Global Food Security

November 27, 2013

Research published in Science has highlighted the potentially deleterious effects of climate change on global food security. As defined by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, food security has a number of components.  These include food availability, access and utilization as well as the overall stability of the food system.  These effects are likely to interrupt global progress being made towards reducing the proportion of the world’s undernourished populations.  This is likely to severely affect the lives of the 2 billion people around the world currently considered food insecure. 

The authors review the best available science to elucidate how climate change might affect global food security.  Uncertainty and research gaps include the fact that previous research indicated that higher concentrations of CO2 can enhance crop yield, while more recent observational studies have suggested that this effect might be smaller than previously suggested.  Despite these uncertainties, it is clear that agriculture is innately affected by climate variability and change.  The effects of climate change are likely to be significant for food and fodder production, livestock health and the global trade of foodstuffs.  For instance, the authors highlight a recent systematic review of changes in crop yield across Africa and South Asia by Knox et al. (2013) indicating that crop yields in those areas might decline by 8% by the 2050s.  This could be a serious problem particularly for regions of Africa with high population growth rates that rely heavily on subsistence agriculture. 

The authors conclude that it is likely that climate-related effects will vary substantially by region exacerbating food inequalities with crop yields declining the most in tropical areas that currently have a high burden of hunger.  Furthermore, collateral effects on household incomes will likely affect access to and utilization of food.  Climate change is also likely to affect food market volatility because small supply or demand side shocks can have large impacts on food prices.  Those communities that are vulnerable to extreme weather events will likely become even more vulnerable in the future.  Finally, the authors emphasize the need for immediate adaptive measures to avert the most severe consequences of global food insecurity.  In particular they believe the world needs to adapt “climate-smart agriculture”  ( which might be achieved through technology improvements and climate smart food systems (…) that address all aspect of food security. 

Wheeler, Tim, and Joachim von Braun. “Climate change impacts on global food security.” Science 341.6145 (2013): 508-513.

Knox, J., Hess, T., Daccache, A., & Wheeler, T. (2012). Climate change impacts on crop productivity in Africa and South Asia. Environmental Research Letters, 7(3), 034032.