Coronavirus: A wake-up call to strengthen the global food system

June 19, 2020

Global food production is incredibly efficient, and the world's farmers produce enough to feed the global population. Despite this abundance, a quarter of the global population do not have regular access to sufficient and nutritious food. A growing and more affluent population will further increase the global demand for food and create stresses on land, for example, through deforestation.

Additionally, climate change is a major threat to agriculture. Increased temperatures have contributed to land degradation and unpredictable rainy seasons can lead to crop failure. While climate extremes impact the ability to produce food, the guarantee of food is more than just agricultural productivity. Today's globalized food system consists of highly interconnected social, technical, financial, economic, and environmental subsystems. It is characterized by increasingly complex trade networks and an efficient supply chain, with market power located in the hands of few. A shock to the food system can lead to ripple effects in political and social systems. The 2010 droughts in wheat-producing countries such as China, Russia, and Ukraine, led to major crop failures, pushing up food prices on the global markets. This in turn was one of the factors that led to deep civil unrest in Egypt, the world's largest wheat importer, as people were facing food shortages, which possibly contributed to the 2011 revolution spreading across the country.

Not all shocks to the global food system are directly linked to agricultural productivity or climatic conditions. The vulnerability of the interconnected food system has become painfully evident in recent months following the appearance of a different type of shock: a global pandemic. Although it started as a health crisis, COVID-19 quickly filtered through the political, social, economic, technological, and financial systems. Business interruptions resulted in a chain reaction that is projected to contribute to food crises in many parts of the world.

"Although harvests have been successful and food reserves are available, global food supply chain interruptions led to food shortages in some places because of lockdown measures," writes the author of the commentary Franziska Gaupp, an IIASA researcher working jointly with the Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM) and Risk and Resilience (RISK) programs. "Products cannot be moved from farms to markets. Food is rotting in the fields as transport disruptions have made it impossible to move food from the farm to the consumer. At the same time, many people have lost their incomes and food has become unaffordable to them."

The World Food Program has warned that by the end of 2020, an additional 130 million people could face famine. In the fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic, borders have been closed and a lack of local production has led to soaring prices in some countries. In South Sudan, for example, wheat prices have increased 62% since February 2020. Difficult access to food, and related stress could then lead to food riots and collective violence.

According to Gaupp, a systems approach is needed to address the challenges of a globally interconnected, complex food system. Systemic risk and systemic opportunities need to be incorporated into food-related policies. It is important to highlight that the threat to food security is not just a result of potential disruptions of production, but also shocks to distribution as well as shortfalls of the consumers' income. COVID-19 has shown how interconnected our world is, and how a simultaneous shock - such as a pandemic - also affects our food system. She further points out that the issues are supply chain imbalances. There is enough for everyone, however, some countries are panic buying, and some are banning exports: This is why the whole supply and demand system is experiencing challenges, leading to more difficult access to food, especially in poorer countries.

"There will likely be more shocks hitting our global food system in the future. We need global collaboration and transdisciplinary approaches to ensure that the food chains function even in moments of crises to prevent price spikes and to provide all people with safe access to food," concludes Gaupp.
-end-
Reference

Gaupp, F et al (2020). Extreme Events in a Globalized Food System. One Earth DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2020.06.001

Contacts:

Researcher contact


Franziska Gaupp
Research Scholar Risk and Resilience
Ecosystems Services and Management
+43(0) 2236 807 62
gaupp@iiasa.ac.at

Press Officer

Bettina Greenwell
Communications Officer
Tel: +43 2236 807 282
greenwell@iiasa.ac.at

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. http://www.iiasa.ac.at

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.