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Food Security Under Threat From Climate Change Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1872 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The changing of the world’s climate is real. Already, 2 billion people face the daily struggle to survive malnutrition. The causes are complex but there is no doubt that climate change has played a part and is likely to exacerbate the situation into the future. Climate change affects food security in multiple ways: a negative impact on crop yields, stability of food supplies, and the ability of people to access and utilize food in many parts of the developing world. (FAO) Although developed countries are responsible for most greenhouse gas emission (GHSs), the impact of climate change is expected to be disproportionate in its severity on developing countries and on the poor.. (Braun) The higher vulnerability of the poor is not only due to geography but also to limited adaptive capacities. Low-income communities depend directly on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, and climate-sensitive resources. (Braun). In addition the Swaminathan’s publication in 1988 argues that food supplies in smaller nations will be affected to a greater extent by climate change than those of larger nations.

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It is recognised that the positive effects of climate change such as CO2 fertilization of plants could contribute to increasing food production and security (). However, rising temperatures and the increased frequency of extreme weather events act to offset greater productivity and will exacerbate food insecurity. The negative effects of climate change may lead to increased water stress, decreased biodiversity, damaged ecosystems, rising sea levels, and potentially to social conflict due to increased competition over limited natural resources. Small-holder agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture are among the systems most at risk (FAO 2008).

This essay will provide background information on the impacts of the interrelationship between climate change and global food security, and ways to deal with this novel threat. It will also outline the opportunities that exist for the agriculture sector to adapt, and how the industry can contribute to mitigating the climate challenge.

Impacts of Global warming on climate system and food system

Global warming is the immediate consequence of increased greenhouse gas emissions with no offsetting increases in carbon storage on earth. These gases absorb energy radiated from the Earth to space and warm the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), increases in greenhouse gas emissions have been associated with an increase in the mean global temperature of 0.3°C-0.6°C since the late 19th century. By the end of the 21st century, greenhouse gas emissions could cause the mean global temperature to rise by another 1.4°C-5.8°C (IPCC, Darwin).

The Parry et al.experimental findings on wheat and rice, indicate decreased crop duration of wheat as a consequence of warming, resulted in rice yield reductions. It has also shown links between human-induced global warming and changes in weather patterns that will cause additional stress for food systems, with consequent implications for food security.

Impacts of climate change on Food Production and Supply

Climate change, including global warming and other climate variables have a potentially huge impact on agricultural production. Some of these effects are biological,, some are ecological, and some are economic. Recent studies show that in tropical and sub-tropical regions, especially in seasonally dry areas, crop and animal productivity may decrease significantly due to temperature increases of 2 to 3°C ( ). In its Fourth assessment Report (AR4) of 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state that,, focusing on Africa, “by 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.” Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries are projected to be severely compromised (Muller 2011).

The study by Lobell et al. used crop models to calculate changes in agricultural production until 2030. (Lobell, Brown). They show that increasing temperature and both declining precipitation and grassland productivity over semiarid regions are likely to reduce yields of corn, wheat, rice, and other primary crops in the next two decades. Furthermore, cllimate change could cause high levels of desertification and soil salinization in some areas in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America( ); increasing water stress, particularly in irrigated production systems ( ); increased salinity from seal-level rise, leading to some areas in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, such as coastal plains, becoming flooded or unsuitable for agriculture ( ). All of these changes could have a substantial impact on global food security.

In addition, food supply may be affected by an increase in frequnecy of extreme weather events, such as storms, floods, droughts as well as sea level rise, air pollution and climate variability associated with global warming (Easterling DR). The increase in intensity and frequency in extreme weather conditions will affect both developed and developing countries.However, developed countries are in a better position to cope with these adverse conditions, due to their greater resources.

Many studies on crop production suggest that agriculture is the most vulnerable part of the climate change ( ). Changed weather patterns increase crop vulnerabilities to infection, pest infestations, and weeds(). These will not only decrease yields of crops, but also force farmers to apply harmful and expensive pesticides and herbicides, which will eventually increase the market price and mean an overall increase in the food price for the consumers. High prices may make certain foods unaffordable and can have an impact on individuals’ nutrition and health.

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Impacts of climate change on Global Food Security

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food security is defined as a “situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 19960). It is the overall outcome of food system processes throughout the food chain. Climate change will affect food security through its impacts on multiple components of global, national, and local food systems.

Ensuring food security is a critical aim for the agriculture sector in two ways. First,, it produces the food that people eat and supplies nutrition. Secondly, it provides the primary source of livelihood for 36% of the world’s total workforce (). In the countries of Asia and the Pacific, this share ranges from 40% to 50%, and in sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of the working population still make their living from agriculture (ILO,2007). If climate change negative impacts upon the agricultural production in low-income developing countries, eg. Asia and Africa, the livelihoods of large numbers of the rural poor will be put at risk and their vulnerability to food insecurity increased.

The World Food Trade Model, designated as the Basic Linked system (BLS), links countries through trade, world market prices, and financial power. The BLS estimates that in 1980, there were about 500 million people at risk of hunger in the developing world. Without climate change, the number of people expected to be at risk of hunger in 2060 has been estimated approximately 640 million. However, with unmitigated climate change, declines in yields in low-latitude regions are projected to require that net imports of cereals increase. Higher grain prices will affect the number of people at risk of hunger. The number of hungry people in developing countries will increase by ~1% for every 2-2.5% increase in prices. This means that the number of people at risk of hunger grows by 10-60% in the scenarios tested, resulting an estimated increase of between 60-350 million people who will suffer from hunger (Parry).

Mitigation and Adaptation

One of the ways to prevent the effects of global warming is to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In 1997, most industrialized countries ratified an international agreement to reduce the amount of human-induced greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, called Kyoto Protocol. FAO defines “Mitigating climate change means reducing greenhouse gas emission and sequestering or storing carbon in the short term and making development choices that will reduce risk by curbing emissions over the long term”. Although the entire food system is a source of greenhouse gas emissions, primary production is by far the most important component (Lobell). Incentives are needed to persuade crop and livestock producers, agro-industries and ecosystem managers to adopt good practices for mitigating climate change.

Lobell et al. defines “adaptation” as a key factor that will shape the future severity of climate change impacts on food production. He also suggests that communities can cope with climate change, for example, by switching from producing corn to producing sorghum, whose lower water requirements and higher temperature tolerances are better suited to a warmer and drier climate (Lobell, Darwin). Ensuring food security for all in the face of climate reductions will require adequate food production through improved seed and fertilizer, better land use policies and shifting planting date. These will prove costly but the biggest benefits will likely result from the development of new crop varieties and expansion of irrigation (Brown). These adaptations require substantial investments by farmers, governments, scientists, and development organizations, all of who faces many other demands on their resources. Successful climate change adaptation are likely to diminish the food insecurity that we are facing now.


Climate change poses an unprecedented challenge to the aim of eradicating hunger and poverty. In order to meet the growing demand for food security under increasingly difficult climatic conditions and in a situation of diminishing natural resources, the world must move towards embracing a two-fold approach: First, we must invest in and support the development of more efficient, sustainable and resilient food production systems. Second, we must improve access to adequate food for the most vulnerable and at-risk populations and communities as well as improve social protection systems and safety nets as part of the adaptation agenda. Protecting the most vulnerable also requires improving our ability to manage weather-related disaster risks and accelerate community development. Only if we succeed in making significant advances on all fronts -increasing food availability, enhancing access to food, and strengthening resilience and development – will we reduce the risk of dramatic increases in the number of the malnourished and hungry in the poorest regions of the world.


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