The Pulse | Environment | South Asia

Climate Change and South Asia’s Pending Food Crisis

Are South Asian governments adapting to climate change’s impact on agriculture in the region?

Climate Change and South Asia’s Pending Food Crisis
Credit: Pixabay

Experts predict that ensuring food security for South Asia’s expanding population will be one of the chief problems the subregion faces in the coming years. Countries of the region will need to place addressing food insecurity among their top policy agendas to ensure stability.

South Asia is currently home to nearly 1.8 billion people — the majority living in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh — and has been the fastest growing region for the past five years.The UN estimates that the population of the region will grow by 40 percent by 2050.

“The growing population will demand a higher supply of secure food, water, housing, and energy to maintain stability,” says George Stacey, an analyst working with Norvergence, an environmental advocacy NGO. “This is why countries in the region need to ensure they have the policies in place to adapt to the increasing number of people living there in coming years.”

And Stacey, among other climate experts, says that the challenge to secure food for South Asia’s growing population is exacerbated by the threats of climate change.

Several published reports in recent years have established the importance of a policy agenda that addresses securing food availability keeping in consideration the impact climate change will have on food production in the region.

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A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has stated that climate change and rising temperatures will affect food production across Asia differently, but the most food insecure populations are likely to be found in South Asia.

Currently, agriculture is one of South Asia’s biggest employers. Nearly 70 percent of the region’s population is employed in agriculture and the majority of people in the region live in rural communities.

“Agriculture is the main source of income for the majority of people living in the region and is extremely vulnerable to climate change,” says Stacey. “This is to have far-reaching consequences on the stability of the countries in the region.” 

Last year, the International Food Policy Research Institute released their Global Food Policy Report, which pointed out how the intensity of climate change will impact food security and agriculture globally but particularly in South Asia.

The report states, “climate change is the most pressing issue facing [South Asia], given its implications for the food security of already vulnerable populations.”

While a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise is expected by the end of the 21st century, predications by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research expect South Asia to experience a rise in temperature of 2-4 degrees C between 2046 and 2065.

“Rising temperatures, flooding rivers, melting glaciers, and other extreme weather events will greatly challenge long-term food security,” says Stacey. “Extreme weather conditions will degrade a lot of the land that is currently used for agricultural and pastoral uses.”

The IPCC reports that by the end of this century, and provided current climate change projections prove to be accurate, crop production in South Asia is expected to decrease by 30 percent — particularly rice, wheat, and maize production.

“There will be a negative impact on both food production and consumption due to climate change in South Asia,” says Stacey. “Also, this will impact the eating patterns of the people in the region in the long term.”

This is because as agricultural production declines, not only will cereal consumption patterns be affected but the price of feed will also increase, which will push the price of meat up.

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Norvergence advocates that decision-makers in South Asia work on establishing policies that prepare the countries for changing climates.

“While it is extremely important to call for the reduction of emissions, the reality that temperatures are going to continue rising to an extent cannot be ignored,” says Stacey. “It is important for governments in the region to realize this and prepare accordingly to prevent a problem going from bad to worse.”

He explained that a significant number of the changes that are to take place in the agricultural landscape in South Asia are climate adaptive in the longer run if policies are placed to mitigate the impacts.

In places where farmers have access to information about changing conditions and the resources to change their practices, they are already turning to innovative methods that are likely to be climate adaptive.

In Rajasthan, India, an NGO called Sahayog Sansthan is successfully supporting rural communities in conserving communal pastureland as well as water. And in Bangladesh, an NGO called RDRS is working with farmers to develop low-yield produce to cope with seasonal food shortages.

“The burden to adapt shouldn’t be left on farmers in South Asia and governments need to assist them in adapting to changing climate. It will not only secure their livelihoods but the food security and, consequently, stability of the countries and the region,” Stacey concludes.

Rabiya Jaffery is a freelance journalist and multimedia producer covering stories from Middle East and South Asia. She reports on climate, culture, and conflicts for regional and international publications. She tweets at @rabiyasdfghjkl