, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 195-207
Date: 01 May 2012

Natural and socio-economic factors affecting food security in the Himalayas

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Abstract

In the Himalayas, food security of communities primarily depends on local agricultural productivity and food purchasing power. Subsistence agriculture, which is forest based, constitutes the main source of rural food and livelihoods. However, due to constraints of terrain and climate, agricultural productivity is low, resulting in large food deficits and leading to a considerable proportion of the adult male population migrating from the region in search of employment and livelihoods. Remittances from the migrants and local off-farm employment contribute to community purchasing power which may be used to buy food from the open market and government controlled Public Distribution System (PDS). Depletion of natural resources, changing climatic conditions, the recent economic recession and sharply fluctuating food prices have not only decreased local food production but also reduced employment opportunities locally as well as outside the area, rendering the entire region highly vulnerable to food insecurity. This study, which was carried out in the Upper Kosi Catchment in Kumaon Himalaya, India, revealed that not only has annual agricultural productivity declined by nearly 125 Kg per ha (25 %) during the last 30 years, causing an annual food deficit of 1883 tonnes (65 %) and massive decline in per capita food production, but that local off-farm employment opportunities in different traditional rural sectors has also declined. Furthermore, the recent economic recession and the resultant job losses for migrants has decreased incoming remittances by 20 %–25 %, causing the loss of local purchasing power and posing a serious threat to food security. Those particularly affected are marginal and smallholder farmers, and landless households, which mainly include socially backward communities and families with very low incomes. It is therefore imperative that a community oriented framework for the management of land, water and forest resources is planned and implemented in this region, together with the generation of viable means of off-farm employment at the local level