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Synopsis: Climate change is a major threat to food production globally and vital steps need to be taken to mitigate it.
Does climate change impact food production and nutrition?
Yes. It has very significant impacts on these. Findings of the 2019 IPCC panel on climate change’s special report on land showed how climate change was already impacting multiple dimensions of the food system.
i). Climate change impacts the biophysical conditions in which crops grow. Some crops are less heat resistant — as the atmosphere grows warmer, these become less productive. We’re already seeing declines in the productivity of staples like wheat.
ii). There are also significant nutritional impacts — as more carbon dioxide gathers in the atmosphere, crops have less nutrition, less vitamins and minerals in them.
iii). Food distribution is impacted — increasing wildfires and floods, as we’ve seen in multiple countries recently, disrupt the distribution systems transporting food from farmers to consumers. This results in higher food prices. There are thus multiple impacts on food security.
Which countries are most vulnerable to such impacts?
Any country that has a significant agricultural sector is likely to experience these.
Major agricultural producers like India and the US are vulnerable.
Farmers suffer considerable losses in these countries. But remarkably, farmers practising regenerative agriculture, are less affected.
What is the way forward?
Balanced and sustainable soil & water management practices: The prevailing mode in the globalized food system has been based on productivity or ways to grow the most crop and sell it to a huge market. Agricultural trade must be balanced with more sustainable practices for managing soil and water.
i). One good way is to use different varieties of crops that are more resilient, including wild species and traditional cultivars, many being extremely hardy against droughts, floods, etc.
ii). We need to move away from some very highly engineered crops that dominate our monocultural globalized food system and adopt more regional, soil conserving, resilient crops.
iii). Traditional agri practices: Around the world, many communities practice sustainable farming based on indigenous knowledge of local conditions. Such farms follow intercropping or growing different crops together or agroforestry, growing green crops with tree crops — these practices might not have the global food system’s high productivity, but they are very sustainable in the long term.
iv). Stopping food waste: A quarter of food produced globally is wasted either at the farm gate, when farmers can’t market crops in time, or at the consumer end when people buy too much, and it goes bad. If we could save that 25%, we’d be able to significantly boost global food access.
Source: This post is based on the article “Climate change impacts food and nutritional security — Earth needs regenerative farming” published in TOI on 11th Sep 2021.
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