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Earth Today | Climate change a growing threat to food security

Published:Wednesday | August 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Hurricanes, the likes of which affected the Caribbean last year, are also a threat to food security in the region. (AP)

From availability to access, utilisation and systems stability, climate change is a threat to all four dimensions of food security.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations sounded the warning from as far back as 2008 with the publication of Climate Change and Food Security: A Framework Document.

In the paper, the FAO makes the case for the prioritisation of the agriculture sector in the face of a changing climate.

"Agriculture is important for food security in two ways. It produces the food we eat; and, perhaps even more important, it provides the primary source of livelihood for 36 per cent of the world's total workforce," the FAO document reads.

"In the heavily populated countries of Asia and the Pacific, this share ranges from 40 to 50 per cent and in sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of the working population still make their living from agriculture. If agricultural production in the low-income developing countries of Asia and Africa is adversely affected by climate change, the livelihoods of large numbers of the rural poor will be put at risk and their vulnerability to food insecurity increased," it added.




According to the FAO, technological advancement and long-distance marketing chains that move produce and packaged foods globally at high speed and at relatively low cost "have made overall food system performance far less dependent on climate than it was 200 years ago".

"However, as the frequency and intensity of severe weather increase, there is growing risk of storm damage to transport and distribution infrastructure, with consequent disruption of food supply chains. The rising cost of energy and the need to reduce fossil fuel usage along the food chain have led to a new calculus - 'food miles' - which should be kept as low as possible to reduce emissions," the FAO added.

The FAO's climate change and food security framework, meanwhile, takes account of the carbon dioxide fertilisation effect of increased greenhouse concentrations in the atmosphere; increasing mean, maximum and minimum temperatures; increase in frequency, duration and intensity of dry spells and droughts; and changes in the timing, duration, intensity and geographic location of rain and snowfall.

It also takes account of the increase in the frequency and intensity of storms and floods and greater seasonal weather variability/changes at the start/end of growing seasons.


Adaptation vital for the agriculture, fisheries sectors


Already, the impacts are being felt.

"Evidence indicates that more frequent and more intense extreme weather events (including droughts, heat and cold waves, heavy storms, and floods); rising sea levels; and increasing irregularities in seasonal rainfall patterns (including flooding) are already having immediate impacts on not only food production, but also food distribution infrastructure, incidence of food emergencies, livelihood assets and human health, in both rural and urban areas," the FAO document reveals.

"In addition, less immediate impacts are expected to result from gradual changes in mean temperatures and rainfall. These will affect the suitability of land for different types of crops and pasture; the health and productivity of forests; the distribution, productivity and community composition of marine resources; the incidence and vectors of different types of pests and disease; the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of natural habitats; and the availability of good quality water for crop, livestock, and inland fish production," it added.

"At the same time, arable land is likely to be lost owing to increased aridity (and associated salinity), groundwater depletion and sea level rise. Food systems will be affected by internal and international migration, resource-based conflicts and civil unrest triggered by climate-change," the FAO said further.

The reality is, the FAO advances, that countries must respond with urgency through climate change adaptation.

Among other things, it recommends general risk management; management of risk specific to ecosystems (marine, coastal water, forest, etc); and research and dissemination of crop varieties and breeds adapted to changing climatic conditions as key to protecting local supplies, assets and livelihoods against the effects of increasing weather variability and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

On avoiding disruptions or declines in global and coal food supplies due to changes in temperature and precipitation regimes, they propose more efficient agricultural water management in general, improved management of cultivated land, and improved livestock management, as well as use of new, more energy-efficient technologies by agro-industries.