Climate Change, Food Security & Intersectionality | World Environment Day 2022

Climate change is driving the world towards an unprecedented food crisis – the impact of climate change manifests in the form of loss of rural livelihoods, degradation of ecosystems, breakdown of food systems, and, at a broader level, negative effects on trade flows, food markets and price stability and new risks for human health (FAO). Extreme and unpredictable weather events as well as slow degradation of natural resources over time, have led to rising food insecurity, especially for vulnerable groups such as smallholder farmers, women and indigenous peoples. Due to their gender/caste/tribal identity, these groups are denied access to productive resources such as land, labour and capital, and climate change exacerbates their food insecurity. The livelihoods of these groups are closely tied with the environment, and migration to cities in search of more stable jobs and income is not always an option available to women and indigenous peoples. This June, on the occasion of World Environment Day, we have curated 5 reads that illuminate the climate-driven food crisis in India and abroad, as well as local and policy-level adaptation strategies.

1. As Forests Degrade and Livelihoods Change, What Do India’s Adivasis Eat? (2020)

In this blog post, Tata-Cornell Institute scholar Amrutha Jose Pampackal recounts her experiences speaking with members of tribal communities in Odisha, India, about how deforestation and remittances from migrant workers are impacting their diets. When vegetables in the market are unaffordable and the vegetables in their own plots are not yet ready, the forest acts as an important source of nutritious food for the Adivasi residents of Thuamul Rampur. And yet, the area’s dense natural forests, once rich with biodiversity, have been rapidly degrading due to the construction of dams, increased mining, the rise of invasive eucalyptus plantations, unsustainable agricultural practices, and afforestation programs that promote monoculture.

2. Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India (2018).

Although there is increasing scholarly work to explore gendered impacts of climate change adaptation policies, few studies are grounded in the lived experiences of poor women farmers. This chapter from the book Environmental Communication Among Minority Populations attempts to understand local gendered impacts of climate change adaptation policies by foregrounding the voices of Dalit women farmers from low-income households in a semi-arid region in south India. A collaborative culture-centred approach of dialogue shows that the dominant narratives of technology fixes to adapt to climate change negatively affect the adaptation strategies these women farmers already practice. The authors suggest that local gendered practices and processes of adaptation to climate change provide a vital alternative narrative to the technology-driven adaptation literature that paradoxically reifies the hegemony of technological determinism at the heart of climate change processes.

3. Gender Differences in Climate Change Risk, Food Security, and Adaptation: A Study of Rural Households’ Reliance on Agriculture and Natural Resources to Sustain Livelihoods (2015).

This study examines gender-food-climate connections using longitudinal data from rural households in north-eastern South Africa. Results confirm gender distinctions in that male-headed households are more food secure i.e. female-headed households have lower per capita consumption and are more food insecure. Participation of male-headed households in labour activities and the fact that males have more education have large contributory effects on this consumption gap. Importantly, however, the study finds that female-headed households are not a homogenous group. Participation in agriculture and utilisation of natural resources narrows the male-female consumption gap to 10.3% amongst female-headed households with female heads who are single, widowed, divorced, or separated. Yet, these land-based practices are associated with a greater male-female gap (27.4%) amongst female-headed households led by females who are married, but whose husbands are away.

4. How Climate Change Is Impacting India’s Food Security (2022).

This article draws from the findings of the Global Food Policy Report 2022 as well as reports by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Science and Culture, to highlight India’s impending food crisis caused by climate change. In light of the recent heatwave, wheat prices in the country have risen and wheat exports have been banned. Unseasonal rainfall has also affected potato production. Battered by multiple cyclonic storms, the farmlands of Sundarbans have been inundated by seawater. Given the interconnectedness of the food system, climate change has a ripple effect – due to drought and heatwave, farmers overuse fertilizers and pest controls, leading to a rapid acceleration in groundwater depletion, which increases cost of production and also damages food quality.

5. Food Security and Climate Change: Differences in Impacts and Adaptation Strategies for Rural Communities in the Global South and North (2022).

This comparative study highlights the mismatch between food security and climate adaptation literature and practice in the Global North and South by focusing on nested case studies in rural India and the United States. Rural communities are paradoxically sites of both food production and food insecurity for both the Global North and the Global South. The modernized community food systems in the Global North, dominated by grocery stores for food retail, are largely disconnected from local food production. As a result, food security is a determinant of financial and social capital to access food—food in itself is available abundantly if you can afford it. On the other hand, traditionally oriented food systems of the Global South with a heavy reliance on traditional markets that depend on deliveries from local farmers are tightly woven and interconnected to the fortunes of small and marginal farmers. Small and marginal farmers are also the most climate vulnerable and if they are adversely affected, so is food security for everyone downstream in the food system. Therefore, in developing countries, where a majority of individuals living in rural areas are smallholder subsistence farmers, emphasis on agricultural production will benefit the majority of the population in terms of both poverty alleviation and food production. In the Global North, an emphasis on food access and availability is necessary because rural food insecure populations are often disconnected from food production.