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Vulnerability of food system to climate change 

   By Maryam Saeed

Agriculture, contributing 24 percent in gross domestic production, being back bone for the economy of Pakistan, 68 % of population is directly or indirectly depends on agriculture for their livelihood and 80% export are agro based. Agriculture in Pakistan is highly reliant on local climatic conditions and is highly sensitive to changes in climate condition. This sensitivity is leading to uprising pressure on the agricultural system to fulfill dynamic goals of food system that supports food security including interactions between and within the physical, chemical and biological processes and human environments lead to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food. Food systems have basic pillars food availability (production, distribution and exchange), food access (affordability, allocation and preference) and food utilization (nutritional and societal values and safety), food stability (supplies access), so food systems are stressed, a situation prevails when people lack sufficient access to safe and nutritious food. Such change may include climate change, urbanization, and globalization, unequal access to resources, conflict and incidence of diseases such as HIV & Aids.

Natural climate change and influence of anthropogenic factors (growing population, increasing industrialization, deforestation & increasing utilization of fossil fuels in industry and for transportation) change the rate of precipitation, enhance the global warming (increased Greenhouse Gases ,mainly CO2, CH4,ozone, cholorofloro carbons and N2O ), effect melting of glaciers, intensified weather changes , raised see level which directly or indirectly effect the increase in temperature , increased health risk, leads to loss of biodiversity ,water scarcity ,and decrease in crop production.

As climate extremes are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity in future, it is important to understand and learn from relevant past adaptations and indigenous knowledge. However, changes in climate variability and mean values will bring additional complications to many, especially those dependent on food systems that are particularly vulnerable to these additional stresses.

It has become clear from past famine and hazards research that the key to assessing vulnerability is to develop research frameworks which can explicitly consider the social, economic and political constraints which condition the capacity of human systems (including food systems) to cope with external stressors such as climatic change, along with the magnitude and frequency of environmental stresses imposed on the system. Vulnerability of food systems is not determined by the nature and magnitude of environmental stress but by the combination of the societal capacity to cope with, and/or recover from environmental change, coupled with the degree of exposure to stress. Food system aimed at reducing vulnerability feedback to environmental and societal changes themselves. They may, for example, reinforce agricultural practices that either reduce or exacerbate land degradation, and increase or reduce farm profitability & productivity. food systems are most vulnerable to issues related to the availability of water; excessive irrigation has led to rising water tables and soil salinization in some areas while in others water shortage has resulted in falling water tables, rapidly increasing costs of pumping and shortage of drinking water. poor farmers, who have very limited options to cope with and recover from external stresses, are most vulnerable to environmental changes such as rising sea-level, and climate change and climate variability leading to increased risk of flooding. Overall, this analysis suggests that food insecurity concerns cannot be effectively addressed by a single region-wide policy.

In order to cope up these adversities the need for adaptation in food system according to changing climatic condition is required. This adaptation involves macro strategy, sustainable and equitable developmental plan that will increase the food distribution, raise the income level, improved education, disaster preparedness, quality based health care system, more utilization and discoveries of innovative renewable sources.  Micro based strategy involves strengthening of already existing local institute and departments working to reduce the vulnerability.

Adaptations also may occur in relation to, for instance, agronomic or fisheries aspects regarding food production; or government-set prices and incomes concerning access to food; or changes in societal values concerning food utilization. Adaptations of food systems via interventions in availability, access and utilization are possible to cope with climate change at different scales although their feedback’s to the earth system have yet to be fully assessed.

(The writer is an MPhil scholar in University of the Punjab and doing research on . She can be reached at: maryamsaeed06@gmail.com)

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