Ozone pollution cut to boost food welfare - GulfToday

Ozone pollution cut to boost food welfare

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.


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A recent study, involving researchers at the University of York and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, has found that removing ozone pollution across India could boost food welfare benefits by more than four billion dollars a year through avoidance of wheat yield losses of approximately 14%, according to the University’s news report on its website.

Researchers focussed on wheat, as it is a staple crop that finds a place in Indian meals in one form or another. The study used modelling to assess the effect of such a clean-up on Indian wheat production and distribution. Using a unique combination of crop yield and economic models, they show that just the right policy is needed to reap the rewards of such a change. The study took place in India because the country’s government uniquely procures and distributes wheat in an attempt to both support farmer’s livelihoods and achieve food security – especially for the country’s poorest people.

To explore the effects of air pollution mitigation on different stakeholders, the researchers simulated several policy scenarios, investigating what would happen to, for example, the income of farmers, the wellbeing of citizens and government budgets as the price of wheat decreased with the improvement in air quality.

Using a unique combination of crop yield and economic models, researchers found that by getting rid of ozone from the air, India’s wheat yield could soar by up to 14% and boost food welfare benefits by over four billion dollars per year! Furthermore, the surge in wheat supply could also drive down food prices by a staggering 43%.

However, they say the decrease in the price of food resulting from these increased yields would see both winners (consumers and government) and losers (farmers) which would require careful management of food welfare policy to equitably distribute benefits. While this can quickly improve crop yields, decreases in food prices by 43% could lead to subsequent reductions in the welfare of farmers. By contrast, consumers would benefit from access to more affordable food as would the government through lower costs of food welfare programmes. Overall, the food welfare benefits are substantial, but policies would need to be devised that allow these benefits to be realised across the various stakeholders.

In the news release, Professor Lisa Emberson, from the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography said it was clear that mitigation of air pollution caused by ozone would provide substantial benefits overall, but that food welfare policy would need to be carefully managed to ensure all Indian citizens reap the benefits. She also said, “Governments need to examine food welfare policy very carefully as policy needs to be adjusted on an ongoing basis to provide targeted and effective support to ensure that everyone benefits from increased wheat supply and lower prices.” Dr Divya Pandey, lead author on the study from the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research in Germany, is also quoted and says, “If the government would react by fixing the amount they spend on wheat or the amount they bought, the price would then drop, hurting farmers. If the government instead fixed the price of wheat, committing to buy from farmers at that price, they would be protected from the economic loss. But, in that case, citizens do not benefit from the increased production.” Dr Cremandes, a co-author of the research, adds, “Policy makers will have to carefully tweak welfare and other policies to continue to support both producers and consumers, while also benefiting from the increased supply and lower prices.” However, during the course of another study, researchers from the University of York have also discovered that reducing particle pollution is actually increasing surface ozone pollution in some emerging economies, negatively impacting health, ecosystems and agriculture. The findings, published in Nature Geoscience, challenge established methods for tackling air pollution.

Surface ozone is the main component of ‘smog’ and is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). The study modelled the effects of reducing particle pollution and found that it could cause an increase in ozone of 20-30% in some highly populated areas of India and China. If left unmanaged, this would have a significant negative impact on ecosystems and crop yield. The researchers are calling for new strategies that take this interaction between pollutants into account. The problem can be overcome by targeting reductions in a wider range of pollutants, particularly VOCs from chemicals and fuels and NOx from combustion.

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