Down To Earth (September 1-15 2023)
Context: There is an urgent need for sustainable and resilient food systems to guarantee sustainable diets that are nutritious and aligned with the changing ecosystem and climate change.
- In 2018, some 11% of the global greenhouse gas emissions were from food the world produced; of this, the bulk of emissions (about 40%) were from enteric fermentation in the digestive systems of ruminant livestock.
- Another 26% of the agriculture-related emissions were nitrous oxide from livestock manure applied in fields or dumped.
- Synthetic fertilisers used on crops then added 13% nitrous oxide and methane emissions from rice cultivation contributed 10% of the total agriculture-related emissions.
- It’s recently been estimated that the global food system is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions—second only to the energy sector; it is the number one source of methane and biodiversity loss.
- The number of people suffering acute food insecurity increased from 135 million in 2019 to 345 million in 82 countries by June 2022, as the war in Ukraine, supply chain disruptions, and the continued economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed food prices to all-time highs.
Industrial agriculture model:
- The food is manufactured in factory farms; the size of animal holdings and the amounts of chemical inputs used to produce such food is massive, as an ownership pattern. It differs from the subsistence type of agriculture.
- In subsistence agriculture, farmers with small landholdings are engaged in growing food for their consumption or for their livelihood. It is the same for livestock — a few cattle or other animals kept in homestead farms.
- India, for instance, has the distinction of having the world’s largest livestock population which is also in the hands of very small farmers, contributing 25-50% of an individual farmer’s income
- According to the ‘2021 Third Biennial Report’ of MoEF, methane emissions from enteric fermentation add up to 8% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
Who is most affected by climate impacts on food security?
- About 80% of the global population most at risk from crop failures and hunger from climate change are in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, where farming families are disproportionately poor and vulnerable.
- A severe drought caused by an El Nino weather pattern or climate change can push millions more people into poverty.
Impact on Farmers:
- Up to a certain point, rising temperatures and CO2 can be beneficial for crops. But rising temperatures also accelerate evapotranspiration from plants and soils, and there must also be enough water for crops to thrive.
- Farmers are the first victims of climate change impacts. In our world, it is a multifold crisis that threatens their very survival.
- The increasing cost of agricultural inputs and the lack of public infrastructure, including for irrigation, hits their livelihood.
- Increasing food costs are unaffordable to most consumers and governments step in to import food from intensive farming systems that are also invariably subsidised.
- Farmers are being hit repeatedly by extreme weather events; their crops are lost to floods, droughts, pest attacks and unseasonal cold and heat.
What could be possible solutions?
- It’s possible to reduce emissions and become more resilient, but doing so often requires major social, economic, and technological change.
- Use water more efficiently and effectively, combined with policies to manage demand.
- It includes better management of water demand as well as the use of advanced water accounting systems and technologies to assess the amount of water available, including soil moisture sensors and satellite evapotranspiration measurements.
- Switch to less water-intensive crops, like rice farmers could switch to crops that require less water such as maize or legumes.
- Improving soil health by increasing organic carbon in soil that helps and allows water plants to access water more readily, increasing resilience to drought.
- Nature-based solutions to environmental challenges that could deliver 37% of climate change mitigation.
- More than 40% of the Earth’s land is now used for agriculture, making agricultural systems the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. The food industry contributes up to 30% to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and 70% to freshwater use.
- The urgency of addressing these pressing issues through the transformation of food production and distribution systems that harmonise environmental, social, and economic dimensions is imperative.
- India’s decision to temporarily ban export of non-basmati white rice threatens the global food supply system.
- The supply chain is threatened by the Russia - Ukraine war as well as the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Initiative that enabled movement of foodgrains from the conflict-ridden countries.
- Non-Basmati White Rice constitutes about 25% of total rice exported from the country. The prohibition on export of Non-Basmati White Rice will lead to lowering of prices for the consumers in the country.
- Last year, India exported 22 million tonnes of rice to 140 countries. Of this, six million tonnes was the relatively cheaper Indica white rice. (The estimated global trade in rice was 56 million tonnes.)
Rice and India’s Export:
- India is the world's top rice exporter, accounting for some 40% of the global trade in the cereal. (Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and the US are the other top exporters).
- Among the major buyers of rice are China, the Philippines and Nigeria.
- There are ‘swing buyers’ like Indonesia and Bangladesh who step up imports when they have domestic supply shortages.
- Consumption of rice is high and growing in Africa. In countries like Cuba and Panama it is the main source of energy.
Impact of the ban:
- Malaysia is most vulnerable to the impact of the ban, along with Singapore — which is now seeking from India an exemption to the export prohibition.
- Vietnam and Thailand have raised rice prices anticipating supply shocks.
- Countries of Africa and West Asia are highly dependent on rice imports.
- The UAE, which imports from both India and Thailand, has announced its own ban on the exports and re-exports of rice for four months.
- However, there is no change in Export policy of Non Basmati Rice and Basmati Rice, which form the Bulk of Rice exports.
- This will ensure that the farmers continue to get the benefit of remunerative prices in the international market.
- Food inflation is likely to remain above 6% for a longer period.
- High inflation is due to the ongoing price rise in vegetables, foodgrains and pulses that are expected to continue rising in the near future.
- Usually, progress of the monsoon moderates food inflation, which ultimately cools the retail inflation.
Reasons for food inflation:
- Usually, a normal monsoon means good production and thus moderate prices at the retail level, and conversely, a deficit monsoon means less production thus high retail food prices.
- The ‘normal’ monsoon of this year has been disrupted so much that there have been widespread crop losses. Cumulatively, such weather events destroy crops to the extent that the usual supply chain is disrupted and this even results in scarcity.
- So, the monsoon as a unitary weather phenomenon is no longer a valid indicator for food prices because its progress and distribution have changed completely.
Impact of Erratic Monsoon:
- The southwest monsoon has entered its last month and is within the ‘normal’ range (as defined by the IMD), with a deficit of 7% from normal rainfall, having erratic and uneven rainfall.
- In July, the consumer food price index rose by 11.51 %, the highest since October 2020, resulting in the consumer price index rising by 7.44% in July.
- In August, economists and agencies are forecasting that food prices will continue to rise at a higher rate than expected.
- In each of the last four normal monsoon years (2019-22), foodgrain production has been bumper or record-breaking. But consumer food price inflation has been above 6% in three of these years (barring 2021-22).
Loss associated with erratic monsoonal rainfall:
- Extreme weather events destroying onion crops in a major state like Maharashtra have added to the food inflation. Tomato crops too were ravaged by unusual weather events leading to the unprecedented price rise in July.
- In 2016-21, extreme events such as cyclones, floods, flash floods and landslides caused damage to crops in over 36 million hectares, a US $3.75 billion-loss for farmers in the country.
- The loss of production in such large areas will ultimately lead to a demand-supply crisis even in a normal monsoon year.
- The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India found irregularities and corruption in Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, a flagship health insurance scheme for the poor.
- CAG tabled a report in Parliament highlighting gross irregularities in the Centre’s flagship universal health coverage scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY).
- From fake beneficiary accounts to the empanelment of ill-equipped hospitals, the country’s nodal auditing agency found many challenges with the implementation of the scheme.
Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY):
What are the irregularities highlighted by CAG?
- The National Health Authority (NHA) has used the SECC database of 2011 which was more than seven years old at the time of inception of the scheme, since then, it cannot be denied that many households may have become ineligible for inclusion while others may have become eligible for the SECC under the existing criteria.
- Owing to the poor quality of the database, CAG could not trace 30 % of the beneficiaries.
- The beneficiary list also includes 110,000 government pensioners and their family members who cumulatively availed treatment worth 28.87 crore under the scheme.
- The main aim of PMJAY is to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure, but the audit observed patients to pay for their treatment despite the coverage, and found the scheme wasted 6.97 crore treating 3,446 patients who were already dead, as per the government records.
- The scheme guidelines state that SHAs must send an sms notification to registered mobile numbers to check for their eligibility at the time of hospitalisation for verification purpose.
- 0.98 million beneficiaries registered against dummy mobile numbers like 9999999999, 8888888888, and 9000000000.
- Adequate arrangements for round-the-clock support systems such as pharmacy, blood bank, laboratory, dialysis unit, post-operative ICU care and others like appropriate fire-safety measures, or waste management support services or standard treatment practices as mandated by NHA are not available in the hospitals.
- Hospital availability for every 100,000 beneficiaries remained low in Rajasthan (3.8 hospitals per 100,000 beneficiaries), Assam (3.4) Dadra Nagar Haveli-Daman Diu (3.6) and Uttar Pradesh (5).
Solution: India must realign its health priorities:
- The objective of any health insurance scheme is to provide cashless treatment to the needy. Instead of obsessing over health insurance schemes, the country must focus on strengthening the public healthcare system, instead of focusing on issuing insurance cards.
- Indians pay almost 70% of their medical bills. Of this, 63% is for doctor consultations and only the remaining 37% is for hospitalisations, which is covered by insurance schemes. If the country strengthens its public healthcare system, then even the 63% medical expenditures on doctor consultations can be brought down to zero.
- This is exactly what Thailand has done. The entire population goes to public hospitals for all primary and secondary care. The country has a health insurance scheme only for tertiary care, which is not provided by public hospitals.
- Maharashtra and Gujarat are seeing an increase in human-leopard conflicts and have proposed sterilisation programmes for the animal.
- If the sterilisation programmes are permitted, Maharashtra will be the first state to engage in sustainable management of population for leopards.
- Indian leopard (Panthera Pardus Fusca) is classified as ‘endangered’ under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the Appendix I category animal under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- As per the latest national leopard census, ‘Status of Leopards, Co-predators and Megaherbivores-2018’, Maharashtra has 1,690 leopards. This is the fourth highest after Madhya Pradesh (3,421 leopards), Gujarat (2,274) and Karnataka (1,783).
- People have largely switched to water - intensive crops like sugarcane, pomegranate and grapes, which offers dense vegetation for the elusive leopards.
Is coexistence possible?
- Leopard-human conflicts cannot be effectively reduced without focus on conserving the animal's natural habitat.
- The carnivore's small size means it does not demand much food, and hence it can survive on smaller-sized prey, making it supremely adaptive to almost any kind of habitat that makes conflict inevitable.
- Across the world, such situations of conflict are mitigated through various methods, including lethal (culling) and non-lethal (deterrent) approaches. Most lethal methods are controversial and unacceptable in countries like India.
- Hence sterilisation is seen as one of the most humane and ethical methods of controlling populations. This is what Maharashtra is now mulling to adopt.
- Hybrid seeds are becoming increasingly popular, and multinational firms’ tool to monopolise agri markets.
- Traditional varieties of seeds suited to grow in their native climes usually harvests 10 tonnes of rice from his 1.5-hectare farmland. But in 2022, the yield was just 1.9 tonnes.
- Most of the crop was dwarfed due to a Fiji virus infection.
- Over the decades, the popularity of hybrid seeds has been increasing among farmers in India.
- Hybrid varieties get ready for harvest quickly as compared to traditional varieties or the open pollinated variety seeds.
- The quicker harvest quality of hybrid seeds gives farmers a window to sow short-duration crops, such as potato, between two crop cycles.
- The origin of hybrids can be traced to India's Green Revolution in the 1960s, when the government's effort was primarily to increase agricultural productivity. For this, the National Seed Corporation was set up to develop, store and distribute high yield variety seeds.
- Till the 1980s, the public sector had a firm control on the seed market and supplied open pollinated variety seeds to farmers.
- Towards the end of the decade, the government allowed development and distribution of hybrid varieties by private players. This trend has continued, but poses a threat to the country's crop diversity and the traditional varieties that are more suited to the local climates.
Findings of government report:
- The 25th report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, tabled in the Lok Sabha in 2021 found an increase in the share of private companies in India's seed market.
- A report by Indian Council of Food and Agriculture, 2019 said that the country's seed market reached a value of US $4.1 billion in 2018, registering a growth rate of 15.7% in 2011-18, and is expected to grow at 13.6 % in 2019-24, reaching a value of US $9.1 billion by 2024.
What are the issues related to hybrid seeds?
- Unlike traditional or open pollinated variety seeds, hybrid seeds are quite sensitive to temperature and rain. For instance, a hybrid variety of paddy requires rainfall within 15-20 of sowing.
- Hike in prices of seeds when the demand rises with no seed bank, supported by the government, and multinational firms pay private shops higher commissions to encourage farmers to buy and try hybrid varieties.
- Use of hybrid seeds can also damage the diversity of crops over the years, resulting in a decline of traditional varieties that are suited to the climes of their native place.
- The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001, has already changed community ownership of seeds to individual, which favours seed breeders and developers.
- The way multinational companies are pushing for hybrids the day is not far when the market will only have hybrid seeds.
- Rain Water Harvesting techniques as part of the conservation efforts in Rajasthan.
- As per the Indian Water Resources Information portal under the Central Water Commission, western Rajasthan had received over 70% of its annual rain and by August, the entire state stood second in the country in terms of excess rainfall received.
- Western Rajasthan is one of the driest parts of the country and it has been experiencing more wet days in recent years.
- The excess water is utilised by tens of thousands of traditional water harvesting structures.
Usage of harvested rainwater:
- Agriculture is experiencing a boom, with massive fallow areas under cultivation. In many desert villages, farmers have made preparations for a second crop in the coming winter season.
- The harvested rainwater will be enough to irrigate 60% of the total cultivable land in west Rajasthan.
- The maximum irrigation potential exists in Pali, where the harvested water can be used to irrigate almost five times the existing land under cultivation.