A recent article in ‘The New York Times’ said that the nutrient content in our food is gradually going down. Can you guess why?
Yes, of course, adding pesticides and insecticides is one of the pivotal reasons, but the rate of photosynthesis, along with the elevated greenhouse gas emission is catalyzing the process. My grandparents used to say that potato supplements supply our body with phosphorous, manganese, and niacin. But in the last five years, have you heard anyone saying that ‘Potato is beneficial for our health?’ It’s not because adding potato on a plate of Biriyani makes it look organized and tasty, but because it has no such quantifiable nutrient values now.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the past couple of decades are affecting both our quality and quantity of food significantly. They are accelerating the anthropogenic climate change, especially in the tropical regions, which brings down the crop yield mainly due to a shift in the rainfall pattern (thus causing floods) and extreme heatwaves. Furthermore, in a low-income and a middle-income country, the effect of this climate change on food quality gets magnified.
The increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide directly affects the nutrient quality of food by around (5-15 %) in case of proteins and approximately 30% for Vitamin B. The Calvin cycle (C3) cycle in plants (especially in wheat, rice, potatoes, barley) gets accelerated due to the presence of an abundance of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Therefore, even as the quantity may go up, the quality depreciates as the cycle-time lowers, providing less time to synthesize the nutrients.
Now, with the elevating problems of global food insecurities, the decrease in the nutrient quality shall further make the scenario go haywire. Let’s take the example of potato once again and assume that due to economic constraints, I can afford only a couple of potatoes a day. With this problem of the nutrient devaluation, I need to buy two more potatoes to synchronize with the previous nutrient value. But then, what about the prospects of cost and affordability considering my financial situation?
Data suggests that as of 2018, 821 million people suffer from global food insecurity, out of that, 151 million are children. With 2 million people having malnutrition-related problems due to the deficiencies of iron, zinc, and magnesium, micronutrient insufficiency is gradually evolving to be one of the potential threats to the lower-income countries. With a reinforced prompt from the affected economy, the deficiencies adversely affect cognitive development, metabolism, obesity, diabetes, and other health outcomes, potentially affecting health and welfare across the life course.
A numerical analysis, along with simulation tools, carried out by Weyant et al., described that CO2-induced reductions in the concentrations of zinc and iron in crops could influence the life patterns of 125.8 million people globally, mainly affecting Southeast Asian and sub-Saharan African countries. The risk might increase to 600 million later this century in states with the highest levels of rice consumption and the lowest overall gross domestic product per capita if the officials do not start addressing the issue.
I believe the problem of these nutrient concerns can start a cascade reaction of poverty, several mysterious illnesses, and deaths in extreme cases. These risks shall gradually magnify if the effects of CO2 on livestock can be considered in the context, which generates more than 15% of the global human protein supply. On an additional note, disruption of the carbon cycle shall automatically disrupt the nitrogen and the phosphorus cycle, and thus the entire ecological balance.
Malnutrition, when supported by climate change and economic crisis, proves to be one of the fatal factors to elevate multiple health problems. Technologists, scientists, emerging companies, industrialists, and entrepreneurs should blend to draft a solution for this burgeoning problem. We need to realize that thousands of children start their journey from the pavements. Owing to their economic constraints, they have to begin their journey ten kilometres behind from us. Furthermore, they are running the same race along with us with no breakfast, two potatoes in
their lunch and water for dinner.