12:00 AM, November 17, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 17, 2012

Food security in the realm of climate change

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M. Mizanur Rahman

Drought, salt and flood tolerant seed varieties can yield better harvest

In this twenty-first century, agriculture is at the nexus of two of the greatest challenges like ensuring food security for this huge population and adapting to climate change while critical resources like water, power and land are becoming increasingly scarce. Agriculture is highly sensitive to climate, both in terms of longer-term trends in the average conditions of rainfall and temperature. And any change in the trend of rainfall and temperature impacts food production directly.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) predicts that population numbers will continue their march towards a likely nine billion by 2050, while higher incomes in hitherto poor countries will lead to increased demand, which in turn will put additional pressures on sustainable food production.
Though Bangladesh has produced significant foodgrains, especially rice, this year, despite the fact that the report of Global Agricultural Information Network (2012) claims it a result of increasing Boro cultivation which is causing Bangladesh's water table to drop by 4 to 5 feet annually, the tension around food security of the nation is not faded away. There are a number of challenges around this issue when the adverse impact of climate change on food production is the major one which is accompanied with population growth, high food price in international market, disasters, land degradation, high input price, lack of governance etc. But this year, a new challenge has been added to this group i.e. low rice price received by the farmers and it was even lower than the production cost in many places of the country.
Global Food Security Index 2012 ranked Bangladesh on 81st out of 105 countries when the IPCC (2007) predicts that Bangladesh will lose about 8% of its rice and 32% of wheat production by the year 2050. Again an analysis of FAO (2012) shows that the prevalence of undernourishment in Bangladesh was in a declining trend up to 2008 but it has started rising again this year. Almost the same trend is being observed in the case of food inadequacy as well and according to FAO, in 2010-2012, 26.80% people of the country suffer from food inadequacy. But it is interesting to see that after all this population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and land encroachment, percentage of arable land up for irrigation is increasing. But this may not be a good symptom for sustainable agricultural growth for the country as this extra arable land comes from deforestation and earth filling at water bodies.
Climate change is likely to bring more extreme events, possibly including a failure of the monsoon in South Asia while IFPRI simulates an extended drought beginning in 2030 and continuing through 2035. So, this situation will hamper food production immensely in this region but on the other hand, countries here will have more increase in population and income which will create much demand for food.
Again, agricultural growth is essential for eradicating extreme poverty in Bangladesh. Overall, the role of agricultural growth in reducing poverty is likely to be greater than its role in driving economic growth. This is likely to be the case because the share of the labour force that works in the agriculture sector is much larger than the share of economic output that comes from agriculture.
For the least-developed countries, the share of the total economically active population in agriculture was 66 percent in 2009, more than double the share of agriculture in GDP. The implication is that the people who work in agriculture tend to have lower incomes, which is consistent with the fact that poverty is concentrated in rural areas. Because so many of the poor work in agriculture, agricultural growth is more likely to involve and benefit the poor than is non-agricultural growth. (IFAD, WFP and FAO, 2012)
According to FAO, the global demand for food is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050. Given climate change, natural resource constraints and competing demands, especially for the production of bio-fuels, among other factors, this presents a considerable challenge for the agriculture and food systems worldwide. Smallholders will need to play a key role in meeting these requirements and that is why retaining these poor farmers in the agricultural production is very essential and for this more and more public sector investment is indispensable. But unfortunately, in recent years the country has experienced a lot of phenomena that have discouraged the farmers seriously. For example, increasing input cost especially for fertilizers, pesticides, price of electricity and diesel has frustrated the farmers.
In this situation, whatever the adversities are, ensuring food security is a must and most priority issue for the country and for this we need to explore and adopt all the possible strategies as we have more to do for the supply side of food economy. Among all the possibilities, introduction of agricultural risk reduction activities like promotion of drought, salt and flood tolerant seed varieties, and vaccination programmes that reduce the risk of disease for livestock farmers can be notable ones.
Crop insurance can be another good solution. In Bangladesh, if this insurance cannot give the entire security to the farmers, it can initially support partially and reduce the intensity of loss. Insurance that mitigates the impact of weather shocks is a key tool for helping farmers avoid poverty traps and for accelerating the adoption of agricultural technologies.
Adaptation to climate change is the most pertinent effort that Bangladesh needs to take immediately in a comprehensive way and while financing local adaptation, promoting climate resilient agriculture should be taken as an important point. In this sense, awareness raising and skill building of the farmers for adopting climate resilient agricultural practices at the local level are mandatory.
Finally, a proper foodgrain procurement policy need to be adopted and implemented so that even the small holding farmers can sell their agricultural products with the price that is above their production cost otherwise, the farmers will move to cash crop production which will create food shortage in local market and the country will be dependent on external market -- the cost of which will be too burdensome for the country.

The writer is a development researcher and a technical coordinator at CARE. He can be reached: mithunmds07@gmail.com

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