The threat of climate change has gravely jeopardized global goals of eradication of hunger and poverty. Changing climate conditions have already started impairing agricultural systems all over the world, threatening the accessibility and affordability of food, as well as the livelihoods of a large population of the world. Urgent implementation of effective mitigation strategies vis-à-vis climate change is the only solution to ensure food security for all global citizens in the future.
The condition of food security is attained when all people, at all times, have “physical or economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs”.1 Additionally, it has to be ensured that the food available is “affordable, safe and healthy” and is “produced in ways that are environmentally sound and socially just”.2 Food Security forms a crucial part of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, 2030 (Goal 2).
Today, more than 1 billion people in developing countries do not have access to adequate nutrition. Around 820 million people in developing countries suffer due to malnutrition, and every five seconds, a child succumbs to death due to hunger-related issues.3 The United Nations Environment Programme warns that about 25 percent of global food production could to be lost to climate change and water scarcity by the year 2050.4 When viewed in the context of a growing world population with increasing food demands, these are alarming figures and call for immediate action. According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), in order to meet the growing food demand of the world population, by 2050, food production will have to be increased by 60 percent.5 The threat of climate change has jeopardized food production systems all over the world, negatively impacting food quality, availability and accessibility. Ensuring global food security in the face of climate change will be a challenge for nation-states all over the globe.
FOOD INSECURITY DUE TO UNFAVOURABLE CLIMATE CONDITIONS
Food security comprises three essential components: food availability, access to food, and food affordability. In order for countries to attain sufficient levels of food security, it is imperative that all of the three aforementioned conditions are met. The current climate crisis has the potential to adversely impact all dimensions of food security: it does not only threaten to hinder production, but also availability and ultimately accessibility of food. Climate change threatens to undo years of progress made in the global fight against hunger, poverty, and malnutrition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of different ways in which climate change can threaten global food security- directly through impacting crop yields due to altered seasonal and rainfall patterns and rising temperatures, and indirectly through altering water availability and quality, increased pollution and risks of diseases.6 In addition, increasing levels of carbon dioxide and poisonous gases in the atmosphere will lead to degradation in both the quality and quantity of produce. According to researches done over several decades all over the world, low latitude regions, arid and semi-arid areas, coastal regions and developing, nations will be most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change on food production systems.
Prevalence of ungreen agricultural and manufacturing practices over the years has significantly impacted air, water and soil quality. Freshwater sources in coastal areas are being contaminated with salt water due to rising sea levels, rendering them unusable for growing plants and crops. Also, erratic and extreme climate conditions are rapidly deteriorating the health of forests all over the world through droughts and floods, forest fires, acidification of the soil, landslides, water and soil erosion, pest attacks, etc. Forests are not only the source of livelihood for a large community of people, they actively participate in regulating and maintain large ecosystems and provide a wide range of goods and services. Additionally, climate change induced droughts and floods can be seriously damaging to the overall health of livestock as well, and can increase their mortality rates.
THREAT TO LIVELIHOODS OF FARMERS AND PRODUCERS
About 70 percent of the world’s poor are entirely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, with no other source of income.7 The current climate crisis threatens to significantly lower crop production rates, which has the potential to subsequently endanger the livelihoods of thousands of people. Erratic temperatures, increased frequencies of droughts and floods render producers in the agricultural, food, and livestock sectors extremely vulnerable to impoverishment, forcing them to migrate/displace in search of new sources of income. Producers based in coastal regions and river flood plains and other geographically vulnerable habitats will face an even greater risk of loss of livelihood and habitat.
Changes in seasonal and rainfall patterns, increased temperatures, and irregular amounts of rainfall lower the productivity and viability of crops. Traditional farmers and small producers with limited knowledge of technology and sustainable agricultural practices are struggling the hardest due to changing climate patterns. About 500 million small farm holders in developing nations are sustaining over 2 billion people today.8 Climate change will disrupt production patterns and impact production prices, thereby leading to a reduction in income levels. Small farmers and agricultural producers will be further pushed into poverty. Heatwaves and soaring temperatures will adversely impact the ability of agricultural workers to labor in the fields. By having severe adverse impacts on global food production systems, climate change will lead to soaring food prices,9 hindering affordable access to nutritional food to a major portion of the global population. In addition, widespread climate changes will alter the nutritional needs of people, leading to altered consumption patterns and changes in food demand.10 Climate change has also left large pastures of farmlands inhospitable to grow food crops on. Additionally, rising incidences of pest attacks and diseases will lead to even more widespread devastation of crop yields. Since pests and diseases are very likely to move, they hold the potential to invade even those geographical areas that are immune to climate change and are thus biologically more vulnerable to such diseases.11
ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF RISING FOOD INSECURITY
Climate change will have significant economic impacts through hampering agricultural production- it is likely to cause large-scale market disruptions by affecting food supply and storage systems and discourage investment in the agricultural sector.12 Decreased production and increased demand will threaten equitable access to food for all. Furthermore, climate change can potentially impact global food markets through destabilization of trade flows and increased food prices. The agricultural sector in India is not only one of the major contributors to the country’s GDP, but also accounts for 42 percent of its total employment. Thus, adverse impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector in India are bound to have dire macro-economic implications for the country. Additionally, small and marginal farmers account for 86 percent of total farm holdings in India.13 These farmers will extremely vulnerable to the livelihood risks posed by climate change. According to Food and Agricultural Organisation, poor populations dependent on agricultural and natural resources for sustenance, with “limited capacity to respond”14 are extremely vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. Apart from small farmers, such vulnerable groups also include indigenous communities, women farmers, fishers, and fish farmers. It is significant to note that all the above-mentioned vulnerable groups form major participants in India’s informal economy. Continuous economic shocks to poor households, that exist without any means to recover and stabilise themselves, will lead to the inevitable magnification of social and gender inequalities. Together, the economic and social consequences of climate change will debilitate a large proportion of the Indian population, that is already struggling to make ends meet.
Globally, climate change has the potential to alter import/export behaviors and disrupt trade patterns. It can render global markets inaccessible to poor countries due to protectionist domestic policies and export bans, to compensate for acute shortage of food.15 As a major exporter and importer in the global food market, India will not remain invulnerable to changing trade patterns due to rising food insecurity in the future. At the same time, the pressure to sustain a growing population, with a large number of impoverished families already struggling to feed themselves, renders India more vulnerable to the adverse impacts of rising food insecurity.
There will be devastating impacts of climate change on human health through increased food insecurity. Malnutrition, hunger, and poverty will jeopardize the well-being of a large portion of the world’s population. The adverse impacts of climate change on food security will be more pronounced in poor and under-developed nations. Unless long-term mitigation strategies are strictly implemented and adhered to, it will extremely difficult to ensure food for all in the future.
CONCLUSION: THE WAY FORWARD
In order to effectively mitigate the threats posed by climate change, urgent policy interventions on multiple levels, with the help of multiple stakeholders, are required. Promotion of sustainable and environmentally conscious agricultural practices starting at the grassroots levels will effectively mitigate long-term adverse climate change impacts. Building resilient agricultural practices through the incorporation of technology, investing in the development of rural infrastructure, managing resources efficiently and sustainably, and educating farmers and producers on sustainable production can be highly effective if supported by proper policy measures16. Developing genetic resources to produce more resilient and nutritious species will help facilitate greater food production to meet global demand.17 Changes in agricultural systems to benefit from shifts in seasonal patterns should be deliberated upon. To protect vulnerable populations from loss of livelihoods and subsequent impoverishment, it is important to have adequate social protection programs in place, that is inclusive of all vulnerable, social groups.18
Countries should also endeavour to work together to monitor global food production, supply and demand patterns and price fluctuations to prepare for future interventions. Protecting our forest and marine ecosystems is the need of the hour. Green economic policies and sustainable development should be prioritised by countries all over the world. International cooperation is extremely imperative in order to fight the climate crisis. International treaties and conventions aimed at reducing carbon emissions, assessing climate threats and building resources, and protecting our shared biodiversity should be adhered to in a strict manner, in order to secure a sustainable future for all.