Climate Change, Food Security & Nepal

Climate change has been responsible for causing colossal damage to social and economic development of the countries. Among them the developing and particularly the least developed countries are more vulnerable to climate change. One of the most visible impact of climate change in Nepal is the fast melting of the Himalayas and consequently the possible bursting of glacial lakes.

The long-term effect of melting Himalayas, the perennial source of water system for the region of South Asia will be disastrous. Immediate consequence of climate change has been the rapid loss of soil reserves which reduces the productivity of the land. Owing to this food production has gone down globally leading to higher prices in food commodities.

Higher prices are also linked to scarcity of food. Nepal has recently felt the crunch of food scarcity especially the onion, an agricultural product she has been importing from India where its production was lower than in the past. Its price had skyrocketed in Nepali market because India too experienced higher prices of onion, an item of daily consumption for the commoners in both countries.

This is how the globalized world works. When there is a price rise in one country it instantly has a chain effect on countries around the world. The serpentine queue of vehicles for petroleum products in Nepal has to be understood against the backdrop of globalization. Arab upheaval and the Libyan crisis, in particular, have negatively impacted on the flow of oil in the global market. These incidents have led to 53% price rise in petrol. This phenomenon fuels inflation in Nepal whose dependence on imported oil has been on the increase.

There is a great irony that many large producers of grain like the U.S.A., Brazil and a few European countries are diverting their agricultural production to transportation energy. At a time of growing need for food to feed 80 million additional people every year some countries are busy converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars. This is hardly reasonable though the grain exporting countries cannot be pressurized to change their production pattern.

The global population growth remains unchecked. The world population has doubled since 1970. It is estimated that present population of six billion plus will be reaching nine billion by 2050. Therefore, world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 bn. metric tons per year is growing at an accelerated rate. About a decade ago food consumption was 20 million tons per year. Available statistics show that the rate at which America is converting grain into transportation energy has grown even faster. This adds insult to injury as people in some countries are forced to skip their meals failing to afford high food prices. The news of farmers committing suicide for being unable to feed their children is not uncommon in Nepal.
There is a correlation between conversion of grain into fuel and the oil prices. The price of grain is tied to the price of oil. Arab revolution has already pushed the oil price up to $ 124 per barrel and it is feared that it may reach $150 per barrel or even more. The rising energy prices will attract countries like the U.S. and Brazil to convert higher quantities of grain into fuel. They will find it more profitable to produce the oil substitute like ethanol, a bio-fuel through grain conversion.

Brazil distills ethanol from sugarcane and ranks second in production after the U.S. The European Union’s goal of getting 10% of its transport energy from renewable, mostly bio-fuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops. This tendency is worrisome because increasing world population will require more food production to survive the civilization.

In the Foreign Policy feature Lester R. Brown reports that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature prompted by climate change farmers can expect a 10% decline in grain yields. Such relationship between temperature rise and declining production was borne out in Russia where 2010 heat wave reduced country’s grain by nearly 40%. as reported in Brown’s feature.
Climate change is already showing a drastic impact on how countries cope with reduced level of ground water which farmers tend to pump out for irrigation. As global temperature goes up it exacerbates the problem of food production by draining the aquifers. Water tables are falling and wells are starting to dry. The scenario is quite common in Nepal and more in urbanized areas like Kathmandu. Only about 15 years ago we used to pump water by digging 10-15 ft deep wells in Kathmandu whereas now no one expects to see water unless the depth is almost 100 ft.

Wang Tao, a Chinese scholar on desertification has reported that each year some 1400 sq. miles of land in Northern China turns to desert. How much of our land is becoming uninhabitable due to rapidly declining agricultural production can become an issue of serious scientific study. But it is certain that we are faced with rising population with higher demand for consumption though our production is not keeping any pace. This creates the vicious circle as food becomes scarcer and more expensive and people with low income find it harder to afford it.

As water gets depleted due to global warming the world food security deteriorates and Nepal cannot escape the evil consequences. Our food prices continue rising because of higher energy prices that add to the transportation costs. When people find it too hard to purchase their daily necessities, it is likely that there may be food riots. Maybe there is a lesson for us from the Arab revolution where people’s uprising is not only for political freedom but economic solace too. Little wonder that Egypt’s revolution has also been dubbed as Kosher (food) Revolution.

In light of above discussion one can conclude that we should not delay implementing policies that help Nepal mitigate the climate change effects and accelerate the shift to smaller families. This can contribute to redress the problem of food security.

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One Response to Climate Change, Food Security & Nepal

  1. shingha Bahadur Khadka says:

    Informative article Hira jee.

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