change further poses a challenge to food security challenges with its influence on food production, costs, and security. Excessive heat or shortage of water can impede crop growth, reduce yields, and influence irrigation, soil quality, and the ecosystem on which agriculture depends. Various factors influence the food security risk including natural calamities and water scarcity.

Changing weather patterns

The impact of excessive rainfall causing floods or no rainfall resulting in drought can be extremely detrimental to crop production in the country. Evidence suggests a strong relationship between agricultural output and increased extreme weather conditions such as severe and frequent droughts and floods. According to the World Bank, domestic food prices have tracked the rise in global food prices, which has been exacerbated by droughts. Food price inflation in India had also extended to several of its neighbours, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Domestic demand in India surged during the inflationary era of 2008 and was aggravated by the El Nino weather pattern in 2009, which caused food shortages as a result of the drought.

Evidence suggests a strong relationship between agricultural output and increased extreme weather conditions such as severe and frequent droughts and floods.

Research indicates that the balancing impact of carbon fertilisation can negate the negative effects of global warming on agricultural output in India and that rising carbon dioxide levels can boost crop yields. A different study from Karnataka also shows how extreme temperatures can majorly affect crop yield/ productivity. These events are often linked to an exponential rise in the incidence of pests and diseases. The resulting conclusion is that climate change has an induced effect on food security even as pests and diseases attack food crops and animals, which culminates in reduced food availability. 

Rivers, dams, streams, and groundwater resources are also under stress. Rain-fed agriculture accounts for 65 percent of all cultivated land in India, illustrating the sector's fragility to water scarcity. Extensive areas of the country are already facing water scarcity issues with decreasing reliance on groundwater for agriculture because of the depleting levels.  Moreover, weather-related disasters influence the food production value chain, necessitating a multidisciplinary strategy to bridge social capital. Critical research in this field is required to build agricultural and community resilience for present and future agricultural calamities.

The yield of staple crops such as rice and wheat has fallen dramatically along with the decline in nutritional content as a result of climate change. A considerable influence is seen extending to pulse output and livestock. Other components of agricultural production systems, notably animal production, are indirectly impacted, with crop byproducts and residues providing a significant portion of their energy requirements.

The expected detrimental impact of climate change has significant implications since agriculture is the most important means of alleviating poverty. The global food crises of 2007 and 2008 have revealed that the food-insecure populations in developing nations will be severely affected by any future food crisis exacerbated by climate change. Upscaling farming activities by crop rotation and mixed cropping over mono-cropping can help reduce the susceptibility to weather extremes and unpredictable monsoons.

Critical research in this field is required to build agricultural and community resilience for present and future agricultural calamities.

Droughts and floods also have a greater impact in areas with substantial food insecurity and inequality. An assessment of nine villages in Maharashtra's drought-prone Jalna district revealed that local agricultural yields and farmers' yearly incomes decreased by nearly 60 percent during the 2012–13 drought. Another study from Odisha shows an increase in malnutrition due to natural calamities and disasters. In the coastal district of Jagatsinghpur in Odisha, long-term chronic malnutrition is observed in children exposed to recurrent flooding living in flood-prone areas.

Indicators of urban food insecurity in India paint a bleak picture. Given that food is the single largest expense for impoverished urban households, any extreme weather event that causes relocation, loss of livelihood, or damage to productive assets would directly impact household food security. According to Nira Ramachandran, hunger frequently triggers a surge of migration to the cities, displacing whole families into urban slums. These migrant workers mostly work in the low-wage urban informal sector, where there is minimal job security and incomes are below the legal minimum. As a result, the urban poor will become the most vulnerable group to food inflation because of the output shocks and reductions predicted by future climate change.

Farmers require several adaptation methods to maintain agricultural yields throughout climate change.

Population growth, growing wages, and changes in consumption and food patterns will put an enormous strain on land and other natural resources. Global warming will further impact natural and human systems, biodiversity, and food security.

Way forward

The agricultural adaptation toolbox should contain immediate solutions and a long-term strategy to address the various harsh weather patterns. Regional models for the Indian subcontinent should be established, as evidenced by studies undertaken in Tamil Nadu's Cauvery basin, commonly known as India's rice bowl. The study proposes adaptation strategies such as rice intensification, using temperature tolerant cultivars, and green manures/bio-fertilizers to save water and increase rice productivity in warmer climates to downscale climate change scenarios for smaller regions in the near future. As of now, much focus is placed on giving immediate help to impacted households rather than creating long-term adaptive measures.  As a result, public investment and training in disaster management, especially in coastal areas, becomes critical, supplemented by long-term undernutrition prevention programs in disaster-affected areas. Climate change is likely to be one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss in the next decades. Population growth, growing wages, and changes in consumption and food patterns will put an enormous strain on land and other natural resources. Global warming will further impact natural and human systems, biodiversity, and food security. Thus, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive examination of the impact of climate change on food security. Future research should be prioritised and aimed at measuring and quantifying the effect of climate change on food absorption and malnutrition to overcome the looming threat to food security in India.

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Author

Shoba Suri

Shoba Suri

Dr. Shoba Suri is a Senior Fellow with ORFs Health Initiative. Shoba is a nutritionist with experience in community and clinical research. She has worked on nutrition, ...

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