Part of: Food and climate change
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Climate change to leave India hot and hungry

Friday, 4 April 2014 10:02 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

India’s rural poverty, food insecurity and lack of coping mechanisms put it particularly at risk from climate impacts

The lastest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report not only provides new evidence but also sounds an alarm over the impact climate change is having on compounding hunger and significantly disrupting food grain production.

Apart from leaving the world hungry and hot, the changing climate will also offset gains against poverty and hunger, especially among the marginalized communities. The new report makes unequivocal projections for India being one of the most vulnerable countries. 

The much-awaited scientific report, released last week in Japan, is the second part of the fifth assessment report by IPCC and pertains to impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of climate change. With new evidence and scientific data from across the globe, the report warms of even more erratic weather market by droughts, floods, heat waves and natural disasters.

India’s rural poverty, food insecurity and lack of coping mechanisms make the felt impact of changing weather even more real. The agrarian crisis and declining productivity is already hitting the small and marginal farmers adversely.

The report mentions: “That major future rural impacts are expected in the near-term and beyond through impacts on water availability and supply, food security, and agricultural incomes, including shifts in production areas of food and non-food crops across the world (high confidence). These impacts are expected to disproportionately affect the welfare of the poor in rural areas, such as female-headed households and those with limited access to land, modern agricultural inputs, infrastructure, and education. Further adaptations for agriculture, water, forestry, and biodiversity can occur through policies taking account of rural decision-making contexts. Trade reform and investment can improve market access for small-scale farms (medium confidence).”

There are already significant decline in wheat and maize the staple food for more than half of the population in the world, and expected to go worse. Apart from the direct loss in production, extreme events also result in spike for food prices. The impact of climate change on livestock is also a huge matter of concern from the hunger perspective especially in the developing and third world economies, where agriculture is closely interwoven with livestock and a major source of food itself.

In a departure from the IPCC report in 2007, which hinted at more production in temperate regions due to warming -- or more of an issue for the southern and tropical world to be worried about food security, the 2014 report no longer balances out the changes in crop production but concludes that already "negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive ones”. Also climate change is projected to negatively impact production of major crops (wheat, rice and maize) in both tropical and temperate regions, for local temperature increases of just 2°C above late 20th century levels.

This is no longer a prediction in a distant future, but a shift that will severely impact us in next twenty years itself. 

India is one of the most vulnerable countries with a long coast line in south, highly susceptible to cyclones, a flood –prone Gangetic plains in the north, more than two-third of the agricultural belt is prone to frequent droughts and on top of it there is an eco fragile mountain region. Disasters like recent floods in Uttarakhand and cyclone in Odisha if become a routine and not an aberration, we need to question the politicians and policy makers that why this agenda is not a priority. The Indo-Gangetic plains are under threat of a significant reduction in wheat yields due to heat stress, as it is expected that there will be 51% decrease in the better and high yielding area. Another crucial staple crop - rice - is under stress as the current temperatures are already approaching critical levels during the susceptible stages of the rice plant in North, East, and   South India.    

The question that stares us on our face is, what are we doing to respond, adapt and mitigate to this crisis?

Some key action points are:

The national Action Plan on Climate Change need to be made effective and acted upon swiftly, they have remained largely disfunctional for the last six years, especially on adaptation and resilience.

India needs an adaptation policy to build resilience of vulnerable agro-ecological zones, differentiate between go and no go areas for deforestation, mining and infrastructure development,  protect its pasture, dry land and coastlines not for environment only but for food.

Ensure right to food and livelihoods of the people affected by climate change. 

India is going to be impacted most due to its climatic vulnerability and poverty. This makes it all the more important for India to be part of the global deal on climate change.

The question of climate change can not be disassociated from the larger issue of food and climate justice. The issue of resource control and community rights are essential component of structural shift towards an environmental equity.

The hungry tide of climate change is going to take away food first… a future world which is hungry for food is certainly a food for thought if not a serious concern.

Blog written by Vanita Suneja, Economic Justice Lead Specialist and Parvinder Singh, National Campaigns Manager, Oxfam India

The writers can be reached by twitter @vanita_su and @parvindersingh1