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Hungry for Solutions: The Grim Reality of Climate Change's Impact on Food Security

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

Climate change is putting food security at risk.

Artwork by Tanishk Katalkar

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 dependent on farming for survival.

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”. Additionally, the food available should be “affordable, safe and healthy” and “produced in ways that are environmentally sound and socially just”. Food security forms a crucial part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, directly impacting Goal 2, targeted at achieving Zero Hunger. 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.

The United Nations Environment Programme warns that about 25 percent of global food production could be lost to climate change and water scarcity by the year 2050. 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 the 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.

Source: ReliefWeb, UNEP

Source: ReliefWeb, UNEP

How Climate Change will Jeopardise Food Security For All

Food security comprises three essential components: food availability, access to food and food affordability. The current climate crisis has the potential to adversely impact ALL of the aforementioned dimensions of food security.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that climate change can adversely impact crop yields due to altered seasonal and rainfall patterns and rising temperatures, as well as altered water availability and quality, leading to increased pollution and risks of diseases. In addition, rising levels of carbon dioxide and poisonous gases in the atmosphere will lead to degradation in both the quality and quantity of produce. According to research 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.

The prevalence of ungreen agricultural and manufacturing practices has already 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. 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, and pest attacks. Forests actively participate in regulating and maintaining large ecosystems and provide a wide range of goods and services that sustain our agricultural systems.



About 70 percent of the world’s poor are entirely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, with no other source of income. The current climate crisis threatens to significantly lower crop production rates, which has the potential to subsequently endanger the livelihoods of thousands of people, plunging them into a cycle of poverty and hunger. 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.

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. Climate change will disrupt production patterns and impact production prices, thereby leading to a reduction in income levels. Heat waves and soaring temperatures will adversely impact the ability of agricultural workers to labour in the fields. Rising incidences of pest attacks and diseases will lead to even more widespread devastation of already dwindling crop yields.

According to FAO, poor populations dependent on agricultural and natural resources for sustenance, with “limited capacity to respond” are most 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.



Way Forward

In order to effectively mitigate the threats posed by climate change, urgent policy interventions in coordination with multiple stakeholders are required. The promotion of sustainable and environmentally-conscious agricultural practices starting at the grassroots levels will effectively help mitigate adverse climate change impacts. Building resilient agricultural practices through the incorporation of technology, investing in the development of rural infrastructure, managing resources efficiently and educating farmers and producers on sustainable production can be highly effective if supported by proper policy measures. Developing genetic resources to produce more resilient and nutritious species will help facilitate greater food production to meet global demand.

To protect vulnerable populations from loss of livelihoods and subsequent impoverishment, it is important to have adequate social protection programmes in place that are inclusive of all social groups. These could include cash benefits in case of habitat/crop destruction for small-scale farmers, protection against unemployment and work-related injuries, and state-sponsored health and child care protection for the economically and socially disadvantaged.

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.


(Also Read: Feeding the Future)

References

Food and Agriculture Organisation, “Climate change and food security: risks and responses”, (2016). http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5188e.pdf


IPCC, “SPECIAL REPORT: SPECIAL REPORT ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND LAND”, (2019). https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/chapter/chapter-5/



Anil Mishra, “Climate change and challenges of water and food security” 3 International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment 153-165 (2014). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221260901400020X


Nir Sade & Zvi Peter, “Future challenges for global food security under climate change” Plant Science 295 (2020). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340019081_Future_challenges_for_global_food_security_under_climate_change/citations


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