Severe Weather Placing Global Food Supply at Increased Risk
Global grain stocks were already low going into 2007 when drought struck production regions in Europe, Russia, Canada, and Australia, causing a rapid increase to grain prices. In reaction, countries began to enact trade barriers to guarantee domestic food supplies which caused prices to then double according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Index. Three years after these events, another episode of drought caused the Arab Spring uprisings.
The Global Food Security (GFS) program, a network of UK research funding agencies, has warned in a recently released report that given advancing climate change, weather-related crop failures will become increasingly more common and should be ‘a cause for concern’.
To reach this conclusion, a team of dozens of industry experts, scientists, and policy makers created a ‘plausible’ worst case scenario whereby four key staple grains – wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans, were all hit by drought simultaneously (a scenario that came close to happening in 1988, 1989, 2002, and 2003.)
As climate change increases in intensity, the chances of widespread crop failures increase in a parallel fashion due to drought, floods, and heat waves. Examining existing models of how crops react to these conditions, the GFS found in their preliminary analysis that by 2040 the type of extreme crop failures that typically happen once every 100 years, will likely happen once every 30 years. These events will also likely be compounded by the higher volumes of grain that are globally traded and by biofuel mandates removing grain from the food market.
The program warns that the most severely affected countries will be developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa where starvation would occur, and protests and revolts will likely happen in middle-income countries such as Egypt that rely on imports for their food supply. More developed countries would not see as much of an impact.
The GFS program recommends a course of coordinated global preparation including early warning systems before price spikes hit and improvements to insurance programs for farmers to help them better weather such events. However, in the most severe cases, the GFS warns that governments and industry must be prepared to not be able to have access to certain crops any longer.