Adverse environmental factors are expected to drive up world food prices by up to 30-50 per cent in the coming decades, the latest United Nation’s Human Development Report has warned.

Food production must rise to meet the demands of growing populations, but the combined environmental effects of land degradation, water scarcity and climate change will restrict supply, the report says adding that income poverty and malnutrition could worsen if the prices of key staples rise.

The poor spend a large share of their income on staple foods, and to survive, they sacrifice nutrition and eat less. Research in India has shown that climate change could lead to a sharp drop in land productivity for some 17 per cent of farmers, particularly in cereals production, but effects on consumption would be muted, as most rural households derive their income largely from wage employment. Poor in urban areas would pay more for food as will wage earners and net consumers in rural areas.

The report also cautions that the progress in recent decades on human development was now threatened by environmental factors. The report forecasts an increase of human development index by 19 per cent in 2050 over today as a baseline scenario, which assumes limited changes in inequality, environmental threats and risks. Under the environmental challenge scenario, risks get intensified.

Forest resources also generate income through employment and sale of goods and services. Non-wood forest products – food, fuel for cooking, animal fodder and medicinal herbs and shelter also provide local communities with subsistence and marketable goods. In Arunachal Pradesh, poor households depend on community forests for basic survival and studies have found that fuel wood collection time has increased markedly in recent decades. In Kumaon, on an average, women and children travelled 1.6 hours and 1.6 km to collect wood in the early 1970s and 3-4 hours and 4.5 km in the 1990s indicating acute degradation.

“We advocate for policies that can engender sustainable production and consumption patterns that integrate environmental considerations into everyday economic decisions. Development must be decoupled from carbon emissions and the true value of ecosystem services should be incorporated in national development plans,’’ the UNDP has said.

Community involvement can be enormously empowering for poorer communities, as shown by disaster training programmes in 176 districts in the 17 most hazard-prone States in India. Extensive fieldwork in India has documented that active participation by women in community forest management significantly improved forest protection, the report says. With no community voice, women are often excluded from the benefits of common resources while bearing a disproportionate share of the costs, as in some parts of India, it says.

India has committed to reducing the green house gases (GHG) intensity of its economy by 20-25 per cent by 2020 and stands fifth in wind and is fast expanding such rural renewable as biogas and solar. Tax incentives have encouraged renewable energy investments.

Citing the use of CNG for transport, the report calls it a notable example in the intervention to reduce air pollution in New Delhi in the interests of public health. Among recent policies cited in the report are Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for its potential to contribute to climate resilient assets, empowerment of rural communities and provision of wage employment to the rural poor as also the Total Sanitation Campaign for improved sanitation, and planning for disaster risk reduction under the Disaster Management Act

Further, the report points out that globally at least 6 in 10 people experience one environmental deprivation, and 4 in 10 people experience two or more multi-dimensional poverty. Nearly 90 per cent do not use modern cooking fuels, 80 per cent lack adequate sanitation and 35 per cent lack clean drinking water.

In India, deprivations in sanitation among multi-dimensionally poor people range from 3.5 per cent in Kerala to more than 70 per cent in Bihar.