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How Does Climate Change Affect The Food Chain?

Climate and food systems are closely interrelated; any changes in the climate can directly affect the availability of food because this often means frequent floods, drought and disruption in agriculture and changes in yield, availability of arable land and water for agriculture

How Does Climate Change Affect The Food Chain?
Highlights
  • Climate change is a direct risk to the food supply chain: Expert
  • COVID has also become a concern for food security and livelihood: Expert
  • Climate change can limit the availability of nutritious food: Expert

New Delhi: “Climate change is putting food safety at risk and action is needed to prepare the food system for the challenges ahead,” according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). A recent FAO study, ‘Climate change: Unpacking the burden on food safety,’ highlights that climate change is threatening the safety of food – sourced from both land and sea, and outlines how the exposure to a number of food borne hazards could increase across the world.

The study explains that the changing climate has a direct impact on food through both chemical, for instance, heavy metals, pesticides, mycotoxins and algal bio-toxins; and microbiological hazards like food borne pathogens and parasites. Furthermore, climate change is also expected to lower the nutritional value in staple foods by reducing their levels of macro and micro-nutrients.

The combination of malnutrition, which reduces immunity and increases susceptibility to food borne pathogens, together with higher risk of exposure to food hazards under climate change, creates a dire situation that needs urgent international attention. This is significant because unsafe food is not only detrimental to people’s health and food security, but also livelihoods, national economies and international trade, Keya Mukherjee, FAO’s Food Safety and Quality Specialist, explains.

Also Read: Decoding Climate Change And Its Impact On Health

Impact Of Climate Change On Food Production

Elaborating on the direct risks of climate change on the agriculture sector, Yamini Yogya, PhD Student in Sustainability at Arizona State University tells NDTV,

Climate risks impacting the agricultural sector are direct risks to the food supply chain. All components of the food chain from food production, food processing, retailing/ distribution to consumption are impacted by accelerated climate variability. For instance, increased frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, heat waves and other extreme events directly threaten food productivity and soil health, leading to severe food shortages. Subsequently, this will result in a rise in food costs, affecting livelihoods of producers, spending capacities of consumers and success of food-related businesses alike. It is also important to note that these food shortages are likely to affect poorer parts of the world disproportionately. This makes the food system particularly vulnerable to change, especially in an agrarian country like India.

Climate variability and extreme weather events are considered as among the key drivers behind the recent uptick in global hunger. The World Bank has estimated that climate change could push 62 million South Asians into extreme poverty by 2030.  It is estimated that the risk of hunger and malnutrition could increase up to 20 percent on an average, annually 200-300 million people are affected and about 26 million people are forced into poverty due to climate related extreme events, says WFP.

The situation is exacerbated by current levels of Greenhouse gases (GHG) emission and temperature rise, and it is estimated that by the year 2100 there will be decline in the production of major cereal crops (20–45 per cent in maize yields, 5–50 per cent in wheat and 20–30 per cent in rice). Hence if the trends continue, in very near future crop losses may increase at an unprecedented rate which will substantially contribute to reduced production, spiked food prices, and it will become difficult to cope up with rising needs of growing population- thus affecting the food availability and access in many ways, the organisation added:

Changes in temperature, or unstable moist weather conditions could result in grain being harvested with more than the 12-14 percent moisture required for stable storage. Absence of drying facilities will result in higher crop losses due to contamination with microorganisms. Storage costs will increase resulting in rise in food prices

Also Read: India Urges Nations To Put ‘Nature At Heart’ Of Recovery Plan Post COVID-19

The climate change can limit the availability of nutritious food and impact the nutritious composition of commonly consumed foods (impacting the nutritional status and utilisation).

WFP is committed through its climate policy aligned to the Paris Agreement (2015) in strengthening the global response and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to ensure safeguarding the crucial relationship between food security and climate, the organisation said.

Impact of COVID To Further Deepen The Impact Of Climate Change On Food Crisis

However, the good news is, that with continued advancement of science and green revolution efforts, there is enough food for everyone in this part of the world, according to UN’s World Food Programme.

Food production has substantially increased globally and there is enough surplus food stock at the aggregate level to feed everyone. In the last 40-50 years, India has become self-sufficient in Food production with 291 million tons of cereals with some 75-80 million tons in food stock. Yet, the bad news is that, some 690 million people are estimated not to get enough to eat globally. Over half of this population are in Asia and the largest numbers are in India, a spokesperson from the organisations tells NDTV.

Sadly, COVID pandemic has gone beyond being a public health crisis to becoming a major concern for food insecurity and livelihood. WFP estimates that due to COVID crisis, the number of acute food insecure people across the globe will double to 265 million in 2020. Climate changes affects multiple sectors related to food and nutrition due to changes in the frequency and intensity of climate related hazards, which can result in more intense humanitarian crisis.

Globally, 76 per cent of population facing severe food insecurity are also affected by extreme weather events. Over 80 percent of the world’s food insecure live in degraded environments that keep getting hit by extreme weather events like storm, floods and droughts, the WFP spokesperson added.

Additionally, the food wastage and post-harvest losses immensely contribute to increased greenhouse gas mission. Efficient and climate responsive food supply chains is an important factor in sustainable food systems.

Furthermore, mere availability of food supply is not enough to address hunger. Crucial is the affordability of adequate food that has adequate nutritional needs to ensure people lead healthy lives.

Also Read: Expert View: Five Reasons Why You Should Care About Biodiversity Loss

How Can We Disrupt The Vicious Ecosystem As Individuals?

Bishow Parajuli, Country Director of World Food Programme India, notes that apart from policy level changes, we as individuals, also have a huge role to play in improving the relationship between climate change and food.

For starters- share your meals. Although sharing food is an age old and commonly quoted example in many religious texts – it certainly breaks and disrupts systems that chooses to feed those who can afford to keep themselves fed and safe over those who are systemically disempowered to do so.

He cites the example of villages in India and Nepal, where there used to be a system of the village community pooling in fresh food for a person or a family in times of great need – enough to help them get back on their feet. And the system of “Ubuntu” in Africa.  With collective support – communities have emerged and survived many droughts, famines and invasions through centuries.

The system of community level grain banks is practices in many parts of South Asia. It has a great relevance in mitigating the seasonal hunger and as a preparedness strategy. Practices of growing millets, which are not only nutritious but also are climate resilient need to be promoted. And of course, this is something we all know- plant more trees and grow your own nutri-gardens in your space; even if it’s a small balcony, a terrace or a garden. Encourage your communities to do so too. Also, be mindful of how, where and when you source your food items from. The further and longer a food item has travelled to reach your plate- the more carbon footprint it has. Eat local and eat seasonal and encourage everyone to do so, Mr  Parajuli says.

Climate Changes is there to stay; it will continue to affect agriculture, livelihoods and food security and the poor and vulnerable will be impacted. Therefore, it must be a crucial part of the planning, policy and programme work in agriculture, food security and livelihood; to have resilient programme and adapt to these situations.  Preparedness, early warning, adaptation, food diversification and resilience building are key in agriculture and livelihood sectors development and scientific research and planning.  There is so much can be learned from the regional and global experiences.

Also Read: This Is How The Environment Is Healing During The COVID-19 Lockdown

The regional approaches and strategies towards climate change and food can bring about multiple benefits, Mr Parajuli explains,

The regional approach can be extremely important as the strategies for resilience and adaptation for combating the shared risk and regional challenge. There can be increased efficiency in money spent- pooling the resources on climate change and sharing the collective knowledge across stakeholders including the Governments, Civil Society, private sector and communities to bring greater benefits. The similarity of socio-cultural and agricultural practices can facilitate cross-learning and knowledge sharing, Mr Parajuli signed off.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.  

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