Food security threats from climate change

 By Amanda Saint

Climate change will continue to affect every area of life. The food production industry is looking at how it can adapt in the face of rising temperatures, higher rainfall or drought, loss of viable growing land and ever increasing populations. The answer may be “climate-smart agriculture”…

The issues faced by the agriculture industry are many and challenging to address. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predicts that up to a quarter of global food production could be lost by 2050 due to the combined impact of climate change, land degradation and water scarcity. In its recent report, The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, it revealed 15 trends and 10 challenges that are affecting future food production. The Global Report on Food Crises 2017 shows that 108 million people are already facing severe shortages, driven by drought and conflict.
The food production industry also has to address the fact that it is playing a big part in the climate change problem through its greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane and nitrous oxide. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows that approximately 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the agriculture, forestry and land use (AFOLU) sector. The IPCC also reports that due to sea levels rising coastal systems and low-lying areas will see more submergence, flooding, and coastal erosion which will impact on the production of many of the world’s staple foods.

Food staples and climate change

Wheat, rice and maize are staples the world over and their production is already being affected by a changing climate. The International Food Policy Research Institute report Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation forecasts that by 2050 rice prices will increase by 32-37 percent as a result of climate change, while yields will fall between 10 and 15 percent.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has cited a number of issues facing the rice industry due to climate change. Rising sea levels will mean that the Mekong River delta, which is where half of Vietnam’s rice is grown, will see low-lying agricultural land flooded or eroded. The country is one the world’s main rice producers, providing over 28 million metric tons to global markets in 2016.
A study by Kansas State University researchers revealed that up to 25 percent of the world’s wheat traded in international markets will be lost to extreme weather from climate change if no adaptive measures are taken. The report says that wheat yields are likely to fall by 6 percent for each degree Celsius the temperature rises.
Recent research led by the UK’s Met Office has found that there is a 6 percent chance every decade that a simultaneous failure in maize crops, driven by climate change, could occur in China and the U.S. — the world’s top growers. If this happens, 60 percent of the world’s annual maize production would be lost and this could lead to widespread food crises in Asia and Africa.
Added to all of these issues is the fact that by 2050 the global population is projected to increase to about 9.8 billion and demand for food is expected to grow anywhere between 59 to 98 percent. Even the bottom end of that scale means that a lot more food will have to be provided with fewer resources available to do so. The way the food industry and governments hope to overcome these many challenges is by transferring food production operations to climate-smart agriculture. But what does climate-smart agriculture look like?

According to the UK's Met Office, there is a 6% chance every decade that a simultaneous failure in maize crops could occur in China and the U.S. due to climate change (Keith Weller / USDA, Wikimedia)

Climate-smart agriculture

According to the FOA it is “an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate.” But what does that mean?
It means that the FOA is involved in a range of projects at the strategic level to help large food production conglomerates increase yields and cut emissions. The organization also helps governments develop new policies, and on the local level helps communities in developing countries find ways to develop sustainable agricultural practices to feed themselves.

Examples of local projects include:
• helping develop sustainable fishing practices in Latin America and the Caribbean
• helping to rehabilitate agricultural livelihoods in disaster-hit communities in the Philippines
• setting up the Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme, which aims to improve agricultural productivity and create income security for over 127,000 farmer households in eight districts in Zimbabwe

High level research projects include:
• water-saving irrigation technologies
• sustainable livestock production in Africa
• development of the rice sector in Fiji
• international policies for deep-sea fisheries and the protection of marine biodiversity

All of these initiatives are important steps in ensuring the world’s growing population has enough to eat. As technology continues to develop and knowledge to grow, more solutions will no doubt be developed to ensure that the food supply chain can remain stable and secure as the climate changes.

READ MORE: A weapon against climate change by RP Siegel

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.