Agriculture

World Food Day: our agriculture must keep pace with changing climate

To feed the world, agriculture, along with forestry, fisheries and livestock, needs to become more resilient and productive

 
According to a book, the severity of floods and storms in the past 30 years, has put the agriculture sector of many countries at the risk of growing food insecurity
Credit: Vikas Choudhary
According to a book, the severity of floods and storms in the past 30 years, has put the agriculture sector of many countries at the risk of growing food insecurity
Credit: Vikas Choudhary According to a book, the severity of floods and storms in the past 30 years, has put the agriculture sector of many countries at the risk of growing food insecurity Credit: Vikas Choudhary

Addressing climate change and food insecurity should go hand in hand

By Deepanwita Niyogi

The world is determined to end hunger by 2030 by sustainable food production and consumption. Currently, climate change threatens our very existence in the form of increased extreme weather events all over the world. When this is the scenario, how can we safeguard agriculture from the onslaught of frequent droughts and floods?

The severity of floods and storms has put the agriculture sector of many countries at the risk of growing food insecurity. Around 570 millions farms across the world are facing the threat of climate change at present.

“The effects of climate change on agricultural production and livelihoods are expected to intensify over time. Areas currently most affected are in tropical zones and those where we find high rates of hunger and poverty,” Rob Vos, director, agricultural development economics, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said.

Decline in crop quality

According to a book, Climate Change and Food Systems published last year, food production will be affected through changes in water availability.

Water-stressed regions such as north Africa, Middle East, western USA, northern China, parts of India and Australia are expected to face heightened food production constraints due to water scarcity.

Global warming will also lead to a reduction in the nutritional properties of major crops, the book says. Some studies have reported that without additional productivity improvements, climate change would reduce crop yields. A higher concentration of carbon dioxide lowers the amount of zinc, iron and protein and raises the starch and sugar content in wheat and rice.

The nutrition and health implications of this can be great. In India, where up to a third of the rural population is at risk of not meeting protein requirements, the higher protein deficit from non-legume food crops can have serious health consequences. Negative crop productivity impacts are likely to be expected in low latitude and tropical regions.

Food security compromised

We urgently need to increase food production to keep pace with the increasing global population that is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. To feed the world, agriculture, along with forestry, fisheries and livestock, needs to become more resilient.

Increasing crop productivity, if paired with direct forest protection measures, can increase both agricultural production and forest cover,” Jonah Busch, senior research fellow at the US-based non-profit Center for Global Development had said earlier.

The immediate priority is to enhance the resilience of poor and smallholder farmers so that they can adapt to the impacts of climate change
Credit: Vikas Choudhary

Deforestation results in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the agriculture sector. Crop production, combined with cultivation of trees as a form of sustainable farming, can help retain rain and groundwater and restore soil. This will also help diversify on-farm income and build resilience against landslides and wind.

According to Vos, addressing climate change and food insecurity will have to go hand in hand. The immediate priority is to enhance the resilience of poor and smallholder farmers so that they can adapt to the impacts of climate change.

“This can be done by making agriculture climate smart. The adoption of practices such as the use of nitrogen-efficient and heat-tolerant crop varieties, zero tillage and integrated soil fertility management would boost productivity and farmers’ incomes and help lower food prices,” the FAO expert said. Though climate-smart agriculture can go a long way to mitigate the effects of climate change, more is needed.

In most parts of the world, livestock production is another major source of GHG. Demand for meat has increased worldwide and many people now consume much more meat than they need.

“So, we should not only look at the supply side and the management of natural resources, but a lot can be achieved by influencing demand and limiting demand for such resource and emission-intensive types of food,” Vos said.

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