Friday, February 12, 2010

Food security - Of lives and livelihoods

Only anticipatory and inclusive action can help us counter climate change risks

M S Swaminathan

India’s leading agricultural scientist

Recent studies have shown that for each 1°C rise in temperature, wheat yield losses in India will be of the order of 6 million tonnes. There will also be similar effects on rice and other food crops. The leaders of G8 Nations who met recently at L’Aquilla in Italy agreed to limit the rise in mean temperature to two degrees Celcius. This will have disastrous consequences on our agricultural production and thereby to national food security. The consequences of global warming are multi-dimensional and can leave unpredictable deviations resulting in various weather conditions and calamities, including erratic monsoon behaviour, water scarcity and higher evapo-transpiration. It will also result in frequent drought and flood, severe pest and disease epidemics, increase in the incidences of malaria and other vector-borne diseases.

Thus, the adverse impact of climate change will cover every aspect of human life. Obviously, the poor nations, who have the least capacity to cope with the fallout, will suffer more adversely than others. There is a need for both anticipatory research and action to address issues related to mitigation and adaptation. At the same time, there is a need for participatory research with rural families in order to enhance their capacity to deal with calamities like droughts, floods and the rise in temperatures.

Action is particularly important in making contingency plans, alternative cropping strategies and compensatory production programmes.

India has about 127 agro-climatic regions. We will have to prepare computer simulation models on different weather probabilities and conditions. This will help to formulate codes of action for dealing with droughts, floods and rise in sea-levels. However, a good weather code should also be prepared to maximise production in favourable seasons. The impact will have to be studied not only on crops, but also on farm animals, fisheries and forests. Seed reserves of alternative crops will have to be built up at the local level. In fact, grain reserves are essential for food security and seed reserves are needed for crop security. Local level Gene–Seed–Grain–Fodder-Water Banks will have to be promoted, so that the community itself will be able to adapt to the new challenges that will emerge.

The impact on women will be even more serious since they are traditionally in charge of gathering fodder, fuel wood, and water and also animal healthcare and post harvest technology. Climate risk saviour crops will have to be identified and multiplied. Rice is one such crop as it can grow under a wide range of altitudes and latitudes.

In coastal areas, bio-shields consisting of mangroves, Salicornia, Atriplex and other halophytes will have to be erected. Sea water farming will have to be promoted through the establishment of agri-aqua farms. This is important since 97 per cent of the total global water availability is from the sea. There is also a need for below sea-level farming since many coastal areas will have to practice agriculture below sea-level as a result of sea water inundation. The latest technologies will have to be taken to fishermen, such as mobile phones providing information on wave heights and location of fish shoals.

Farm animals will have to be protected since livestock and livelihoods are intimately related in most parts of India. Also the ownership of livestock is more egalitarian. Emergency food supply arrangements will have to be made by enriching agricultural biomass with urea and molasses. Ground water sanctuaries will have to be set-up that can be properly utilised whenever there is water shortage.

In the area of mitigation also, local communities can contribute through better farm animal management and conservation farming. Fertiliser trees, such as Faidherbia albdia will have to be planted on a large scale. Finally, there is a need for building a cadre of climate risk managers at the local level. Such managers should be well-versed in the science and art of managing climate aberrations. Every calamity presents an opportunity and therefore, steps should be taken to train vast numbers of community level climate risk managers, who can help in utilising these available resources well. While global thinking and action is essential, it will only be attention to local planning and anticipatory action that can reduce human hardship and save lives and livelihoods.

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Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2009

An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative

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