People who grow their own food, eat and remain healthy; But erratic weather may change this adage

Without normal weather, self-sufficient households may have to depend more on markets, thus spending more on food than before

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Tuesday 07 February 2023
Photo: iStock

Farmers losing earnings due to extreme weather events or erratic seasonality is by now accepted as the most widely felt economic impact of climate change. A farmer can be termed as the first person to be impacted by climate change since s/he is in a livelihood that directly depends on climate.

This affects the country’s overall agricultural output and also adds to food inflation. High food prices could result in people slashing down consumption as well. This, on the other hand, impacts negatively on nutritional security.

Among farming households, a significant number produce food for their own consumption. These households gave birth to the old saying that those who eat their own food are also the healthiest ones.

For countries like India where malnutrition is high and food insecurity is a nagging constant, such households have used the home production system to remain out of it.

As many studies point out, these households are also protected from market fluctuations thus ensuring their affordability for healthy food. Obviously, they are not impacted by food inflation as well.

But serious conversations are taking place over how climate change-induced extreme weather events would impact such households. To begin with, we need to know the linkage between nutrition intake and household food production; and whether weather fluctuation would have any impact on this.

A recent research paper from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) attempts to answer the first question: How much do weather conditions impact a home food production system?

Researchers Hiroyuki Takeshima, Sunil Saroj and Anjani Kumar have analysed village-level data from households on their own food production and consumption and correlated the local weather situations to infer whether there was a significant relationship.

The IFPRI paper first established that people growing their own food consume more, thus adding to nutrition level and also attaining overall food security. “On average, growing grain crops at home led to Rs 12.184 higher average grain consumption per month per household,” found the research paper.

This trend is not limited only to grains. Consumption increases significantly for pulses, dairy, vegetables and fruits, if grown at home. The research could establish a link between increased consumption and reduction in child stunting, underweight and women achieving normal body-mass-index. These trends are more pronounced in remote villages.

But these ‘positive effects’ of growing your own food are observed to be ‘significantly magnified’ if the weather is closer to normal. This is the most definitive linkage of climate and food intake established by this research paper among the food-growing households.

If the rainfall is one standard deviation closer to the normal figure, grain consumption increases by Rs 12.282. Similarly, if the temperature is one standard deviation from normal, consumption increases by Rs 5.723. This also means that normal weather will increase all other physical benefits.

This implies that if these households experience adverse weather conditions, their overall food and nutritional security would be negatively impacted. Also, without normal weather, they may have to depend more on markets thus spending more on food than before. This would have an impact on overall economic well being.

This makes the case for climate-proofing these food producers who till now remain untouched from the crisis. Moreover, these are the people who are yet to be impacted by the market-driven agriculture system. While climate change takes all under its grips, this system of food production needs a prudent reaction.

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