Down To Earth(October 1 - 15)
1. FOOD PRODUCTION AND AGRICULTURE
Reforms at a Glance in Food Production
- The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in November in Glasgow, Scotland, is expected to take up the food and agriculture systems from the perspective of climate change.
- On December 7-8, 2021, Japan will host the Nutrition for Growth (n4g) Summit that will focus on improving nutrition within global food systems. The UN Food Systems Summit this year provides the context to these events to take up reforms in the food systems.
- In 2020, some 2.37 billion people, or a third of the world’s population, could not access adequate food.
- Intense agriculture, processing and delivering food produce account for 25% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
- The UN Food Systems Summit on September 23 aimed to build a consensus on altering our food production systems to reduce the sector’s huge emissions without cutting down funding.
- This system of food production and consumption comes with a heavy toll on the planet’s health. As per Living Planet Report 2020 by World Wide Fund for Nature, a Switzerland-based international non-profit, earmarking increasingly more land for agriculture to produce more has caused 70 per cent of global biodiversity loss and 50 percent of all tree cover.
- The hidden cost of the contemporary food systems to the environment and public health is humongous: $ 12 trillion per year which is expected to rise to $16 trillion by 2050. Over 50 percent of this “hidden costs” is due to the impacts of obesity, under-nutrition and pollution.
- A Multi-Billion-Dollar Opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems—a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (fao), the UN Development Programme (undp) and the UN Environment Programme identifies governments’ support system for farmers and agriculture as first target for reform.
- Currently, countries pump in $540 billion a year as support to farmers. This is expected to triple by 2030 to $1.759 trillion.
- “Yet 87 percent of this support, approximately $470 billion, is price distorting and environmentally and socially harmful,” the report says.
- Of the total support, $294 billion is paid in the form of price incentives and around $245 billion as fiscal subsidies to farmers. Most of the support and incentives are tied to the production of a specific commodity.
- The report has three conclusions that make the food systems so detrimental to the planet and its people, and also fail to achieve the objective of making healthy food available to all, adequately. First, most of the support is targeted at a few commodities and does not benefit all farmers. Second, the support is for the most emission-intensive sectors like sugar and beef production. Third, the current support systems invariably help corporate more than producers.
- To meet the Paris Agreement goals, high-income countries needed to shift their massive support to the outsized meat and dairy industry that accounted for 14.5 percent of global ghg emissions in 2020, says the UN report. Similarly, for low income countries, the report suggested, governments must reconsider the support to chemical pesticides and fertilisers and also to discourage monoculture.
- To kick start the reforms, the UN has a six-step recommendation. For governments, it suggests: measuring the support provided; understanding its positive and negative impacts; identifying repurposing options; forecasting their impacts; refining the proposed strategy and detailing its implementation plan; and, finally, monitoring the implemented strategy.
Organic Farming in Sri Lanka:
- On August 30, the Sri Lankan President declared an economic emergency. Sri Lanka is under a pandemic-induced economic crisis, with a rising foreign debt, depleted foreign exchange reserves and a devaluing currency.
- Media reports have linked the food shortage and economic crisis to a government decision earlier this year. In April, the President announced that only organic farming would be allowed in Sri Lanka, aiming to become the first country to do so.
- Before the president’s announcement, the government’s National Agriculture Policy 2021 planned to increase organic fertiliser use in Sri Lanka from 1 per cent to 30 percent within three years.
- Only 2.8 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total agricultural land is organic, as per “World of Organic Agriculture 2020”, published by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement. About 27% of Sri Lanka’s economically active population is involved in farming.
- A smooth transition from chemical-based farming to organic or natural farming needs a well-thought plan. Sri Lanka lacks a roadmap and transition plan, and it seems that the decision to shift to organic farming has been taken under economic compulsion.
The Kerala Paradox
- The latest national serosurvey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in June-July 2021, shows only 44.6 per cent of the people in Kerala have developed antibodies against the virus, sars-cov-2, which is the lowest in the country.
- The covid-19 Genome Surveillance portal, which is run by independent researchers based on data from INSACOG and other sequencing initiatives by states, suggests that Kerala does not have a new variant so far.
- Kerala protected almost 90 percent of its population during the first wave, leaving them vulnerable to the more virulent variants like delta.
- The death rate has been among the lowest in the country despite the fact that the state has a high number of old people with comorbidities.
- Kerala Government steps to stop the spreading:
- The government introduced a four tier-based system where lockdowns with different intensities were implemented in high risk regions identified on the basis of the test positivity rates.
- The state implemented a triple lockdown system in wards with more than 10 cases per 1,000 people. The first is the general containment strategy to keep the overall movement of the population to the minimum, the second is high surveillance in clusters where primary and secondary contacts of the infected persons are staying in quarantine and the third involves focused intervention on the households of the infected persons and well as those of their primary and secondary contacts.
- Kerala decentralised its vaccination drive on August 11 for better reach.
Pursuit of a Cure
- US-based research centre Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), projected that “significant transmission will continue to happen even after the end of 2022”, with 10 million infections and 28,000 deaths expected each day.
- ACT-A or Access to covid-19 Tools accelerator is a platform developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to aid virus research; it’s “A” arm deals with therapeutics.
- One treatment that has caught physicians’ attention comprises proteins called “mono-clonal antibodies” (mAbs). In this, naturally occurring antibodies in humans are engineered in a laboratory and given as injectables at very early stages of infection. In India, Bengaluru-based pharmaceutical firm Biocon markets the mAb drug Itolizumab, which costs around Rs 60,000.
- Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral initially developed for the treatment of Ebola virus, is being widely used against sars-cov-2.
- Corticosteroids were the first class of medicines to be approved by who for covid-19 treatment as early as September 2020. They do not act against the virus but come into play when a patient turns hypoxic, a condition in which oxygen supply to tissues is reduced due to an overactive immune system.
- While rich countries in Europe and elsewhere have immunised more than 70 percent of their population, 52 of the poorest places, predominantly in Africa, have barely covered 3.5 per cent of their people.
3. WATER SCARCITY AND ITS EFFECT
- Water scarcity could soon become the next main cause for mass internal migrations across the world, reminiscent of the earliest movement of people from East Africa 400,000 years ago. But the pattern this time will be different, with a disproportionate impact on the poor, low-skilled workers.
- The availability of water has always been the single biggest driver of migration. A report by the World Bank in August 2021 assembles the largest data set on internal migration from 1960 to 2015, and finds that the absence of water has a greater impact on migration than the abundance of water. In fact, situations like droughts result in five times as much migration as excess conditions like floods do.
- Some 33 countries across the world, including most of those in South and Central Asia, are at risk of facing extremely high water stress by 2040.
- The World Bank analysis, published as a two-part report “Ebb and Flow”, finds that water deficits are linked to a 10 per cent rise in internal migration between 1970 and 2000. As climate change accelerates rainfall variability, droughts may affect 700 million people by the end of the century, fuelling migration.
- Migrants who leave regions with lower rainfall and frequent droughts usually possess lower educational levels and skills than other migrant workers, implying significantly lower wages and less access to basic services at their destination. At the same time, cities that receive the influx of migrants are likely to face an increasing number of day-zero events, where they risk running out of water. “Ebb and Flow” reports suggest that the demand for water in 2050 will be 80 per cent higher than today’s.
- Chhattisgarh villages reuse domestic waste water to grow crops at home, attain food security amid COVID.
- Residents of three villages in Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district use a C-trap and a silt chamber to remove impurities from wastewater for use in their kitchen gardens.
- Water flows through the C-trap and gets stored in the concrete box, where the impurities settle at the bottom and the foam and grease layer floats up. While the silt chamber is constructed in a way so that water automatically flows out through gravity, the outlet pipe is placed 15 cm below the chamber cover to ensure that the grease layer does not escape into the garden.
- Eucalyptus is an alien species first introduced to the country in 1790 by Tipu Sultan, ruler of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore.
- Almost two centuries later, in the 1970s, the forest department decided to reintroduce the species for its perceived use as firewood and timber.
- It soon became a popular raw material for the paper and pulp industry and a source of fuel for small-scale industries like brick kilns, potteries and lime production. It is also in demand from the construction industry to be used as poles.
- Side Effects of the Eucalyptus Plantation:
- It is a water-guzzling and nutrient-depleting crop. A five-year-old eucalyptus tree can absorb 785 litres of water per kg of its biomass—this is double the water consumed by ragi.
- Eucalyptus has an allelopathic effect. Its roots and leaves exude toxic chemicals (plant hormones) that restrict the generation of undergrowth species like grasses, herbs and shrubs. No other crop can grow in eucalyptus plantations after a few years.
- The plants are vulnerable to wildfires because of the oil and resin they secrete. This was evident during the 2020 Australian bushfires. The plant is thus often referred to as “ecological terrorist”.
- Commercial push for eucalyptus plantations in Odisha puts both biodiversity and people at risk.
- This trend has two broad impacts on the region’s ecosystem as well as the tribal communities, who are mostly small or marginal cultivators.
- The plantations threaten the fragile ecology of these districts, which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2002 declared as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems and biodiversity hotspots.
- Companies are promoting eucalyptus as an intercrop, to be grown along with staple crops such as black gram and millets. In reality, eucalyptus not only guzzles a major share of the water and nutrients available for other crops, it also requires a lot of care in terms of regular pruning. Due to this, farmers end up neglecting the other crops grown on their fields.
- A survey of eucalyptus farmers in Rayagada, Koraput and Nabarangpur districts by local non-profits shows that over 90 percent of the plantations now only grow this species (with no other seasonal farming practices). This threatens the food availability and sovereignty of these regions where most are subsistence farmers.
- The local farmers, who are lured into plantation deals with the promise of easy money from their “degraded lands”, often end up putting in unpaid labour.
- What should be done?
- It is essential that the relevant departments immediately ban the introduction of new species to these parts of Odisha.
- There is a need to promote regenerative agriculture based on ecological principles. This will help the tribal farmers improve traditional agricultural systems and practices, which stood the test of time and are climate resilient. They can create nature reserves and initiate education tours to spread awareness about local agroecology, biodiversity and culture.
- True reclamation can happen only when native species are re-established in the region. For this, the people must focus on native species that not only help the environment but also boost people’s income. Bamboo is one such option. It is adaptive to many soil types. While people can grow it as a non-timber forest produce, industry can use it as raw material for paper and pulp.
1. A smooth transition from chemical-based farming to organic or natural farming needs a well-thought plan. Explain.
2. Why the celebrated Kerala model failed during the COvid-19 second wave and how despite the high caseload, the death rate remains low?
3. What would be the effect of water scarcity on internal migration?
4. Commercial push for eucalyptus plantations in Odisha puts both biodiversity and people at risk. What are the main reasons for such risk?
1. Sikkim is the first ‘Organic State’ in India. What are the ecological and economical benefits of Organic State? (GS:3- 2018)
2. What are the reasons for poor acceptance of cost effective small processing units? How will the food processing unit be helpful to uplift the socio-economic status of poor farmers? (GS:3- 2017)
3. Covid-19 pandemic accelerated class inequalities and poverty in India. Comment. (GS:1- 2020)
4. Critically examine the role of WHO in providing global health security during the covid-19 pandemic. (GS:2- 2020)