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Review: IFPRI’s latest reports highlights the grave risks of Climate Change on Food systems


The International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) recently released the 2022 report titled, ‘Climate change and food systems’. The report highlights the grave risks climate change poses to agricultural production, increased risk of hunger including estimates of impact by 2030 & 2050. Here is a review.

Climate change impacts almost everything. But the profound impact could be seen in our food systems, extending from the way we produce food to the consumption and dietary patterns. This impact is more widespread in countries that are predominantly dependent on agriculture and food systems, both directly and indirectly. India is one of the large & growing economies that is considerably dependent on the agriculture sector. India has the second-largest arable land in the world and has around 46 of the 60 major soil types of the world. It is the largest source of livelihood in India and contributes a substantial share to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

From being a food-deficit nation in the early-independence days to a nation with food security, India has taken multiple strides in its agricultural ecosystem. However, the lack of universal access to adequate, nutritious, and quality food has led to multiple health-related issues among children and women. India has one of the largest numbers of malnourished children in the world. In economic terms, this malnutrition amounts to a loss in 4% of the GDP. The progress of India towards global nutrition targets is not on par. Amidst all these, the overarching impacts of climate change tend to deepen these existing vulnerabilities and hinder our transition towards more sustainable and equitable food systems. 

In this context, the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) global food policy report 2022 titled, ‘Climate change and food systems’ becomes an important resource to understand the globally shifting circumstances. This story is a compilation of important extracts from IFPRI’s 2022 report.

16% reduction in aggregate food production in India by 2050

Food production is one of the primary areas that is impacted by climate change. Decreasing soil fertility levels, reduced yields, increased threats of pests and invasive species, and conversion of agricultural land for commercial consumption are some of the key factors impacting the food production cycle. The IFPRI’s IMPACT model estimates the reduction in aggregate food production in India to be at 16% by 2050, the highest in the South Asian region. Among other countries, the United States of America’s estimates stood at 34%, Australia’s at 18%, Japan at 17%, the United Kingdom at 7%, China at 5%, and cumulatively, estimates for the world stand at 8%. Among the various regions, North America’s reduction is highest at 29%, followed by Africa (excepting North) at 19% and South Asia at 15%. Interestingly, the Southeast Asian region is estimated to increase the aggregate food production with climate change compared to the production without climate change. It is important to note that 2010 levels were considered as the baseline for these projections.

Additional 17 million people at risk of hunger in India by 2030

The vast majority of people from lower- and middle-income countries, and developing countries sustain on a daily basis for their livelihood and food security. Climate change impacts their livelihoods, and food security, thereby putting them at risk of hunger. Effectively, climate change is also a hunger issue. Globally, around 65 million people are at risk due to climate-change induced hunger. In this, India adds up to 17 million people to the global number of people at risk of hunger by 2030 due to climate change, the highest among all countries. India is followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, which contributes to additional 4.8 million people. The gap between these two countries demonstrates the severity of climate change-induced hunger risk for India. 

South Asia tops among the regions that contribute to global climate change-induced hunger risk. Ironically, North America, which had a huge reduction in projected aggregate food production, adds no additional population at risk of hunger. This shows the differential impacts of climate change on countries.

Impacts of climate change last long

It is evident that climate change induces changes in aggregate food production globally. However, these changes are not uniform throughout all the food types.  It is observed that while the production of greens significantly reduces due to climate change, the impact on meat production is negligible. Cereals are most impacted among the greens, followed by roots and tubers, and fruits and vegetables.

Climate change effects are long-lasting. It is observed that the differential in the total production potential due to climate change increases from 2030 to 2050 for the majority of food categories. Pulses & Meats are the only categories that are minimally affected due to the last longing impacts of climate change. The increasing production differential in 2050 from 2030 validates the point that climate change, if left unacted, is going to disrupt millions of populations, and put them at risk of hunger and death.

Ensuring food security through agricultural trade

One of the key points raised by the report is the increase in the agricultural trade. This increase in the trade in agricultural commodities can augment the optimal utilization of natural resources and envisages providing the best nutritious food at the least possible cost. Another reason is the increase in trade could be the limited availability of domestic supplies and a fall in productivity. The volume of trade in agricultural products almost doubled, while the value of trade has more than tripled in the last twenty years. 

The trading patterns in agricultural products have undergone changes in the past 25 years, with the majority of developing nations becoming importers and consumers of the global food trade. The gap between the exports and imports for these countries is gradually narrowing. The reasons for this could be due to changing income levels, rising urbanization, and a shift in consumer preferences.

Despite such tremendous growth in the trade of agricultural products, significant barriers exist that limit the trading potential of these agricultural commodities. These could be in the form of domestic subsidies, export subsidies, and tariff and non-tariff barriers. Lower trade barriers could improve market access to these goods, which in turn can improve the food security and nutritional status of the household. The maximum permissible rate for agricultural products is 50 percent for members of the World Trade Organization. But countries generally prefer to keep tax less than the permissible limit so that the cost of the food products is lower.

In the wake of climate change severely impacting the production potential of the nations, it is high time that countries avoid trade-distorting policies and strategies and pursue further liberalisation of agri-food trade to ensure free and open trade. This must be done keeping in mind the domestic priorities, and a fine balance should be achieved.

Climate change effects on South Asia

South Asia is one of the major climate change hotspots across the world. Existing vulnerabilities of this region mean the compounding effects of climate change. Agriculture and land-use change activities have become the major contributor to the GHG emissions in the region. It is also the major sector that is deeply impacted by climate change.  

The report identifies the following climate change impacting drivers:

  • A rise in mean and extreme temperatures, and the high probability of this trend to continue.
  • The unprecedented rate of melting in Himalayan glaciers, causes livelihood destruction.
  • Intense monsoon rainfalls due to warming and increased mean precipitation.
  • These threats of climate change are projected to aggravate in the future.

These climate change drivers have multi-sectoral impacts that vary depending on the sector and its relative vulnerability. The report goes further to identify the following impacts on agri-food systems. 

  • The fall in agricultural yields is projected to continue and worsen further from 1.8-6.6% by 2041-60 to 7.2-23.6% by 2061-80, particularly in India. The increasing salinity in inland aquaculture could result in a fall in fisheries productivity.
  • Rapid acceleration in groundwater depletion limits the dependability on this for agricultural production and livelihood support.
  • Increase in the existing vulnerabilities in food and nutrition security challenges.
  • Trade distortions are projected to grow and the contribution of agriculture to GDP is set to decline.

Upon studying these impacts of climate change on agri-food systems, the report proposes some of the mitigation measures.

  • Crop diversification is the key.
  • Public investment in agricultural Research & Development should rise.
  • Farm mechanization and soil moisture conservation should be taken up on an urgent basis.
  • Initiate reforms in fertilizer subsidies, energy policy, and agricultural support mechanisms.

To put it all together, agriculture and its allied activities are both, the problem, and the solution to climate change. New institutions to ensure proper food system governance is the need of the hour and it is very important to capitalize on the resilience exhibited by the agricultural food systems during the pandemic and make this sector more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.

Featured Image: IFPRI’s Global Food Policy Report 2022


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