The global food industry currently undergoes a production shock every 1 in 100 years. But newly published guidance claims we can expect 1 (or more) in just 30 by 2040.
The threat of extreme weather looms large over our global food supplies…
With weather records being broken like they’re going out of fashion, it isn’t just the threat of a soggy commute or a windswept day at the beach that should be top of our concerns… Lest we forget the livelihoods of those struggling against the elements to grow crops, transport their wares and ultimately feed their families.
Traditionally the food system we’ve all come to rely on is a truly global enterprise, with extreme weather having little discernible effect on the logistics of getting produce from A to B.
However as we’re hearing more and more about the threats posed by extreme weather events, we have to ask – how prepared are we for just such an eventuality? The question is made all the more worrying when we consider our food system has become efficient to a fault, yet less resilient as a consequence.
In answer to the growing volatility, a taskforce of academics, industry and policy experts was commissioned to examine the resilience of the global food system to extreme weather. Its report is available at the following link [read the report], but the executive summary (republished below) highlights some of the overriding issues that need to be addressed.
Understand the risks better
Our knowledge of how extreme weather may be connected across the world, and hence the precise probability of multiple bread basket failures, is limited by available model simulations (therefore more research is required).
Modelling limitations also constrain our ability to understand how production shocks translate into short run price impacts.
Explore opportunities for coordinated risk management
As knowledge emerges regarding plausible worst case scenarios, it will be possible for governments, international institutions and businesses to develop contingency plans and establish early warning systems with agreed response protocols. Other opportunities include coordinated management of emergency and/or strategic reserves.
Improve the functioning of international markets
History demonstrates that the actions of market participants in response to production losses, or the behaviours of other actors, are a crucial determinant of price impacts. Other problems that can exacerbate price spikes include low levels of stocks relative to consumption, poor transparency of market information and physical limitations on trade such as infrastructural constraints.
Bolster national resilience to market shocks
Governments should also consider policies to bolster national resilience to international market shocks. This is a particularly important policy agenda for import dependent developing countries with high numbers of poor food consumers, and/or high risk of political instability. The precise mix of appropriate policy measures will vary according to national context.
Adapt agriculture for a changing climate
Agriculture faces a triple challenge. Productivity must be increased by reversing declines in yield growth and closing the gap between actual and attainable yields in the developing world, whilst also reducing its environmental impact (eg 50:1 degradation, depletion of freshwater supplies, increasing greenhouse gas emissions or eutrophication). However, given the increasing risk of extreme weather, this cannot come at the expense of production resilience. Increases in productivity, sustainability and resilience to climate change are required. This will require significant investment from the public and private sectors, as well as new cross-sector collaborations.