NEW DELHI: Climate change is likely to trigger a “risk of hunger” in India by affecting cereal production by as much as 18% because of floods and droughts, a UN agency has warned.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said India could lose as much as 125 million tonnes of its rainfed cereal production.
“Rainfed agriculture in marginal areas in semi-arid and sub-humid regions is mostly at risk,” an FAO statement quoted Director-General Jacques Diouf as saying.
In contrast, the industrialised countries are likely to gain in production potential, Diouf said.
“Crop yield potential is likely to increase at higher latitudes for global average temperature increases of up to 1 to 3 degree centigrade depending on the crop and then decrease beyond that,” he said.
“On the contrary, at lower latitudes, especially in the seasonally dry tropics, crop yield potential is likely to decline for even small global temperature rises, which would increase the risk of hunger,” he added.
Greater frequency of droughts and floods would affect local production negatively, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes, Diouf added.
The FAO chief said the science and technology must spearhead agricultural production in the next 30 years at a pace faster than the Green Revolution did during the past three decades.
Advocating the use of biotechnologies, Diouf said the technologies such as in-vitro culture, embryo transfer and the DNA markers can be exploited to supplement conventional breeding approaches.
This would enhance yield levels, increase input use efficiency, reduce risk and boost the nutritional quality of grains, Diouf said.
But he pointed out that most of the genetically modified (GM) crops being cultivated today were only herbicide tolerant and pest-resistant.
Development of GM crops which are resistant to climate change conditions such as drought, extreme temperatures, soil acidity and salinity -- something which poor farmers would need to defend against -- is yet a far cry.
Diouf said the scientific community today faces challenge to ensure that new biotechnologies help achieve this goal while taking care of the issues of bio-safety, socio economic and ethical concerns associated with the use of some of these technologies.
The impact of climate change on forests and on forest dependent people in India are already evident in increased incidences of forest fires and outbreaks of forest pests and diseases.
Climate change adaptation will be needed in a variety of ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems (crops, livestock and grasslands) forests and woodlands, inland waters and coastal and marine ecosystems, according to Diouf.
The FAO chief praised India’s effort towards food safety in the context of mid-day meals for school children and mother and child healthcare under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme.
However, the challenges remain, he cautioned. “The genuinely impressive success story of Indian economic growth and its emergence as a global powerhouse is also confronted with a more pessimistic picture as a large portion of the population has yet to benefit from the dynamic changes,” he noted.
India’s National Family Health Survey says 40 per cent of the country’s adults are underweight and 79% of children between three months and three years suffer from some type of anaemia.
“No state in India is free from iodine deficiency disorders and Vitamin A deficiency continues to be a public health problem among pre-school children,” Diouf said.
He termed levels of child malnutrition as “alarming” in a country with 348 million people aged under 14 years.