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Ashok Gulati writes: Balancing climate change and global nutrition

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October 16th is celebrated around the world as World Food Day. It is the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which was founded in 1945. The fear of starvation was looming large. Countries have set up FAO with a global vision to ensure that enough food is produced to feed their growing populations. The world population at the time was just under her 2.5 billion and was growing at a rate of about 1.9% per year. There are about 8 billion people on this planet today and there is enough food to feed them. However, access to affordable food remains a challenge for a significant portion of humanity, leading to malnutrition.

Still, Homo sapiens, who learned farming practices only 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, produced an enormous amount of food during their long journey back 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. You can rejoice that you were able to do it. It can feed the entire world population. This speaks to the success of science and innovation in the agri-food sector. A country guided by a spirit of scientific knowledge and innovation rather than ideology and dogma produces enough food even in the desert. For example Israel. And many countries are ideologically driven and suffer dire consequences. China is a case in point, where from 1958 to his 1961, more than 30 million of his people starved to death during Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”. Mao Zedong wanted to transform China from an agricultural society to a system of communist ideology based on communes. His project failed miserably and caused extreme hardship for millions of people. It was Deng Xiaoping who spearheaded China’s agricultural reform by dismantling the commune system in 1978.

Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, India, the second most populous country on earth, has also suffered from relying on heavy industry-led development strategies as a means to eradicate poverty and become a developed nation. did. In the mid-1960s he experienced two consecutive droughts that literally gave the country a kink in order to meet the basic food requirements of its people. India had to rely on PL 480 food aid from the United States and was forced to live “ship-to-mouth”. Although it did not die from hunger on the scale that China suffered, India quickly realized that its heavy dependence on other countries for food could lead to political compromise.

Technological breakthroughs in high-yielding wheat varieties (HYV) by Normal Borlaug and his team at CIMMYT and Henry Beachell and Gurdev Khush at Rice at IRRI to ensure that humanity can have enough of a basic staple food. became. As is well known, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work, but no Nobel Prize in agriculture for saving millions of lives through his scientific research. He envisioned setting up a World Food Prize somewhat equivalent to the Nobel Prize in agriculture. Founded in 1986 and sponsored by General Foods, the John Luan family and many others.

The World Food Prize is awarded in a special ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa on October 16th each year. I have attended these events, and the nearly week-long programs that showcase advances in agricultural science, policy, and programs are often eye-opening. Indians such as MS Swaminathan, Verghese Kurien, Gurdev Khush and Rattan Lal have won awards.

More recently, the focus has shifted from enhancing food production to nutrition and climate resilience. This year’s award went to Cynthia Rosenzweig for her pioneering work in modeling the impact of climate change on food production. The impacts of climate change at a time when climate shocks that increase the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, droughts and premature floods and put millions of people at risk for food security are already knocking on our doors. There’s no better time than to develop tools to understand

Interestingly, while agriculture is severely impacted by climate change, it also contributes nearly 28% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contributes to global warming. It is therefore time to not only invest in climate adaptation strategies, but also restructure policies that can mitigate agriculture’s GHG emissions. A net zero carbon target seems ambitious. It’s a bit late, but if implemented in good faith, this planet can still serve humanity if it can feed more than 10 billion people.

But changing people’s behavior is not achievable in normal scenarios. Whether in agriculture or in other areas, we must work on policies that encourage people to change the way they do things. Today, policy and technology seem to be out of sync. It’s time for India to wake up and double or even triple her spending on agricultural R&D and education. It currently accounts for about 0.6% of the combined agricultural GDP of the center and state. This should be raised to at least 1% of agricultural GDP, preferably 1.5-2%. Only then can India achieve food independence (atmanirbhar) in the face of adverse climate change.

In the meantime, on this World Food Day, let’s commit to doing the best for our planet, not just meeting people’s basic food needs. ICRIER publishes his October issue of his Af-TAB (Agri-Food Trends and Analysis Bulletin) on food and nutrition security and environmental synergies. stay tuned.

Gulati is a Distinguished Professor of ICRIER.Views are personal