Risks to food security growing, experts warn

14th August 2015

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  • Adaptation


Steve Sims

Water and environment specialists need to collaborate with experts in agriculture, science, technology and policy makers to increase the resilience of global food supply to extreme weather.

The recommendation comes in a report from a taskforce of academics, industry and policy created by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK Government Science and Innovation Network.

It found that the global food system’s vulnerability to major production problems caused by extreme weather is growing. The risk of a 1-in-100 year production shock is likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by 2040, they found.

The impact of such an event is compounded by growing demand for food - the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that by 2050, demand will increase by over 60% compared with 2005 levels.

Agriculture therefore faces a triple challenge of reversing declines in yield growth, closing the gap between actual and attainable yields in the developing world and reducing its environmental impact, the experts said.

This will require significant investment from the public and private sectors, as well as new cross-sector collaborations, the report recommends.

While greater globalisation of the food system reduces countries’ vulnerability to local production shocks, it can increase vulnerability to production shocks in distant regions. It also means the food system is more vulnerable to sudden breaks in supply chains, for example due to an outbreak of trade restrictions, the report states.

The taskforce recommends that governments, international institutions and businesses should coordinate risk management by developing contingency plans and establishing early warning systems with agreed response protocols.

Governments should also consider policies to bolster national resilience to international market shocks, it said. These could include de-risking imports by increasing the diversity of supply and investing more in domestic production.

However, the experts stress that such policies must not come at the expense of environmental sustainability, since this would reduce resilience in the longer term.

Writing in the report, Sir David King, the foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change and former UK government chief scientist, said that up to now, the global food system has been robust and extreme weather has had limited impact on a global scale. But future risks from extreme weather events are “serious and should be a cause for concern”, he wrote.

“Given the potentially huge impacts such an event could have in our increasingly interconnected world, we should be looking carefully at even very low probability situations and the likelihood of the scenarios suggested in this report are far too significant to ignore,” he wrote.


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