Changes in weather pattern are affecting food production globally. In South Asia, India is experiencing the driest August in a century.  This is bad news not only for the Indian people, but also for the rest of the world. For India is also the world’s second biggest producer of rice after China and the largest exporter of this food grain. More than 50 per cent of its population consume rice as the staple. Evidently, with an eye to its domestic food security, the country has gone for banning the export of all types of rice except basmati variety since July 20 this year. The Indian government’s decision is no doubt having its impact on the price of this food grains in the world market. Prices of rice and other cereals including wheat became volatile following the covid-19 pandemic.

It was not only supply chain disruption, poor harvest and other production-related issues also lay behind instability in the world food market. Then came the war in Ukraine affecting export of food grains, especially wheat, maize, barley, sunflower oil, etc. Due to uncertainties in the export of these food grains from their major growers, other countries who exported food grains also put restrictions on their exports driving up food prices globally. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in May last, 23 countries put various restrictions on food grains’ export. 

But few countries of the world are food surplus and export food items. An overwhelming number of countries are either food importers or depend on donation of food grains from international agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP) and food aid by donor countries. So, when the food grain exporting countries restrict or ban export, international food donors have to buy food from the global market at a higher price. As a result, food supply to the world’s poorest and drought-hit countries becomes problematic. 

One may recall at this point that in 2008, food prices got highly volatile across the globe. With an exception next year, the trend more or less continued in the following years through 2011 and 2012. Following the pandemic, global political uncertainties, social unrest and local-level wars have been contributing to food insecurities in the affected countries. Add to it the growing number of mouths to be fed every year. 

The world population is already 8.0 billion and it will continue to increase by one per cent every decade till 2050. Unfortunately, despite all the progress in agricultural science and technology, hunger is still the number one enemy of global population. An estimated 854 million people are undernourished globally as they cannot find adequate nutritious food. The hopes that modern agriculture generated riding on the use of chemical fertilisers, chemical pest control techniques and development of high yielding varieties of crops in the second half of the 20th century, soon gave way to frustration. The very scientific production methods that helped the so-called green revolution to take place proved also to be agriculture’s nemesis. The sustainable agricultural land-use practice that farmers across the globe developed over the millennia was suddenly disrupted by the new agricultural practice. Soil fertility drastically fell due to overuse of chemical fertilisers as well as changed land-use due to introduction of high-yielding varieties of crops. Simultaneously, with the ever-increasing pace of urbanisation, areas of farmlands began to shrink. Forestlands were also sacrificed in a similar fashion at the altar of progress, growth and urbanisation. Now in the twenty-first century, though technology, if not science, has further advanced, humanity’s basic means of sustenance has come under increasing threat. Now climate change, which is another fallout from the development of modern science and technology because the very source of energy on which modern technology has grown and still stands, is at the root of the unprecedented natural calamities. Climate change-related shifts in the seasonal patterns and behaviour of weather are affecting food production. The world population still depends on land to grow its food and unlike the various commodities modern industry produces, it has not yet been able to produce the basic commodities that humanity lives on, the food grains. So, the land, which is still the provider of food for humanity, is under threat. But this shrunken, less fertile land, which is exposed to extreme weather events like prolonged droughts, unprecedented downpours, floods, extreme heatwaves and uncontrollable forest fires, will have to feed another two billion mouths by 2050. Worse still, with development in every sphere, people’s dietary habits have also changed. They are eating more and doing so in a wasteful manner. The foods they prefer, especially by the affluent people in the developing nations and the rich countries in general require more resources to produce. For example, they now eat more meat and cereals that are grown in irrigated lands with excessive use of water. Everyone knows, fresh water is a dwindling resource globally, thanks, again, to the climate change, especially the fast-melting glaciers that feed the world’s rivers responsible for drenching lands rendering them cultivable. But people everywhere now know about these negative developments more than ever before and another product of modern technology, the social media, is playing its role in this regard vigorously. 

So, political leaders and food cartels will not miss the opportunity to use the negative developments in the production and availability of food to their own advantage. Nations that produce more food, but now feeling threatened by bad weathers, will become protective about food exports. Powerful, food-surplus nations will, as they did since time immemorial, use food as a political weapon whenever they find it expedient.  Big businesses in foodstuff are unlikely to let go the opportunity of making the most of the global food crunch.

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