Global food situation: Not out of the woods
Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
Arecent report portrays a chilling scerio, the cumulative impact of three disasters driven by climate change. The possible consequences are: global food shock, resulting in food riots; the ballooning price of basic crops; and significant losses in stock markets. The risk assessment report, produced by insurer Lloyd’s of London - with support from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and vetted by academics from a number of institutions - shows how close humanity might be to a catastrophic collapse by the mid-century unless significant changes are made to curb global warming.
The scerio presented in the report examines what would happen if there were three simultaneous disasters - specifically a heat wave in South America, an explosion of windblown wheat stern rust pathogen across Russia, and a particularly strong El Niño southern oscillation cycle - all perfectly plausible phenome given current climate trends. The impact of this would be enough to cripple global food security.
A model crafted by the Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustaibility Institute in the context of the report concludes that “In this scerio, global society essentially collapses [in 2040] as food production falls permanently short of consumption.” But this forecast is based on a “business as usual” approach, one in which man-made climate change leads to a combition of increased flooding and extensive drought, with agriculture facing the prospect of functioning under water-stress conditions as early as 2025. However, if carbon emissions are slashed and agriculture adapts, this scerio does not have to play out.
A timely warning indeed!
As per latest assessments, global food production has been assessed to rise by 70 per cent by 2050 to cater for growth in the world’s population of more than 30 per cent. Can we achieve the target? Global food security is one of the most pressing societal issues of our time. Though advances in agricultural technology and expertise will significantly increase the food production potential of many countries / regions, yet these advances will not increase production fast enough to meet the demands of the planet’s even faster-growing human population.
What is the situation right now? Are we in the safe zone? Certainly not , and there is no question of complacency. What are the options and altertives? Tinkering with the prevalent models can to an extent be effective... leaving the gaps uncovered.
Assistance to fight hunger has a vital humanitarian role to play in countries which require help, yet this is not a sustaible solution. One has to go deeper to explore how a food deficit country [e.g. Ethiopia, with more than 10 million people dependent on food assistance] can address its problems by relieving the food insecurity of other such countries.
It is a fact that population pressures will continue to tip the balance against proper land and water magement in many developing countries. While agricultural production is critical for any form of sustaible future, focusing on the agricultural sector alone without regard for other important factors which influence food production is not the right course of action. But here lies the problem with the developing block. Population programmes require to be integrated with the overall development objectives and then be linked to other resources so that comprehensive development turns into reality.
With declining food production and resource degradation, the strategic plan has to be incorporated with population concerns [viz. population growth, distribution and rural-urban migration patterns incorporate population]. For that matter, the community development strategy, which integrates essential social services as well as production resources, is welcome.
In parallel, sustaible development strategies [encompassing soil erosion and impoverishment, deforestation, falling agricultural output, and poor water magement] need to be streamlined and implemented. This needs to be coupled with rural agricultural extension schemes which provide credit, seeds, fertilisers and advice to poorer farmers. Adequate support has to be provided to research on the integration of traditiol and emerging technologies for food production. Local knowledge ought not to be ignored.
The question of integration with exterl markets is important in order to encourage farmers to form cooperatives as a recognised means of accessing urban and export markets - a balance between marketable surplus and marketed surplus.
The G20 group of countries needs to prepare a realistic and achievable action plan to deal with the volatile behaviour of food commodity markets and the decision has to be taken as to whether biofuels (being a key driver of rising food prices) targets and incentives are to be revised in a balanced manner and whether food export restrictions that destabilise markets should be permitted only in the last resort.
It is in a word, optimal resource magement that is capable of increasing crop yields, preventing land degradation, while providing sustaible livelihoods for millions of rural poor. tiol population programmes, on the other hand, should include comprehensive and accessible materl and child health care programmes and family planning services not only to reduce the size of families and improve the health and well-being of the entire community, but also increasing food production. There is need to ensure protection of the environment while easing the burdens of the poor.
FAO has rightly noted that it is not only fincial resources that are needed. Beyond the factors that exacerbate the current crisis, there is a whole series of fundamental problems that need to be resolved, in particular how aid is channeled and how to make it reach small farmers effectively, as well as reform of the world food security governce system towards greater coherence in the action of governments and development partners, the share of tiol budgets dedicated to agriculture and private sector investment. “It is vital, particularly in times of crisis, that support to agriculture is not reduced. Only a healthy agricultural sector, combined with a growing non-farm economy and effective safety nets and social protection programmes will be sufficient to face the global recession as well as eradicate food insecurity and poverty.”
In order to avoid the disastrous consequences of widespread hunger and even starvation in the years and decades to come , a firm commitment is needed to increase crop yields of land area, the nutrients applied, and the quantity of water used. The positive impact of such efforts will considerably lessen the severity of the food shortage and lift hundreds of millions of people out of a state of hunger and malnutrition, thereby preventing widespread starvation, premature death and social unrest.
So, when about 870 million people currently suffer from hunger and chronic malnutrition, economic and fincial crisis, the consequences of climate change, and the decrease in the amount of usable agricultural land worldwide, the situation is bound to worsen.
It is time to be realistic while planning for tomorrow.
(The writer, a noted Magement Economist, an Intertiol Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs and Principal, Eminent College of Magement and Technology, Kolkata, can be reached at email@example.com)