Climate and food security~I

The agricultural system the world over is under tremendous pressure on the use of resources. This is largely due to…

Climate and food security~I

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The agricultural system the world over is under tremendous pressure on the use of resources. This is largely due to the burgeoning population, urbanisation, climate change and environmental decline.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has estimated that food production will have to be raised by at least 60 per cent to meet the needs of the world’s expected population of 9 billion by 2050.

This is a formidable challenge for global agriculture given that one in eight persons is insecure in terms of food. Agriculture is largely influenced by climate change and variability.


The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fifth Assessment Report (2014), has warned that global climate has been changing and this will continue to happen in the foreseeable future.

The global mean surface temperatures are predicted to increase by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C by the end of this century… relative to 1990. There would also be changes in the variability of climate and in the frequency and intensity of some extreme climatic developments, leading to uncertain monsoons and more frequent floods, drought, cyclones and gradual recession of glaciers.

Climate change is a major threat to agriculture, leading to instability in food production and adversely affecting food security and the livelihood of millions of people in many countries.

IPCC has noted that increasing temperature and increased frequency of floods and drought will have direct and adverse effects on crops, fisheries, forestry and aquaculture productivity.

The yield loss due to climate change could be up to 35 per cent for rice, 20 per cent for wheat, 50 per cent for sorghum, 13 per cent for barley, and 60 per cent for maize. Climate change and climate variability are critical challenges for global food security, particularly in underdeveloped and developing economies.

South Asia, as one of the most densely populated regions in the world, is among the most vulnerable to climate change and climate variability. Both can have major consequences in terms of food security, poverty and other developmental goals in the absence of adaptation and mitigation.

India is particularly vulnerable to climate change due to widespread poverty, dependence of about 50 per cent of its population on agriculture for livelihood, excessive dependence of agriculture on natural resources, and limited strategies to cope with a crisis.

Despite the success of Green Revolution technologies in transforming agriculture, food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty and hunger are persisting unchecked. Among 119 countries, India ranked 100 and was classified in the ‘serious category’ with a score of 31.4 in the 2017 global hunger index.

As per FAO estimates, India had the largest number of undernourished people in the world ~ 190.4 million in 2009-11 and 190.7 million in 2014-16, though the proportion of undernourished persons declined marginally from 15.8 to 14.5 per cent.

Moreover, continued intensive use of the same technologies and the consequent environmental problems such as groundwater depletion with the declining quality of water due to its over exploitation, deteriorating soil health, etc. are considered responsible for the slowing down of growth in crop production.

The problem is further aggravated due to global climate change and increasing climatic variability. The surface air temperature in the South Asian region was predicted to rise by 0.5-1.2 degrees C by 2020, 0.88-3.16 degrees C by 2050 and 1.56-5.44 degrees C by 2080 depending on the future development scenarios. The Indian Meteorology Department and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (Pune) have projected a similar trend for temperature, precipitation, heat waves, glaciers, drought, floods and rise in the sea level.

The predicted increase in temperature and precipitation is likely to change land and water regimes that have significant implications for agricultural productivity, and in turn, the food security and livelihood of farming households.

There is a probability of 10-40 per cent loss of crop production due to the increase in temperature by 2080-2100. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has indicated that food production could decline by 4.5-9.0 per cent in the medium term (2010-2039) under the impact of climate change.

The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) has indicated the possibility of loss amounting to 4-5 million tonnes in wheat production with every rise of 1 degree C temperature by 2020-2030. While climate change is likely to reduce yields of most crops in the long-run, increased climatic variability could increase fluctuations in production in the short-run.

The agricultural production system could be further worsened by climate change through increasing water scarcity, frequency and severity of floods, and declining soil carbon. The adverse impact of frequent and severe drought and floods on crop production in many parts of the country has been reported in several studies.

Thus, climate change and increasing climatic variability will lead to greater instability in food production and threaten the food security of millions of farmers and pose a serious challenge to poverty alleviation by exerting tremendous pressure on the agricultural system.

The agriculture production system will need to adapt to these changes in order to ensure food security and maintain economic activities and the livelihood of farming communities.

Efforts to achieve food security entail building resilience of rural households to climate shocks and strengthening their adaptive capacity to cope with increased climatic variability.

Agricultural systems including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries need to be transformed without degrading the natural resource base to ensure adequate quantity of quality food to the rising population and to promote economic growth and alleviate poverty.

FAO has recognised that agriculture must be “climate-smart” to achieve these goals. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrated approach that increases agricultural productivity and incomes, adapt and build resilience to climate change, and reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Food security has been defined by FAO as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

As the availability of foodgrain is essential for security, the primary necessity is to improve foodgrain production. The small landholders with an average landholding size of less than two hectares constitute a key group that needs special attention.

It represents more than 80 per cent of farmers and contributes more than 50 per cent of total agricultural output, cultivating 44 per cent of agricultural land. The system supports the livelihood and food security of millions of people.

The CSA approach contributes towards achieving food and livelihood security and other developmental goals by (i) increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, (ii) adapting and building resilience to climate change, and (iii) reducing and/or removing GHG emissions, where possible.

It integrates climate change into the planning and implementation of sustainable agricultural strategies, and focuses on developing resilient food production systems that can lead to food and livelihood security under climate change and variability. Naturally, an integrated approach that is receptive to specific local conditions is required for CSA to become a reality.

The most challenging task is to adopt appropriate strategies that enhance climate-smart agriculture. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), in its Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), has been working with rural communities in collaboration with national programmes to develop climate-smart villages (CSV) as models of local action that ensure food security, promote adaptation and build resilience to climatic problems.

CSV is a community approach to sustainable agricultural development where farmers, researchers, local partners and policy makers collaborate to select the most appropriate technological and institutional interventions on the basis of global knowledge and local conditions to increase productivity and incomes, achieve climate resilience, and enable climate mitigation.

It integrates village development and adaptation plans along with local knowledge and institutions. The major strength of the CSV approach is its inclusiveness in bringing together farmers, policy makers, researchers and local organisations to work on a set of climate-smart technologies and practices with a view to adapt agriculture to climate change in order to ensure food and livelihood security of farmers in vulnerable regions.

(To be concluded)

The writer is Professor of Economics, Visva-Bharati University. He can be reached at msghosh123@rediffmail.com