Rice crops of almost every variety require almost continual amounts of soil moisture, and as a drought- sensitive crop, rice can serve as a harbinger of certain climate-related trends that are poised to impact food supplies around the world. Rice feeds the planet, with wheat, corn and soybeans following close behind, and when areas known for the production of staple grains begin to feel the impact of rising temperatures, these impacts are soon reflected in other ways. Populations in these areas begin to thin as farmers and residents choose whether to stay or leave. And as populations and economies shift, cultures shift as well.
What will become of the individuals, families, and societies that depend on drought-stricken rice fields? And down the road, how will these shifts affect the larger populations that depend on what these societies produce?
If families leave drought stricken areas, where will they go and what new cultures and populations will absorb them? If they stay, how will their customs, relationships and lifestyles change in order to account for a disappearing source of income?
The area of southern India documented in this short photo essay published by The New York Times presents these questions for examination without answering any of them. Only one conclusion is clear: As farmers and their families are pushed to the brink by drought and other effects of a shifting climate, the choices they make on the path to survival will contain lessons and predictions for other cultures that may soon feel similar pressures. Their decisions and the outcome of those decisions will be felt around the world.
As we prepare for changes in global food production and distribution, we must also be prepared for cultural and economic shifts as human beings under pressure strive to adapt. Those who have been displaced will require access to vital resources like food, shelter, healthcare, and safety. Just as important, they will require justice and protection from exploitation. Let’s learn from their experience. Ideally, we can apply the lessons as stories like these become increasingly common.