Climate Change Impacts on Global Food Security

by Duane Nichols on August 20, 2013

Climate Change Impacts on Global Food Security

Review by S. Tom Bond, Ph.D., Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV, August 20, 2013

FrackCheckWV has referred its readers to the recent issue of Science which has over 50 pages of articles on the changes in natural systems in changing climates.  Being both a farmer and someone who enjoys a good meal encourages me to think about what future possibilities would be.  Food security, the ability of individuals to secure enough of the right kinds of food to sustain them, is also a very important political consideration.  This article is a condensation of “Climate Change Impacts on Global Food Security, appearing on page 508 of the August 2, 2013 issue of Science.

Food security has four factors.  The first is production of sufficient quantities of the right kinds of food.  Each human needs not only energy, but protein and other nutrients.  The second is access.  There must be transportation and distribution to reach the individual, and in some cases this doesn’t exist.  In urban settings it has to be paid for, so the individual must have sufficient  steady income. Third, there must be adequate utilization – facilities to prepare the food, including cooking and clean water for sanitation that are needed so physiological needs can be met.  The fourth is stability of supply, so that an individual can have adequate food at all times. 

Production, access, facilities to prepare and year-round supply.  All are needed by every individual if they are to survive.

It is estimated that  the undernourished in terms of calories has been reduced from 980 million to 850 million in the two decades from 1992 to 2010-12, but judging from under-weight, stunted-growth and health surveys, 2 billion people still suffer from micro-nutrients today.  Moreever, this seems to have been getting worse since 2007 due to pressures from food prices, extreme climate events and forced changes in diet.

Such pressures ae expected to build in the future.  Demand for food is expected to increase by 50% by 2030, as the global population increases.  Climate change could dramatically influence the progress toward reduction of hunger.

Present studies usually think in terms of production only, ignoring the other factors  mentioned above.  Even with sufficient calories, physical and mental factors can be influenced by nutrients, ability to prepare, and daily availability.  Remember the phrase “give us this day our daily bread?” It is very serious business for someone on the edge of starvation.  Data about food availability taken from aggregate reckoning is not adequate to completely understanding of the situation.   Surprisingly, the first analysis even from this limited perspective was not published until 1994.

This study was by Rozenzweig, Parry and others. It showed there is great variation in yields, highest yields the developed North of Europe and America, decreasing across Africa and South America.  Further work has shown that crops are more negatively affected by stress in the tropics, and so coincides with countries that presently have high burden of hunger.  It seems likely that food effects of climate change will be more severe in areas which already have a problem.

Food access is better understood.  For individuals it is largely a mater of income and rights.  Findings in this area show clear linkages between economic development and resilience to climate change.   In other words, if you have to buy food, you are better able to get it when you have more income.  On the other hand, if one’s assets are drawn down, if one must change jobs,  if migrating, etc., one is more vulnerable. 

If global warming changes location of production of biomass, which includes not only food, but also fiber and timber, trade in these commodities will change and consequently prices.  The resources of production , such as land and water access, will increase in value.  Such structural problems will lead to more appropriation of the assets of the poor, such as “land grabs” by external and foreign interests.  (Such is going on now at the fringes of tropical forests, in Africa, Madagascar  and Southeast Asia by Middle East oil potentates, and European, American and Chinese investors.  – Author’s note).

Utilization will be effected by less water in some areas, droughts and floods.  Higher temperatures will increase water-born disease, particularly diarrheal disease, and uptake of microneutrients may decrease.  Pesticides may come into even greater use due to increased abundance of pests.

Global urbanization results in changes in lifestyle, including higher caloric intake, poorer quality diet and relatively low physical activity, leading to obesity and chronic disease, even among the poor.  How this will link with effects of climate change is not known.

However it is clear that small shocks in supply or demand will have great effect on prices, and thus on food supply of the poor. Aggressive bioenergy projects, when applied by the political economy, can have great effect on food supplies.   Ethanol for fuel in the U. S. caused food riots in other countries, because the global price went up.

Finally, “This complex system of risks can assume a variety of of patterns that could potentially collide in catastrophic combinations.”  This author’s conclusion is that food supply can be handled as large scale management concern, or simply left to see who can make the most money from it, the latter being the most likely outcome at this point.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Larry I. Harris August 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm

The US is expected to grow by 120 million people by 2050. Government scientists expect more incidents of extreme heat, severe drought, and heavy rains to affect food production. The warming is expected to continue without undue problems for 30 years but beyond 2050 the effects could be dramatic with staple crops hit.


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