Climate change and its impact on food security

Climate change has the potential to hurt everyone, but one particularly vulnerable group is farmers. Agriculture, especially in India, depends on favourable weather conditions; hence climate change-induced temperature rises can significantly hurt farm productivity.

By 2050, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that demand for food will increase over 60% above the current situation. Demand growth is driven by population and demographic change and increasing global wealth. This, in turn, leads to greater per capita food demand. At the same time, there has been significant shift and changes in the climatic conditions across regions. Rising demand for food, water and energy whilst climate change creates increasing constraints and becomes a call to action on how to manage demand growth in a world under pressure.

Global food security relies on both sufficient food production and food access, and is defined as a state when:

“All people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”(FAO, 1996).

Most agriculture is climate dependent. Weather’s variability determines the relative productivity of the crops, and thus impacts the variation in the global food market. If production variability is also being driven by increasing variability of the weather across years, it implies there will be increased within-season price instability coupled with longer term challenges to the structure of the food system.

Climate change is likely to contribute substantially to food insecurity in the future, by increasing food prices, and reducing food production. Food may become more expensive as climate change mitigation efforts increase energy prices. Water required for food production may become more scarce due to increased crop water use and drought. Competition for land may increase as certain areas become climatically unsuitable for production. In addition, extreme weather events, associated with climate change may cause sudden reductions in agricultural productivity, leading to rapid price increases.

Heat waves (periods of extreme high temperature) are likely to become more frequent in the future and represent a major challenge for agriculture. Heat waves can cause heat stress in both animals and plants and have a negative impact on food production. Extreme periods of high temperature are particularly harmful for crop production if they occur when the plants are flowering — if this single, critical stage is disrupted, there may be no seeds at all.

Projected changes in climate are not limited to increases in temperature and heat waves; large changes in rainfall patterns are also expected to occur. While some regions are likely to suffer from more droughts in the future, other regions are expected to face the opposing issues of torrential rains and increased flooding. In coastal areas, rising sea levels may result in complete loss of agricultural land. Warmer climates may also lead to more problems from pests and diseases, and shifts in the geographical distribution of certain pests.

The responses of yield to various stresses have been well defined through experimentation in many crops. Quantifying these responses, and identifying when agriculture is most vulnerable to stress, is beneficial in helping to identify the most efficient strategies for adaptation. Crop-level adaptation to climate change is expected to be key in minimising future yield losses and may involve: changing crop cultivars, sowing time, cultivation techniques, and/or irrigation practices.

Given these stark findings in a context of already low farm income levels in India, it is crucial to develop policies to make agriculture more resilient to changes in climate.

  1. First, there is an urgent to need to spread irrigation. While significant progress has been made over the past few decades, the proportion of cultivated land under irrigation is less than 50% today — a lot remains to be done.
  2. The farmers need to be empowered with decision support systems that help in accurate prediction of weather and rationalise the use of water. Currently the subsidies (power, water) favour the indiscriminate use of water.
  3. Research in agriculture technology needs to be stepped up in order to develop crop varieties and cropping techniques which are more resilient to the vagaries of weather.

The FAO promotes climate smart agriculture. The Climate-smart agriculture approach promotes the development of the technical, policy and investment conditions to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under a changing climate. It seeks to: increase sustainable agricultural productivity and incomes, help adapt and build resilience to climate change impacts and wherever possible, reduces and/or removes greenhouse gases.

We at GramworkX have been working with farmers in the West and South Indian agricultural belt, and they are already realising the impacts of the weather and the lack of predictability it brings in their exiting farming practices.

We are looking to change the landscape of agriculture and its allied business. With increasing demands in agricultural produce and vagaries of nature the confluence of agriculture and technology is inevitable. We believe in incorporating analytics, automation, product and process innovation for better resource utilisation and help increase the productivity.

We aim to bring predictability to farming and are developing a cloud based smart farm resource management tool, which helps the farmer’s guide, optimise and monitor utilisation of water. They are quantifying and providing analytical insights into water consumption patterns across fields and soil types and providing data support systems into the amount of water required for irrigation. This will enable optimal water consumption using automation and capability building tools to enable resource management.

References:

  1. https://www.stat.berkeley.edu/~aldous/157/Papers/extreme_weather_resilience.pdf
  2. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WGIIAR5-Chap7_FINAL.pdf
  3. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/science/climate-change-affects-major-crops-in-india-study/article28033035.ece

Agri tech company @India