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Climate Change and Food Security

Climate Change

Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions, or in the distribution of weather around the average conditions (i.e., more or fewer extreme weather events). In its recently released Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the United Nations, concluded there’s a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 250 years have warmed our planet.

The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million in the last 150 years. The panel also concluded there’s a better than 90 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.

Climate change is already showing us what’s in store for our future. It keeps on giving warning signs that we continue to neglect. Growing temperature, variation in duration and pattern of rainfall, increase in both frequency and magnitude of natural calamities and above all global level fight over natural resources- land, oil, water, minerals etc. shows how precious these natural resources are becoming. Not only Industries, natural resources are misused for agriculture, to keep in tune with the global food needs.

The challenge posed by Climate change to agriculture also leaves a big question mark over future food security and also on lives of billions farmers who depend on it. Agriculture is now seen as an unviable livelihood option, the fact being visible from migration of youths in villages towards nearby towns and cities, which is due to the fact that income from agriculture is becoming more and more unreliable. Agriculture uses 70 % of world’s fresh water availability, which is becoming more and scarcer. But we need more food, more and more food to keep our world hunger free.

Impacts of climate change

The IPCC in its fourth assessment report on Climate change has observed the following as impacts of climate change on human and natural environment.

  • Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850). The temperature increase is widespread over the globe and is greater at higher northern latitudes.
  • Land regions have warmed faster than the oceans
  • Global average sea level has risen since 1961 at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3] mm/yr and since 1993 at 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8] mm/yr, with contributions from thermal expansion, melting glaciers and ice caps, and the polar ice sheets. Whether the faster rate for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variation or an increase in the longer-term trend is unclear.
  • Observed decreases in snow and ice extent are also consistent with warming. Satellite data since 1978 show that annual average Arctic sea ice extent has shrunk by 2.7 [2.1 to 3.3]% per decade, with larger decreases in summer of 7.4 [5.0 to 9.8]% per decade. Mountain glaciers and snow cover on average have declined in both hemispheres.
  • From 1900 to 2005, precipitation increased significantly in eastern parts of North and South America, northern Europe and northern and central Asia but declined in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa and parts of southern Asia.
  • Globally, the area affected by drought has likely2 increased since the 1970s. It is very likely that over the past 50 years: cold days, cold nights and frosts have become less frequent over most land areas, and hot days and hot nights have become more frequent. It is likely that: heat waves have become more frequent over most land areas, the frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most areas, and since 1975 the incidence of extreme high sea level3 has increased worldwide.
  • There is observational evidence of an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, with limited evidence of increases elsewhere. There is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones. It is difficult to ascertain longer-term trends in cyclone activity, particularly prior to 1970.
  • Average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the highest in at least the past 1300 years.
  • Changes in snow, ice and frozen ground have with high confidence increased the number and size of glacial lakes, increased ground instability in mountain and other permafrost regions and led to changes in some Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems.
  • There is high confidence that some hydrological systems have also been affected through increased runoff and earlier spring peak discharge in many glacier- and snow-fed rivers and through effects on thermal structure and water quality of warming rivers and lakes.
  • In terrestrial ecosystems, earlier timing of spring events and pole ward and upward shifts in plant and animal ranges are with very high confidence linked to recent warming.
  • In some marine and freshwater systems, shifts in ranges and changes in algal, plankton and fish abundance are with high confidence associated with rising water temperatures, as well as related changes in ice cover, salinity, oxygen levels and circulation.
  • Of the more than 29,000 observational data series, from 75 studies, that show significant change in many physical and biological systems, more than 89% are consistent with the direction of change expected as a response to warming.

Projected Impacts of Climate change

  • There is high agreement and much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHG emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades.
  • Continued GHG emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.
  • Very likely increase in frequency of hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation.
  • Likely increase in tropical cyclone intensity; less confidence in global decrease of tropical cyclone numbers.
  • Pole ward shift of extra-tropical storm tracks with consequent changes in wind, precipitation and temperature patterns.
  • Very likely precipitation increases in high latitudes and likely decreases in most subtropical land regions, continuing observed recent trends.
  • Terrestrial ecosystems like tundra, boreal forest and mountain regions because of sensitivity to warming; Mediterranean-type ecosystems because of reduction in rainfall; and tropical rainforests where precipitation declines are to be affected.
  • Coastal ecosystems (mangroves and salt marshes) and Marine ecosystems (Coral reefs) will be affected due to multiple stresses.
  • Agriculture in low latitude will be affected due to water scarcity
  • Ocean acidification through reduction in average global surface ocean pH of between 0.14 and 0.35 units over the 21st century. While the effects of observed ocean acidification on the marine biosphere are as yet undocumented, the progressive acidification of oceans is expected to have negative impacts on marine shell-forming organisms (e.g. corals) and their dependent species.

Impact of Climate change in India

In the National Plan on Climate change report the Indian Government has stated the following as the observed changes in the climate Changes in Climate and weather events

  • The surface air temperature at the national level has shown a increase of 0.4° C over the past century. A warming trend has been observed along the west coast, in central India, the interior peninsula, and north-eastern India. However, cooling trends have been observed in north-west Ind.
  • A trend of increasing monsoon seasonal rainfall has been found along the west coast, northern Andhra Pradesh, and north-western India (+10% to +12% of the normal over the last 100 years) while a trend of decreasing monsoon seasonal rainfall has been observed over eastern Madhya Pradesh, north-eastern India, and some parts of Gujarat and Kerala (-6% to -8% of the normal over the last 100 years).ia and parts of south India.
  • States of Gujarat and West Bengal has shown increasing trend of drought and floods, while Orissa shows a decreasing trend. Overall changes is negligible.
  • The sea level rise was between 1.06-1.75 mm per year. These rates are consistent with 1-2 mm per year global sea level rise estimates of IPCC.

Projected Changes over 21st Century

  • Annual mean surface temperature rise by the end of century, ranging from 3 to 5° C under A2 scenario and 2.5 to 4° C under B2 scenario of IPCC, with warming more pronounced in the northern parts of India, from simulations by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune.
  • Summer monsoon intensity may increase beginning from 2040 and by 10% by 2100 under A2 scenario of IPCC.
  • Changes in frequency and/ or magnitude of extreme temperature and precipitation events.

Possible Impact of Climate Change in India

  • Changes in key climate variables, namely temperature, precipitation, and humidity, may have significant long-term implications for the quality and quantity of water. River systems of the Brahmaputra, the Ganga, and the Indus, which benefit from melting snow in the lean season, are likely to be particularly affected by the decrease in snow cover. A decline in total run-off for all river basins, except Narmada and Tapti, is projected. A decline in run-off by more than two-thirds is also anticipated for the Sabarmati and Luni basins. Due to sea level rise, the fresh water sources near the coastal regions will suffer salt intrusion.
  • Changes in climate may alter the distribution of important vector species (for example, malarial mosquitoes) and may increase the spread of such diseases to new areas.
  • Quantity and quality of food production to be affected.
  • 77% and 68% of the forest areas in the country are likely to experience shift in forest types, respectively under the two scenarios (A2 and B2 of IPCC), by the end of the century, with consequent changes in forests produce, and, in turn, livelihoods based on those products. Correspondingly, the associated biodiversity is likely to be adversely impacted.
  • Vulnerable regions like Coastal, arid and semiarid zones are to be affected more by Climate change. About 40 million hectares of land is flood-prone, including most of the river basins in the north and the north-eastern belt, affecting about 30 million people on an average each year. Such regions may be particularly impacted by climate change.
  • A mean Sea Level Rise (SLR) of 15-38 cm is projected along India’s coast by the mid 21st century and of 46-59 cm by 2100. In addition, a projected increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones poses a threat to the heavily populated coastal zones in the country (NATCOM, 2004).

Climate and Agriculture

Climate change leaves no development priority untouched, and the most important effect is on agriculture and its long term sustainability, which is vital to cater the primary developmental need “food for mouth” and also serves as a livelihood of billions of people. Agriculture is impacted by climate change, by way of drought, heat stress, desertification, changes in rainfall patterns (quantity of rainfall, its distribution across the globe and variation in on set of monsoons) and flooding. Not only this agriculture and forestry are also major emitters of greenhouse gases. Hence there is impact of agriculture on climate change and also there is the impact of climate change on agriculture, the latter being the more cause of concern (Industries share over climate change is considerably more)

Impact of Climate change on Agriculture

Impact on food production

The total food production in India was estimated to be 252 million tonnes in 2011-12. Of this Rice occupies 45 % of total areas under cereals and 24% of the total cropped area in the country. The production of rice has shown an upward trend during the period 2005-06 to 2008-09 and it reached a record level of 99.18 million tonnes in 2008-09. The production of rice which declined to 89.09 million tonnes in 2009-10 due to long spells of drought has increased to 102.75 million tonnes in 2011-12, the highest ever. The area coverage under wheat has shown an upward trend by increasing from 26.38 million hectares in 2004-05 to 28.89 million hectares in 2011-12. The productivity of wheat which was 2602 kg/hectare in 2004-05 has increased to 3057 kg/hectare in 2011-12. The maize production has also shown a considerable increase, presently being 21 million tonnes.

Table :1 Agricultural production scenario

Commodity Production in 1950

(Million tonnes)

Production in 2011-12

(Million tonnes)

Food Grains 50 252
Vegetables 58.50 (91-92) 125
Fruits 28.60 (91-92) 63.5
Milk 17 104.8
Egg 1.8 billion 53.5 billion
Fish 0.75 7.3

(Source: Hari.S.Gupta. FAO-EPSO Consultation: Role and Emerging partnerships for crop improvement in India. IARI, New Delhi (ppt))

The table above may show a green picture. But the fact is that food production has increased at a rapid rate post green revolution, but it has been increasing at very small percentage over the past decade is really a cause of concern. The highest annual average increase in grain production was 6.1%, recorded during the 1980s; but the annual increase in grain production dropped to 1.5% in the 1990’s.

Long-term productivity and sustainability of irrigated agriculture in the Indian and Pakistan Punjabs, confirmed that there was much higher and more rapid growth of yields for food crops due to green revolution. However, the results suggest that most of India’s higher growth was due to the more rapid growth of inputs. Though overall productivity growth in the Indian Punjab was higher, it was not by a large margin. The results of this study also raise serious concerns about the long-term sustainability of intensive irrigated Green Revolution systems due to resource degradation.

Moreover there is no adequate and convincing evidence on impact of improved technologies and policies followed during different periods since 1951 in reducing variation in production and resulting risks. Foodgrains production is found to be highly unstable in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat over the years.

Productivity of most crops is expected to decrease marginally by 2020, but by 10- 40% by 2100. Increased droughts, floods and heat waves will increase production variability.

Several other studies projected increase or decrease in yields of cereal crops (rice,wheat, maize and sorghum), Oilseed and pulses crops (soybean, groundnut, chickpea, brassica (mustard) and pigeon pea) depending on interaction of temperature and CO2 changes, production environment, season and location in India (Table VI). Still the climate change impact studies have not conducted on several important crops in India such as sugarcane, cotton, jute, sunflower, potato and onion etc., which may be done in future for better assessment of vulnerability of Indian agriculture due to climate change. However, these studies have indicated that the direct impacts of climate changes would be small on ‘kharif’ crops but overall ‘kharif’ agriculture will become vulnerable due to increased incidence of weather extremes such as onset of monsoon, duration and frequency of drought and floods, and pest incidence and virulence. Production of ‘rabi’ crop is relatively more risky due to projection of larger increase in temperature and higher uncertainties in rainfall. Unless considerable adaptation takes place, this would result in decreased winter or ‘rabi’ production.

With respect to India the estimated demand for food grains including pulses is 285 million tonnes in 2020, while the present production is 252 million tonnes says Harish Gupta and poses a question whether India will be forced to import food grains by 2020. In increasing the food production, he sees climate change to be the biggest obstacle.

Under present circumstances of the changed climatic situation and scarcity of resources, it will be very difficult for us to increase the food production by 60 % by 2050 to feed 9 billion and more people. Various studies made in India with respect to impact of temperature and rainfall on yield pattern of major food crops, shows that even a degree raise in temperature can cost too much (table 2).

Table.2 Effect of climate change on productivity of major food crops in India

S.No Crops Present Production Impacts
1 Paddy 102.75 million tonnes an increase of 1-4°C the grain yield reduced on average by 10% for each degree the temperature increased54
2 Wheat 80.6 million tonnes country’s annual wheat output could plunge by 6 million tonnes with every 1°C rise in temperature.51
3 Maize 21 million tonnes Assessments indicate a reduction in yield by 3.0%, 9.3%, and 18.3%, in 2020, 2050 and 2080 from current yields59 due to variations in rainfall and temperature

Though the temperature increase is expected to reduce the yield of other crops like leafy vegetables, chickpeas and other legumes, onion, tomato and castor, the increase in CO2 concentration is likely to benefit these crops through enhanced growth, higher dry matter production and yield , which will have a natural mitigating effect which gives us some console.

Climate change poses a grave threat to global food security, adding further stress to an already creaking global food system. Research commissioned for the GROW campaign suggests that food prices could double by 2030, with around half the increase driven by the effects of climate change.

Increased droughts and floods leading to production variability, changes in microbes, pathogenic and pest infestations, impact on fish breeding, migration, and harvests, Increased water, shelter, and energy requirement for livestock, Animal distress due to heat; effects on reproduction and loss of 1.5 million tons of milk by 2020 and Imbalance in food trade due to positive impacts on Europe and N.America, and negative impacts on India are observed to be the other challenges to Indian agriculture.

The CRRI Vision 2030 report states that conditions for rice production will deteriorate in many parts of India through water shortages, low water quality, thermal stress, floods and in the coastal areas, sea-level rise and more intense tropical cyclones which are all the consequences of climate change. A 15% decrease in irrigated rice yields in developing countries and a 12% increase in rice price is anticipated as a result of climate change by 2050. It is feared that a 20% decline in rice yields can occur in North-West India due to elevated CO2 levels and temperature as well as lack of water. In the low-lying deltas and coastal areas of India, like Ganga, Godavari and Cauvery deltas, similar decline in rice production is anticipated due to climate change impacted sea-level rises and associated intrusion of saline water. Considering the global level, the FAO estimates the world cereal production to be 2238 million tonnes in 2011-12. However it also reports that, at the current forecast level, world cereal production in 2012-13 would be 2.6 percent down from the previous year’s record crop but close to the second largest in 2008. The overall decrease comprises a 5.2 percent reduction in wheat production, and a 2.3 percent reduction for coarse grains, while the global rice crop is seen to remain virtually unchanged.

World food grain reserves also have become dangerously low which is expected to trigger a major a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned. Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heat waves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.

Fig.1 Cereal production utilization & stock status

Thinking futuristically by 2050 the world’s population will be above 9 billion,most of the population growth is to occur in developing countries. Urbanization will occur at rapid pace, and about 70 percent of the world’s population will be urban, compared to 49 percent today. Income levels will be many multiples of what they are now. In order to feed this larger, more urban and richer population, food production (net of food used for biofuels) must increase by 70 percent. Annual cereal production will need to rise to about 3 billion tonnes from 2.1 billion today and annual meat production will need to rise by over 200 million tonnes to reach 470 million tonnes.

Effects of Climate Change on existing Programmes in DHAN collective

The climate change under the Tankfed agriculture context will pose a threat to the village ecosystem. The threat to village ecosystem will be caused mainly because of the siltation and dysfunctional tanks which creates havoc on the standing crops which further affects the livelihoods of both the farmers and landless farming community. This will lead to push migration to urban areas which inturn will hamper the farming ecosystem. Thus it leads to loss of productivity, fertility and biodiversity.

The effect of Climate change will be in the form of uneven distribution of rainfall leading to crop failure. The distribution varies as late onset of southwest monsoon & early withdrawal of North east monsoon, Frequent long dry spell during cropping season, No change in quantum of rainfall but change in no. of rainy days (decreased rainy days) and Increase in summer rainfall. These variations in the precipitation had led to the extinct of few cropping pattern in local areas. Eg;Groundnut in Thirumangalam and Kallupatti blocks of Madurai district.

The climate change intensifies the natural disaster (flood and cyclone) frequency which inturn affects the development process. The other effects experienced are sea water intrusion and submergence of agriculture lands by backwaters is increasing and it affects the ground water and crop production and Sea level rise in terms of reduced sea shore area as felt by the community. Extreme temperatures in both summer (maximum) and winter (minimum) causes new health problems / new illness.

Scope for DHANs intervention

The new theme for Climate change is launched by DHAN Foundation, since many of the works we do through different thematic institutions qualify as activities for addressing Climate Change issues. The New theme on CCA will help to understand the issues related to climate change faced by the community, their coping measures and gaps in the same at the location and regional level. Scope exists for Climate Change Education to Action at individual and collective levels.

Proposed Programme Components

The programme components suggested for the new theme of CCA are list as follows. It needs to be short listed by grouping the different components.

  • Climate Change Research – documentation of local issues, review of existing activities and action plan could be tried. Pilots could be taken in the different contexts of existing theme and new areas.
  • Climate Change Action – Catastrophe fund /cover support to crop insurance/ health insurance programme, Community fund for CCA, Contingency plan, promoting indigenous coping mechanisms.
  • Energy particularly on promoting renewable energy
  • Afforestation – protecting as well as planting new trees
  • Agriculture, conservation of bio-diversity and food security – Soil and moisture conservation measures
  • Low cost and green technologies under each sector
  • Disaster Risk Reduction – risk reduction, EWS, Preparedness, Prevention and Mitigation
The new theme would be piloted in Rural (Mullai, Marutham – Madurai district), Tribal (Kurunji), Coastal (Neithal -Nagapattinam and Ramanathapuram) contexts to understand the Climate Change effects at micro level and impacts for dissemination. The outcomes of the pilots could be utilised for finalising the components. The new theme has to prepare proposal for implementing the theme as pilot. It is high time that we develop good understanding on the issues of climate change and its effect on poverty. Capacity building of the staffs to inculcate the climate change sense and adapt it in their programs, Identifying the niche areas for Climate Change intervention and piloting of ecosystem based approach to evolve CCA models and developing tools for upscaling in similar context with necessary adaptations will be facilitated through this program.

Way forward

Left with this scenario, we have a greater task ahead. The developing countries should carefully pan to combat climate change, through appropriate strategies to meet the future food demand. More output using limited inputs, whether it is land, water, fertilizers, seeds, crops etc., should be the focus. This would also warrant a major change in food habits from “low nutritive- high input consuming crops” ( rice, wheat) to highly nutritive-low input consuming crops (Millets). Advancement in scientific research, which leads to less use of resources, but to maximum returns without any further damage to environment is crucial (e.g., development of C4 rice). Today the world is following a “exploitative” culture without due consideration of the actions on the future society. The world we leave for the next generation must be able to cater all the basic human needs. The development plans of the nations must be formulated keeping in mind the needs of our sons and grandsons.


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