Food security though almost achieved, remains critically important for the nation’s long-term survival. Malnutrition, water shortages, low output per acre, and climate change will be major challenges ahead. The Global Food Policy 2022 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that climate change could escalate the hunger issue amongst Indians by 2030.
Challenges on the path of food security
Food security encompasses both food quality and its nutritional value. And climate change impacts across levels, from food production to cost and safety.
– Affects crop yield
High temperatures, changing precipitation levels, and extreme weather conditions such as droughts, floods, cyclones, etc. will reduce agricultural productivity.
– Causes soil erosion
Unsustainable agricultural practices lead to soil erosion, eventually leading to a drastic loss in yields. Various experts have predicted that only 30-40 years of good harvests have remained in industrialized countries. This is primarily due to shortsighted over-reliance on chemical inputs and wrong tilling techniques.
In India, by 2050, soil erosion will reduce up to 10% of crop yields, equivalent to removing millions of hectares of land from crop production. And regenerating this topsoil is a gradual process, with one centimeter being formed in 1000 years.
The way forward
– Modern fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides
India’s current per acre output is amongst the lowest in the world and there is a huge opportunity for improvement here. Adopting modern tilling techniques and the usage of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, etc. are essential to achieve this goal. Quixotic decisions to disregard their criticality can lead to disastrous outcomes as recently seen in Sri Lanka. World’s brightest minds and capable multinational corporations have discovered and formulated effective solutions that should be utilized to improve crop yields and outputs.
– The right mix
While we cannot abandon the usage of modern technologies, overuse will destroy our farms. it is important that we do not forget our traditional trove of knowledge in order to improve the topsoil quality and reduce the use of synthetic chemicals. Post-modern technologies need to be used wherever possible.
– Traditional knowledge
Indian Vruksh Ayurveda promotes the creation of jeevamrut, the traditional Indian biopesticide. Prepared with 12 ingredients including cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, etc., it boosts crop yield and even repels insects. Additionally, vermiculture, compost, etc. help reduce topsoil degradation and reliance on synthetic fertilizers.
Ancient Chinese practices can be practiced encompassing the usage of ants as effective predators of citrus pests. Even frogs and ducks can be used to reduce pests and locusts in the fields. Furthermore, crop rotation and mixed cropping can significantly help the farmers.
All these techniques will prevent over-reliance on chemical inputs. Even European Union has now mandated chemical inputs reduction by 50% by 2030.
– Postmodern technologies
Cutting-edge technologies can help reduce the use of chemical inputs. For example, herbicide usage can be significantly reduced by mechanical weed removal with the help of solar-powered and laser-aided robots.
Aquaponics, aeroponics and vertical farming (especially for urban areas) can help in reducing usage of chemicals and water along with promoting carbon emissions. We also need to learn from Israel how effectively we can reduce water consumption. Even Denmark can teach us how to increase per acre output by almost 100 folds!
– Too many middlemen in the supply chain are dangerous to the nation
Eliminating the middlemen from the food supply chain will increase remuneration to farmers and lower prices for the end consumers. It even helps us fight inflation. With higher remuneration, farmers can invest in modern fertilizers / insecticides / insecticides / herbicides – boosting per acre yield which will further increase their income creating a snowball effect. Fat margins usurped by the multiplicity of middlemen are extremely detrimental to the nation.
– Dependency on a small number of foreign corporations
The dependency on foreign players for specific seeds (resistant to chemicals like herbicides) and chemicals comes with associated risks – food price volatility (steep rise or decline in prices), unavailability of products and loss of biodiversity. Again, detrimental to national food security.
To sum up
A judicious mix of traditional knowledge, modern farming methodologies, along with postmodern emerging technologies will ensure food security in India, notwithstanding the ill effects of climate change. Reducing the number of middlemen will provide the biggest benefit by not only helping reduce inflation but will also help farmers generate higher income. It will further lead to increasing farmers’ ability to use modern technologies and improve their output per acre – which will again compound the effect.
We also need to invest in more research in crop protection and enhancement chemicals, and programs for education. The importance of the Indian crop protection and enhancement industry cannot be underestimated. The Government probably needs to recognize this industry as a critical element of national security architecture.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.