Risks to global food security

Farmers discuss climate and weather changes. Photo C. Schubert (CCAFS)

Farmers discuss climate and weather changes. Photo C. Schubert (CCAFS)

This week sees the annual Chatham House conference on food security. This year’s theme is around the risks to food security that come from greater globalisation of the food system. The conference focuses/focused on the “geopolitical, supply-side and market-based threats” to the global food system, in particular generating discussion with senior policy-makers and business leaders on identifying risks and priorities for action to mitigate them in the hope of building a more resilient food system.

Many organisations aim to identify and map risks to the food industry and food security, climate change and its impact on agricultural production being a prominent one. Maplecroft, a horizon scanning, risk analytics organisation that supports global organisations in identifying, monitoring, forecasting and mitigating financial and other risks to their operations, investments and supply chains, recently published their Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas 2015, which provides risk data for 198 countries on such issues as climate change vulnerability, food security, emissions, ecosystem services, natural disasters and regulation.

In this Atlas, the most ’extreme risk’ countries in its Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) have been identified (32 in total), the factors of risk comprising such things as “physical exposure of countries, and governmental capacity to adapt to climate change over the next 30 years”.  Topping the list of countries at most extreme risk are Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea. These countries share a common characteristic – their economies are heavily dependent on agriculture both in terms of population employed by the sector and contribution to economic output of the country. Given that changing climates are already impacting food production and the UN IPCC estimates declines of up to 50% for crops such as rice, wheat and maize in some locations over the next 35 years, climate change is likely to hit these countries hard.

CoverOnly_EIU_Dupont_FOOD-SECURITY_WEBr1-233x300The Global Food Security Index, a forecasting project developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by DuPont, ccategorizes109 countries each quarter based on their food affordability, availability, and quality. The overall index dropped slightly in 2013 due to drought and falling national incomes in some developed countries but rose again in 2014. Sub-Saharan African countries are seeing the most significant improvements with Uganda having the biggest score improvement from 2013. Also on the positive, “lower spending on food as a share of household consumption in most countries and better food safety net programmes, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA), contributed to a notable increase in Affordability”.

The World Economic Forum also produce an annual report on global risks, publishing the 9h edition in 2014. Food crises are 8th on list. The full list being:

  1. Fiscal crises in key economies
  2. Structurally high unemployment/underemployment
  3. Water crises
  4. Severe income disparity
  5. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  6. Greater incidence of extreme weather events
  7. Global governance failure
  8. Food crises
  9. Failure of a major financial mechanism/institution
  10. Profound political and social instability

The report states that “to manage global risks effectively and build resilience to their impacts, better efforts are needed to understand, measure and foresee the evolution of interdependencies between risks, supplementing traditional risk-management tools with new concepts designed for uncertain environments”. In short mapping and monitoring global risks individually is no longer enough since they tend to be interdependent.

To date there have been very few attempts to map global risks in a holistic way and much depends on expert opinion. Even the risks to food security are not well documented, particularly in countries where data is hard to come by. A greater focus on system resilience, big data and collaboration may change this. For more information on the Chatham House food security conference visit here.

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