Climate change and food security

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, India is home to nearly 195 million hungry people and the problem of hunger seems to be only getting worse, thanks to climate change affecting food production, coupled with ineffective food storage and distribution networks.
The number of hungry and malnourished people too has been steadily increasing as is reflected in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) report that maps the hunger levels in 104 countries. According to the GHI, India has slipped from the 55th position in 2014 to the 80th position in 2015.
The GHI is a multi-dimensional statistical tool used to describe the state of a country’s hunger situation. A lower position of a country in the index translates to lower levels of hunger and lesser food insecurity. The GHI is updated once a year and it measures the progress and failures in the global fight against hunger.
India’s position in the GHI is quite disturbing since it is one of the largest producers of food grains in the world, but clearly, this advantage is not being leveraged adequately. In the backdrop these already difficult conditions, ocean warming is now emerging as a new threat to food security in India.
The gradual warming up of the Indian Ocean is increasingly being seen as a hidden challenge for food production in the coming decades.
According to a report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), food security of India and several other major key food producing countries are threatened by changing weather patterns due to warming of the oceans.
These changes in ocean-focused atmospheric patterns are capable of having direct implications on food production as the agricultural yield is impacted.
The IUCN report also states that important crops such as maize and wheat, stand to be affected on the one hand, whereas rising ocean temperatures will also adversely impact the abundance and range of marine species used for food, leading to implications for both the people who depend on fish for their principal source of protein and the fishing and aquaculture industries linked to this harvesting.
These developments are a matter of grave concern given the fact that climate change related developments in the ocean are happening between 1.5 to five times faster than those on land, therefore, providing very limited time to act.
The rapid warming of the Indian Ocean is also taking away rain from the central-eastern Indian region leading to yet another challenge for food production.
A recent meteorological study conducted by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, and the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography of the Andhra University, has established this fact.
Over the decades, there has been significant decrease in the annual rainfall over central Indian region. In fact, an analysis of the historical rainfall data of the past 60 years starting from 1951, revealed that the decrease was to the tune of 1.49 mm per year. This has is mainly due to a reduction in the number of monsoon depression days.
The study also showed that the rapid warming of the surface of the Western equatorial Indian Ocean has in turn reduced the advection of moisture into the Bay of Bengal. The reduced advection of moisture has adversely impacted the genesis and intensification of monsoon depressions.
In the best interests of a healthy agricultural yield and food security, the authorities must make this study as a base of investigation into the reduced number of monsoon depression days as the depressions are the main source of moisture in central India to sustain agriculture.
Over half of India’s workforce is engaged in farming-related activities. Yet agriculture accounts for only about 14 per cent of India’s gross domestic product. Additionally, the agricultural sector also suffers from low productivity, especially from small farmland holdings. The Government must step in to improve the productivity of these small farmers through rural advisory and awareness services, besides encouraging these farmers to adopt technology to maximise agricultural output and, thereby improve food security.
The Government must also accelerate efforts to rein in green house gas (GHG) emissions as oceans eventually absorb elevated GHG levels. In fact, globally, the oceans absorb 90 per cent of the excess heat caused by the rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
This in turn contributes to warmer oceans and lower agricultural yields; this cycle needs to be broken in order to guarantee food security for our country.
(This article first appeared at The Pioneer and South Asia Monitor)