By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Food security has emerged a subject of much discussion due to an impending global crisis, more so due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Mention may be made of wheat shortage in different countries, including in India, which decided to stop restrictions on exports, except to its neighbours. There are reports that due to climate change and attendant vagaries such as global warming and increasing heat waves, cyclones and floods, food security is likely to be threatened.
Scientists warned that the world will run out of food in 27 years. This means we are heading towards a food crisis. Socio-biologist, Edward Wilson, observed that there is a need for two Earths to fulfill the current human need. In an interview to Daily Star, it was pointed out: “that there are limits to Earth’s capacity to feed humanity. Even if everyone on the planet agreed to become vegetarian, the world’s farmland could not support the need. By then, there will be almost 10 billion people on the planet and the food demand will have increased by 70% compared to what we needed in 2017. The limit to how many people Earth can feed is set at 10 billion of the absolute maximum”.
Shortages of water, land and energy combined with the increased demand from population and economic growth will create a global food shortage around 2050. The lower output in India and some other countries, along with global supply crunch in the wake of the war in Ukraine are seen as the key drivers for international wheat prices, which have soared in recent weeks. Added to this is the climate factor and increasing heat waves witnessed this year.
It is important to refer to a report prepared by World Weather Attribution Network comprising 30 scientists from 10 countries which observed: “The 2022 heatwave is estimated to have led to at least 90 deaths across India and Pakistan. The heat reduced India’s wheat crop yields, causing the government to reverse an earlier plan to supplement the global wheat supply that has been impacted by the war in Ukraine”. The study conducted a rapid analysis of the link between climate change and the heatwave and found that the probability of an event such as that in 2022 increased by a factor of about 30 because of climate change that has been triggered by a1.20C average temperature rise over the global benchmark, which was set at 1900.
The above study conducted a rapid analysis of the link between climate change and the heatwave and found that the probability of an event such as that in 2022 increased by a factor of about 30 because of climate change that has been triggered by a1.20C average temperature rise over the global benchmark, which was set at 1900. “With future global warming, heatwaves like this will become even more common and hotter, the report stated, predicting that “such a heatwave would become an additional factor of 2-20 more likely and 0.5-1.50C hotter compared to 2022.”
Delving into the problem of food insecurity, it may be said that such insecurity may be ranked into five phases. While phases 1 and 2 are classified as ‘none/minimal’ and ‘stressed’, respectively, the three highest levels of food insecurity are labeled ‘crisis’, ‘emergency’ and ‘catastrophe’. In the worst catastrophe/famine level, households have an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs, even after they’ve exhausted all coping strategies such as selling assets.”Long-term environmental, social and economic trends compounded by increasing conflict and insecurity are eroding the resilience of agri-food systems,” the Global Network Against Food Crises, which was founded in 2016 by the European Union, the FAO and the UN World Food Programme, arned.
It is a well-known fact that two years of the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a considerable toll on global food systems – and the ability of the world to feed its 7.9 billion people. Ending hunger is the second of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve by 2030. In the 2021 report on State of Food Security & Nutrition in the World, between 720 million and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020, around one in 10, according to UN estimates.
In India, the major problems that have been identified are:population growth and poverty with a significant section though above the BPL line, belonging to the economically weaker sections;climate change, specially heat waves, floods and cyclones affecting production and productivity, specially in the current year, with similar changes also affecting livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture;inadequate storage facilities for grains, leading to lack of protection from humidity and pests and concurrent wastage and loss for farmers;lack of education and training on new techniques, technologies and agricultural products and reliance on traditional farming methods that are slightly more time consuming and delay the production of food grains, etc.growth of biofuel growing food crops market, thereby reducing land used for growing food crops; anddiverting the grains to open market to get better margin, selling poor quality grains at ration shops, the irregular opening of the shops adds to the issue of food insecurity.
There is need to diversify food systems, empower vulnerable and marginalised groups, and promote sustainability across all aspects of food supply chains, from production to consumption. It also means shaping food policies in ways that recognize inter-system linkages—ensuring, for example, that food systems, ecological systems, and economic systems create positive synergies rather than working at cross-purposes. And it means incorporating a greater understanding of the complex interaction of different forms of malnutrition occurring simultaneously within societies, including not just hunger and undernutrition, but also obesity and micronutrient deficiencies.
Thus transformation across food systems would help to alleviate many of the problems unleashed by the pandemic. Policies that promote diverse farming systems — such as agro-ecology are typically more ecologically sustainable than systems geared for specialized production and long-distance trade. More diverse production systems contribute to more nutritious diets by providing a wide variety of foods essential to good health.
It may also be noted that support for more regional markets—sometimes referred to as territorial markets—can provide farmers with outlets for their crops that are closer to home and better meet local demand, reducing the risks associated with relying on global market conditions. More localised markets are also more empowering for vulnerable and marginalized groups because they create livelihood opportunities not only for local farmers, but also for local traders and processors. Grounded in communities and catering to their specific needs, these more localised market systems can respond to changing conditions more quickly and reduce the need for an excessive reliance on imports.
The threat to food security, is immense in most tropical countries, including India, with heatwaves causing loss to life and property as well as food production. Policies that support transformative initiatives and help to build more diverse food systems that can stand heat or flooding or even less dependent on water need to be evolved so as to achieve SDG2 in the coming years. — INFA