Climate change is a huge crisis that is posing a threat to all. Today, we live in an era of uncertainty with great risk to life, lack of access to basic services and livelihoods. One of the major reasons behind this is the depletion of significant amounts of natural resources over time, rapid urbanisation, population explosion, etc.
In this context, the Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, Tarun Bharat Sangh, India Water Portal and Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan organised a lecture on Climate Change, Water and Food Security and Human Health by Dr M Dinesh Kumar, Executive Director of Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (IRAP), Hyderabad.
The purpose of the webinar was to collate evidence and knowledge, understand and analyse it and collectively propose a policy practice to address the various challenges of climate change.
Dr Dinesh Kumar begins with the conceptual framework of food security, i.e. food security deals with food supplies; with two key components, physical access to food and food absorption. Climate can affect the ability of humans to consume and acquire nutritional value from food. He emphasises the importance of the temporal variability in rainfall and other weather parameters.
He looks at India’s food security challenge from the land and water dimensions. He states that India’s current food grain production (fine and coarse cereals and pulses) is hovering around 304 tons. Yet, the per capita food grain availability has been declining since 2001. Also, there is a change in consumption patterns as one can observe increasing demands for animal products like poultry products, eggs and milk-based items.
Most of the water requirement in the country is for food production. The climatic conditions, the amount of rainfall, aridity, etc., vary from one region to another. This has a significant impact on the water demand for food production. Thus, there is a major imbalance in water demand and water availability for agriculture in different regions.
Limited arable land is a major constraint for water-rich regions to produce sufficient yields to meet the demand, which puts enormous pressure on naturally water-scarce regions like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat etc. to increase production by over-exploiting its water resources.
In the naturally water-scarce regions, groundwater resources are depleting due to overexploitation for agricultural needs. For example, large parts of Rajasthan, particularly western Rajasthan, Northern Gujarat, and a few pockets of Maharashtra, are massively over-exploited. Groundwater scarcity is causing a huge impact on food security due to shifts in cropping patterns from cereals to high-value cash crops.
He further points out how crop physiological models show the negative impact of temperature rise on wheat yields due to faster crop maturity and a positive impact on rice yields due to increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Climate change can impend food security by affecting food supplies through a rise in temperatures, reduction in water availability for crop production, etc., in semi-arid and arid regions.
Similarly, climate can affect food absorption by reducing the ability to consume and benefit from the food, lowering people’s nutritional and health status. He reiterated that India faces increasing food security challenges with rising income and population levels.
Dr Kumar asserts that the unawareness of the serious challenges posed by climate change at the National level is very high. The government is not willing to explore the concept of water demand management, water pricing and micro-irrigation techniques. The basic premise on which we need to study climate change must be sound and based on facts and figures.
The consequences of climate variability on our water resources are far more serious than what appears to be the consequences of climate change. India lacks on the front of long-term planning of depleting water resources and management of the crisis.
NGOs are actively participating in their domain, i.e. at the local level, through awareness campaigns, groundwater management, rainwater harvesting, etc. But the need is for national-level initiatives to be taken by the government.
Models like virtual land and water trading are of significance where a water-scarce state can be on a trade agreement with a state having land in abundance, which can produce surplus at subsidised rates. Since approximately 55% of the Indian population depends upon agriculture, it is extremely important to prioritise the amount of water allocation for environmental needs in a given basin.
The economic feasibility of the vertical farming technique, which will determine whether this concept will be developed or not, has not yet been adequately assessed. Also, generally, the ideas proposed by civil society are taken into consideration by the government while formulating policies. Still, there is a need to build coherence between the government and civil society organisations.
Dr Indira Khurana states that with the increasing water literacy and climate literacy programs, there is an improvement in water augmentation and management techniques, the revival of water resources and youth participation in states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
In a diverse and widespread country like India, one should look at local solutions so that at least we have nutrition and food security in the far-flung areas and villages.
The need of the hour is for a paradigm shift from seeking a straitjacket solution of applying ideas universally across the country to adopting micro and macro level steps to ensure food security and maintenance of good health.
Acknowledgement: Tarishi Chaturvedi is pursuing Masters in Development Policy Planning and Practice from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur, Maharashtra.