On March 20th, the International Food Policy Research Institute released their 2018 Global Food Policy Report highlighting the severity of climate change’s effect on food security, specifically in the region of South Asia. The report focuses on the global rise in isolationism and how it has the potential to undermine progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, fundamentally aimed at the reduction of global hunger and poverty.
According to the report, “climate change is the most pressing issue facing [South Asia], given its implications for the food security of already vulnerable populations.” Essentially, “the food systems in South Asia are at a crossroads. Increasing climatic variability, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures pose new challenges to ensuring food and nutrition security in the region.”
Countries in South Asia are especially vulnerable to climate change, and regional agriculture is increasingly subject to climate variables like temperature, precipitation, and extreme weather. India’s agricultural growth rates fluctuate greatly, and with temperatures predicted to rise by 3-4 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century, farm income losses could be severe. Beyond loss of income, decreased agricultural output per capita will impact food intake, potentially contributing to national and regional hunger.
While the recent IFPRI report calls attention to the impact of climate change in South Asia, the vulnerability of South Asia when it comes to climate change has been acknowledged in the past. According to an article published by Time in 2017, three-quarters of the South Asian population will experience by the end of the century environmental conditions considered dangerous. Currently, extreme temperatures impact around 15% of the South Asian population, a percentage that is expected to increase.
The report published by the IFPRI states “policies that encouraged globalization through more open trade, migration, and knowledge sharing have been critical to recent unprecedented reductions in hunger and poverty,” and highlights the importance of future global collaboration in dealing with food security and climate change. The report also mentions the recent rise in isolationism, such as Brexit and the United States withdrawal from both NAFTA and climate agreements, as impediments to improving global food security.
The report’s authors emphasize international trade as an important factor in improving food security: “facilitated by global agreements, trade has lowered the average cost of food worldwide…Trade barriers, on the contrary, lead to high food prices in land-scarce countries, depressed food prices in land-abundant countries and lower real income in both.”
Climate change presents a unique challenge to food security in South Asia and the rest of the world, one that the IFPRI believes can be addressed by improving food systems and overall sustainability through global cooperation. Joachim von Braun, director of the Center for Development Research, specifically suggests the establishment of an International Panel on Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture that is modeled on the International Panel on Climate Change. According to Braun, “an International Panel on Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture would mobilize the related large global research community to provide credible science-based assessments and guidance for more evidence based political decision-making.”