Extreme weather events, land degradation and desertification, water scarcity and rising sea levels have all been signifiers of climate change, and these phenomenons worldwide have been the driving forces behind the alarming rate of global hunger across the world, undermining efforts to eradicate this humanitarian concern. Now with the Covid-19 pandemic, the goal of achieving SDG target 2.1 (ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people all year round) or 2.2 (eradicating all forms of malnutrition) seems steeper than ever.
The United Nations defines food security as physical, social, and economic access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food that suits people's preferences and needs for a healthy and active life. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations (FAOUN), despite a steady decline in the last century, global hunger has been on a slow rise since 2015. FAOUN has reported that severe and moderate food insecurity is a rising concern, and has gone from affecting 22.6% of the world's population in 2014 to more than 30% in 2020. This means that nearly one-in-three people in the world did not have access to adequate food in 2020. The pandemic has further exposed the fragility of our food security system, and in just one year, from 2019 to 2020, the global Prevalence of Under-nourishment has gone up from 8.4% to 9.9%.
And one of the many reasons affecting the rise in global hunger is one that the United Nations has declared to be the single biggest threat ever faced by humanity - Climate Change. The 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed, without doubt, that human influence on the climate system is clear and that it is growing all across the world. The IPCC is sure that the more human activities continue to disrupt the climate, the greater will be the risks of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems all around the world.
Although not apparent at first, the rise of global hunger has a direct correlation with climate change. Climate change has complicated concerns related to poverty and hunger, especially in regions that are already reeling under political and economic instability. Agriculture will be greatly affected by the change in weather and precipitation patterns, anomalous weather will definitely affect food yields. Statistically, climate-related events such as extreme heat, droughts, storms, and floods have become much more frequent, effectively doubling since the early 1990s. Such events are detrimental to agricultural productivity and directly lead to price-hikes and loss of income.
Where does India stand in this?
In the Indian context, the majority of the rural population are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture as their main source of income. Most of the North-Indian agriculture is dependent on mountainous rivers which owe their origin to winter snows, and disruptions in snow patterns will directly affect agriculture yields. More than 60% of India's agriculture is rain-fed, and agriculture, from sowing to harvest is dependent on the arrival of monsoons. In such a scenario, rainfall in an abnormal manner is highly detrimental to crop yield. Even keeping climate change-related reasons aside, India's groundwater resources are overexploited, and the growing load of an increasing population has affected water availability everywhere.
Climate change affects crop-growing patterns worldover. It has affected the types of crops that can be grown in areas, and reduced the suitability of land for both growing food and grazing animals. Climate change has brought new pests and crop diseases to regions, as well as affected the quality and yield of crops. The nutrient content of crops has also changed.
In the face of such a threatening crisis world over, the objective of Zero Hunger is an important development goal under 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And the current picture continues to be grim, given the current trends and the fact that FAOUN predicts a similar rising trend, unless strict actions are taken immediately.
Changes need to be made in accordance with the Paris Agreement, and the Agenda 2030, if we are to see positive results. Without any bold actions, 2030 may see a large chunk of the global population still without proper access to food. These bold actions include a "greater resilience to major drivers, including political conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns, food systems can provide affordable healthy diets that are sustainable and inclusive, and become a powerful driving force towards ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms, for all," as per FAOUN.
With the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the COP26 on climate change, 2021 offers a unique opportunity to double down on the goal to advance food security and nutrition, and make affordable healthy diets accessible to all. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has pointed out that the following maxims need to be considered to truly bring a transformation in global food-security systems:
- Scaling up climate resilience across food systems.
- Strengthening resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity.
- Intervening along the food supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods.
- Tackling poverty and structural inequalities, ensuring interventions are pro-poor and inclusive.
- Strengthening food environments and changing consumer behaviour to promote dietary patterns with positive impacts on human health and the environment.
What can we do?
In addition to these measures for food security, climate change must be addressed with a multi-pronged approach. The latest IPCC report has only etched on a stone tablet what climate scientists have been saying for years: that the urgency to make amends has never been greater. Although there is still a lot to be done in the matter of mitigation policies and concrete action by the governments of the world's nations, many individuals have come up with innovative and scientific solutions to tackle climate change. Here are a few start-ups and initiatives that are doing commendable work:
- Green Worms is a social impact-oriented sustainable waste management company. Their work is driven by three core principles; minimize waste generation at the source, divert wastes from landfills and dignify people working in the waste management sector.
- Persapien is a start-up working towards the aim of healthier living with cleaner air. They have a wide range of affordable products. From filters that minimize pollutants from car exhaust systems to air-purification car filters and masks, Persapien is developing inventions to help us breathe better.
- ReCircle: ReCircle is a resource recovery enterprise which is working towards a sustainable future by diverting resources from landfills and oceans. Their recycling endeavours focus on reuse, repurposing, and the recycling of waste and bringing it back into economical use.
While small changes at the level of the common citizen cannot have any significant effect unless the same enthusiasm is shown by those at the top, the converse is true as well. Without the support and active participation of the common citizen, a change at the policy level by governing bodies will also not have a lasting impact.
Without a re-education of the ideas of what development really is, the future cannot hold much promise. Sustainable living, more than sustainable development, must come out from textbooks and become more than what marketing gimmicks make it out to be. Sustainability must stop from being a textbook definition and must become the new normal, because we, as a human race, can no longer afford to continue to cultivate just our own gardens.