Climate change has directly or indirectly affected crop yield, nutritional quality, pest and disease infestation, pastoral productivity and livestock production due to the increased magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events (IPCC; Down to Earth, 2019). This would drastically affect an agrarian country like India on livelihoods - agriculture, fisheries and animal husbandry.
Hence the need to reduce climate change effects through interventions like water management, agricultural resilience, renewable energy, afforestation, waste management, and more.
Nexus of Waste, Climate change effects and Food Security Issues
Sanitation issues related to organic waste
One of the major issues faced by India is the large volume of waste being generated, especially organic waste. As per an estimation by the Press Information Bureau, India generates 62 million tonnes of waste every year, out of which organic waste constitutes 50 % of the total waste (epw, Vol. 53, Issue No. 16, 21 Apr, 2018). The Ministry of Urban Development had planned to convert all organic waste generated in big cities into compost or biogas, however, only a small portion of the total waste dumped is being composted, so there is still a long way to go. The organic waste disposed at a landfill will undergo anaerobic digestion generating methane gas which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide (hazardous waste expert, 2014).
Improper solid waste management affects human health in many ways. Studies have identified that the burning of garbage will lead to diseases like asthma, heart disease and emphysema, and unmanaged decomposed garbage attracts rodents, which further leads to the spread of diseases like dengue and malaria (epw, Vol. 53, Issue No. 16, 21 Apr, 2018).
However, there are positive ways to manage organic waste – producing compost and biochar, these can serve as alternatives for chemical fertilizers thereby reducing the greenhouse gas emissions produced during the production of these fertilizers. Also, organic waste can be used for biogas production through anaerobic digestion.
Climate change effects and Food security issues
According to recent projections, India's urban population is expected to have an additional 416 million urban dwellers by 2050, with regional cities expanding at a faster rate than the larger cities (DESA, 2018). A major outcome of population explosion can be hunger and malnutrition as huge populations become dependent on limited resources. This will increase the demand for food production there by putting pressure on scant resources like fresh water and chemical fertilizers.
Hence, there is a need to look for alternative sources such as farmyard manure, plant residues, etc. But these are also becoming limited due to decreased vegetations and livestock populations. Long-term application of chemical fertilizers will deteriorate the soil quality and reduces crop yields in the long run due to decreased soil organic matter. When applied in excess, they will contaminate water bodies due to runoff and ground water due to leaching, and then there will be consequent effects on human health due to high levels of nitrates and nitrites and traces of heavy metals (Sridevi, G., et.al, 2016).
Mimicking nature by putting organic waste(d)* back into the soil for agriculture
Farmers using composted organic waste for crop cultivation in Devanahalli, Bengaluru, India
As per the data on Soil fertility status by FAO, Indian soil is very low in carbon, deficient in nitrogen and low to medium in Phosphorous. Additionally, there is concern of an increasing deficiency in micronutrients. Addition of chemical fertilizers is not proportionately increasing the crop yield, but continuous application is degrading the soil.
Therefore, using organic waste in agriculture becomes an inevitable option to sustain farming and to adapt to variability of climate change effects due to the use of chemical fertilizers. This would help in addressing climate change effects and food security issues through a two-pronged approach to solve the issues of unsafe sanitation and food security. Firstly, addressing the issues of environment and public health due to unsafe sanitation through improving the sanitation situation. On the other hand, addressing food security issues through soil and moisture conservation measures, waste management through a circular economy approach and sustainable agricultural practices.
Mimicking nature by applying organic waste(d) including plant and animal residues to the soil as organic fertilizers would enhance soil fertility status and reduces the application of chemicals (synthetic fertilizers). This would benefit the farming community by reducing the cost of production and improved agricultural productivity through sustainable practices.
*Organic waste is in fact not a waste but wasted – otherwise a nutrient source for soil.
⭕️ IPCC (2007). 4th Assessment Report; The Physical Science Basis
⭕️ ur Rahman, Z., Ahmad, S., Fidel, R., Khalid, S., Ahmad, I., Humphrey, O. S., ... & Khan, B. (2021). Faecal and nitrate contamination in the groundwater of Mardan district, Pakistan. Environmental Geochemistry and Health, 1-10.
Author: Girija R, GAUC Global Youth Ambassador and student at Indian Institute of Science (IISc)
Editor: Jeffrey Tykot
The article reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily that of GAUC