Last September, India’s president signed into law the National Food Security Act, which requires selling heavily subsidized grains to 70 percent of its population.
As about 17 percent of the Indian population is undernourished, the government is now legally bound to provide 800 million people with food grains every month.
“The question is not whether we can do it or not,” said Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, in a speech given last August, when the bill was passed in the lower house of Parliament. “We have to do it.”
At the same time, according to Reuters,“it [India] is already one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world, and many of its 1.2 billion people live in areas vulnerable to hazards such as floods, cyclones and droughts.”
There is an ongoing debate in the country about whether this is the right path toward food security in India. It is partly a question about flaws in the system, where further spending on welfare programs “is reckless in an economy burdened by a weakened currency and a large fiscal deficit,” said Ashok Gulati, chairman of India’s Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, in Time magazine.
There is also a global concern regarding the act. Many members of the World Trade Organization see the Indian project as “a behemoth with the power to distort global commodity markets” and fear that protectionism and ill-conceived agricultural and trade policies will aggravate rising food prices, the Financial Times reported.
The latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report recently revealed that India is also one of the most vulnerable and exposed countries to climate change.
“All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including access to food, utilization of land and price stability,” Aromar Revi, an expert on India and lead author of the latest IPCC report, told Reuters.
India is the second-largest rice and wheat producer in the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Wheat, a stable crop around the world, is especially sensitive to rises in temperature. Warming trends in surface air temperatures due to climate change have affected these crop yields, the National Institute of Advanced Studies in India reports.
The problem has also become political, as The Times of India reports. As climate change takes its toll on the region, India finds itself increasingly in harm’s way along with its neighboring countries, and the risk of further escalation is present.
Another crucial aspect of India’s agricultural output is access to water supplies from the Himalayan glaciers. This water flows in rivers traversing many Indian regions. India Today has reported that many cities are being flooded by melting Himalayan glaciers, as vast amounts of water flow downstream.
In some parts of the region, water melting from the glaciers can act as “insurance” during drought and dry seasons but could be problematic over the long term, said Henry Vaux, professor of resource economics at the University of California, Riverside.
“Social changes will have as much impact on water use as environmental factors do on water supply,” he said.
Featured image: Women in India show their agricultural products; Source: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank under Creative Commons.