World Food Day: Climate risk and the food systems in India

Published: 16 Oct 2020
Author: Deepa Maggo
Type: Insight

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Indian economy, providing employment to more than half of the 1.3 billion strong population. India has come a long way since 1945 (when it became one of the founding members of the FAO) as a low-income, food deficient economy to a country that is now self- sufficient in rice and wheat, and produces large amounts of other agricultural products and milk annually. Much of the global share of food staples such as rice and wheat come from India.  

Like other economies across the globe, India’s economy has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, recording a growth rate of -24% in the April to June quarter, the first instance of an economic contraction in the country in the last four decades. The nation-wide lockdown severely affected the food supply chains especially smallholder farmers- who contribute to over 40% of the country’s overall grain production.  

A recent report by India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, revealed that while multiple sectors such as construction, manufacturing, trade, tourism were severely affected, the agriculture sector posted 3.4% growth in the April-June quarter. However, the report went on to caution that the silver lining could easily fade off as the spectre of climate change looms large in India. While COVID-19 is a major disruption, climate change and increasing temperatures is a long-term risk that poses a continuous threat to our current systems.   

This year’s World Food Day organized by FAO recognizes the need to support our ‘food heroes’, including farmers and workers who ensure the supply of food even during disruptions such as the pandemic. It is more important, now more than ever, that we drive action towards building a resilient food supply chain that can withstand further shocks such as climate change in the future.

Global warming has led to a sharp rise in the annual average temperature in India by 1.8 degrees Celsius between 1997 and 2019 which have likely caused a decline in crop yields over the years, undermining farm income. India has been witnessing more intense floods, droughts, downward shifts in average rainfall and a higher frequency of cyclones. In 2019, the country reported eight cyclones and a strong volatility in rainfall. Additionally, groundwater resources have recorded alarming rates of decline.

Approximately 61 % of India’s farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture, and 55 per cent of the gross cropped area is under rain-fed farming, and changes in the weather pattern has and will severely affect the country’s food security in the long term. A hit to the agriculture sector will undoubtedly have a negative effect on India’s overall economy.  

As countries, including India, begin to develop and implement recovery plans post COVID-19, it is an opportunity to adopt innovative solutions that can help us build and improve our food systems better and resistant to shocks. Along with government and institutions, businesses can drive action and contribute towards climate-related risks in India’s food sector. As a business-led organization, WBCSD has been working in food and nature in India through various initiatives such as:

  • Farm of the Future – which looks at technological solutions to create a sustainable farming sector sustainable in India in the next decade. It also provides platform for businesses to collaborate and address key barriers and ideas to bring these technologies to scale.
  • Sustainable Rice Landscapes Initiative – WBCSD is collaborating with FAO on landscape-based approaches to sustainability in rice and wheat in four Indian states and driving business action. The initiative will work on the sustainable production of rice, farmer-led stewardship, building market linkages both domestic and international, and conserving biodiversity.  
  • India Water Tool – Brings granular data on an open-access, easy-to-use application to inform business action on water. The next version of the tool, currently under development, will include key datasets on crop production and water productivity in agriculture thus helping identify opportunities to address inefficiencies in water-use in agriculture in India.
  • Nature-Based Solutions – that advances business action on a range of solutions to manage or restore ecosystems while simultaneously addressing major societal challenges.  Agriculture management is a major cost-effective and high-potential opportunity for Natural Climate Solutions /Nature-based Solutions in India.

On this World Food Day, let’s call for a solidarity to help all populations as we recover from the COVID-19 crisis, to make food systems more resilient and robust, that can withstand increasing climate shocks, provide a decent livelihood for food system workers, and more sustainable agriculture practices that will preserve the planet’s resources, our health and climate. As the FAO tagline for the World Food Day goes “our actions are our future”, and together we have to drive the work which shows that business is championing the agenda to successfully achieve healthy people and a healthy planet- a world where more than 9 billion people are all living well within the boundaries of our planet by 2050.

For more information on WBCSD’s Food & Nature work in India please contact: Deepa Maggo (

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