Agriculture and Food Security: The Parting due to Climate Change

By Vidya Anna Jacob

[The author would like to acknowledge the contribution made by Ms. Rebukha Joseph]

One of the most devastating aspects of climate change is the impact that it will have on the production of food across the world. Agriculture is directly related to and dependent on the environment, and fluctuations in climatic conditions could cause widespread destruction of crops as well as change in the availability of arable land. There are simultaneous challenges from floods and drought, with shifts in weather trends. Both extremes could wreck crops. Flooding washes away productive topsoil reliant on by farmers for production, although droughts dry it out, rendering it harder from being swept away. Higher temperatures raise the water needs of crops and render them much more fragile during dry periods. This would inevitably impact the availability of food in a country like India where agriculture is the primary occupation of the people. In terms of cost, since agriculture makes up roughly 16 percent of India’s GDP, a 4.5 to 9% negative impact on production implies a cost of climate change to be roughly up to 1.5 percent of GDP per year.

Food security and Agriculture are inextricably linked. Food security is defined as the ability of all persons to enjoy economic, social and physical access to safe, healthy, nutritious food in order to meet their dietary requirements to lead a healthy, active life. A huge roadblock in the path to food security is undoubtedly climate change. Climate change could have a potentially devastating impact on India’s food security which is already below par, with the country languishing at 76th position in the Global Food Security Index in 2018. Climate change will not only adversely impact quantity and quality of produce but also drive up prices in several parts of India which would be disastrous for the large number of poor people in the country.

The Indian agricultural sector is widely known for its inefficiency( high costs and low yields due to wrong choice of crop or lack of resilience) and is already plagued by ever shrinking land holdings by farmers. The climatic variability produced by more frequent and intense weather events including unpredictable rainfall, flooding, drought can upset the stability of individuals’ and government food security strategies, creating fluctuations in food availability, access and utilization. Increased severity and frequency of natural disasters and erratic hydrological cycles are bound to disrupt nation-wide produce as Indian agriculture remains heavily dependent on the monsoons. Any change in ecological or environmental variables will impact various environment-related activities in India. While agricultural issues will directly impact food production and consumption, another unfortunate reality is the effect of climate change on the incomes of individuals. The effects of climate change have the potential to therefore completely destabilize the sector and severely impact production of food in the country.

A core aspect of food security is climate smart sustainable agriculture, which is actively supported by the Indian government. Together with other missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture addresses the risks of climate change and aims to increase agricultural productivity, particularly in rainfed areas that focus on integrated farming, soil health management, and resource conservation synergies. Apart from this, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has introduced National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) in 2011 as a project which aims to enhance resilience of Indian agriculture to climate change and climate vulnerability through strategic research and technology demonstration. However, many challenges persist for broader implementation of climate-adaptive sustainable farming methods, modern technologies and agricultural growth strategies covering vast areas of land by small farmers, who still lack infrastructure and capital and they make up most of the section of all farmers. 

Goal 2 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) talks about ‘Zero Hunger’. Climate change disrupts this vision and does not provide for attaining the goal of providing the means of subsistence which includes the goal of food security. If India wishes to achieve the SDG’s Global target (under Goal 2) of doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers by 2030, it must look towards developing a food security policy that will increase availability through various climate smart agricultural responses and enhanced and diversified livelihood sources are necessary paths for such development. The four dimensions of food security include availability, access, utilization and stability. The objective behind the adaptation and mitigation efforts should not be restricted to ensuring higher level of food production and availability via climate smart agriculture. Enabling better access and utilisation through efficient supply chain mechanisms also becomes very crucial in this context.

The risk of hunger and malnutrition could increase by up to 20 percent by 2050. Therefore, taking due cognizance of the needs of the vulnerable may be an effective guiding principle in strategy development to deal with the food security crisis. There exist three main challenges that will daunt the policy makers and the stakeholders. Firstly, there needs to be a modification in the culture of research to focus on outcomes. This will involve extensive stakeholder engagement. The second is to design and trial portfolios of options. Solutions will be highly context-specific, so the focus needs to be on prioritization approaches for the benefit of communities, projects and countries. Engagement of the stakeholders is pivotal. The third challenge is to achieve social inclusion through a focus on people who are most vulnerable to climate change. To meet these challenges, science must work hand in hand with practitioners and policy-makers, to devise sensible options that meet neutralises current threats and capitalises on future opportunities.

It is now a task for policy makers to integrate future climate predictions into their policy making now, particularly when they are already faced with imminent and certain threats to food security in the present. The next article will deal with the implications of climate change on the current laws regarding food security in India, the role of governance in finding solutions to climate threats and ensuring that adaptation to the effects of climate change does not increase vulnerability and food insecurity. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VIDYA ANN JACOB

Vidya, an academician in Bangalore in a private university. Enjoys working on projects interlinking human rights, climate change policy and environmental laws. Balances her weekends hiking and enjoying nature walks.

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