Food, Climate Change and Hunger: Safeguarding the Future!
We all love and enjoy good meals, don’t we?
My favourite is a bowl of curd rice — a staple south-Indian meal.
Well, talking about Indian meals, in the last 40–50 years, I have seen one of the most populous countries in the world, transition to become self-sufficient in food production with 291 million tons of cereals, with some 75 million tons in food stock.
I witnessed India’s iconic Green Revolution, first-hand, as a student of agricultural sciences in Punjab, India in the 70s.
Today, with the advancement in agriculture sciences and use of technology fuelling Green Revolution there is enough food for everyone!
Even then, there are 690 million people across the world who go hungry. Sadly, a significant percentage of them live in India.
But then, India has introduced the world’s largest social security programs like the Public Distribution System, Integrated Child Development Services and Mid-day meal scheme that together reach over a billion people in one way or another!
In my 35 years with the United Nations/World Food Programme, across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia in development work, I have realized that access to wholesome meals is certainly not a given. Especially, a nutritious meal.
When we say healthy wholesome meals, what do we mean?
A meal that has balanced vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. Many sections of our society may not have access to and fully aware of the details of eating healthy. Children, expecting and nourishing mothers have specific nutritional needs, critical for their health and growth. Differential access to food based on gender differences is also a persistent challenge.
Therefore, mere availability of food is not enough to address hunger. Simply put, staple food items like rice or wheat, which are a rich source of starch, are not enough to provide us, especially expecting mothers and children the micronutrients to live a healthy life.
If my plate just has rice with some salt, it does not have enough nutrition- especially if this is the only type of meal, that I am eating day in and day out. Unfortunately, this is what is happening to millions every day.
There is a whole ecosystem — farmers at work, supply chain, land management and weather patterns, financing, and access — that operates behind each meal that we eat.
And in this food system or ecosystem — climate change has a huge role to play!
How? One may ask!
Extreme and unpredictable weather patterns — dry seasons, droughts and floods — and climate phenomena — storms, cyclones and hurricanes — caused by climate change are disrupting agriculture, exposing it crop failures or substantially lower yields. These accounts for up to 90 percent of all climate-related disasters. These can quickly spiral into full-blown food and nutrition crises.
With disruption of land-based livelihood and reduction in local produce, the food basket and dietary diversity shrinks, compounding hunger and malnutrition as food items become unaffordable! Hunger and pressure on food systems contribute to social distress and conflicts. Therefore, it is not a surprise that Climate Change and extreme weather events are among the key drivers behind global hunger, distress migration or social conflicts.
In 2008, I was in Myanmar, where I witnessed one of the worst cyclones, killing over 130,000 people, displacing 3 million, and huge destruction to infrastructure and livelihoods.
We need to strengthen such multilateral commitments across the globe. The Paris Agreement of 2015 is a great example in this space. If we don’t, the consequences could be much worse than with COVID 19.
History has taught us that communities around the world have lived through trying climate conditions before and have survived by helping each other. In villages in India or Africa, have had the practice of the community food or grain pooling for supporting a person or a family in times of great need– enough to help them get back on their feet. As a collective- they have emerged and survived many droughts, famines and invasions through centuries; in Africa, it’s called ‘Ubuntu’.
Navigating the scale and complex interlinkages of processes like global and systemic hunger, food systems and climate change can often numb into inaction, which is contrary to what is needed: Individual and collective action.
I want to use this opportunity, to share 4 action — points with you.
The first action that I want to call upon is very simple yet powerful! Please embrace the idea of sharing a meal as it is not just about giving food to some. It is much more and is Caring.
The humanity is currently undergoing a challenging time- WFP estimates that due to the COVID pandemic, the number of acute food-insecure people across the globe will double to 270 million in 2020–21.
Second, we must understand the interlinkages of food and climate systems on how they unite us in terms of its shared destiny and impact. This will shape our behaviours and attitudes towards the food choices we make, especially the food that is wasted, and the low carbon imprint approach at a day-to-day level.
Currently, 1/3 of the entire food we as humans, produce is either lost or wasted!
Third, we need to ensure that the public and private institutions provide more effective services in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from climate shocks and slow onset change. Govt must take an increasing role to protect the population with food, meals, or cash to prevent a rise in hunger.
Four, all planning, policy, and programme in the agriculture, food security, and livelihood must have an effort to build resilient activities and adapt to new situations and farming with less water, and adaptable crop varieties.
Also, be mindful of how, where, and when we source our food items from. The further a food item has travelled from to get to our plate, the more carbon footprint it has- eat local, eat seasonal and support the local growers! Small steps by us as individuals like growing our nutri-garden can help set a culture of growing and sharing within communities!
Share a meal, support, adopt a child or family, and help them get back on their feet. Let us also spread the ‘Ubuntu’, everywhere.