Sudden food short shortages will be more frequent as climate changes, says report

A food production “shock” is defined as a sudden decline in one of four primary staple crops. Currently, about once per century, there is a sudden decline of five to seven percent in the production of white, rice, soybeans or corn. These are usually cased by drought, infestations or extreme weather. Now, a new joint study from researchers in the United States and United Kingdom says that 25 years from now these events will be three times more likely due to extreme weather and a changing climate.

During a food production shock, commodity prices can rise by 50 percent. In wealthier nations this can cause problems but in the poorer developing world it can lead to a crisis and political instability. The impact of such shocks will be even more pronounced than they are currently. According to the United Nations, Earth’s population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050 with most of the growth occurring in the developing world.

According to the UN, in order to keep up with demand, global food production will need to rise by 60% by 2050 to avoid civil war and social unrest.

“The food system is increasingly under pressure because demand is growing and our ability to supply it is much more constrained. On top of that we have climate change affecting where we can grow things. If we are coping with demand increases by sustainable intensification but then suddenly we have a catastrophic year and lose a significant chunk of the world’s calories, everybody will feel it,” Tim Benton told the Guardian.

Benton is a professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds. He is also the co-author of the paper, released by the the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience.

While wealthier nations might be somewhat insulated from the direct impact of such food shocks, it could indirectly be extremely costly. Wealthier nations are frequently called upon to devote financial and military resources to re-stabilizing parts of the developing world.

The authors of the study recommend international coordination and cooperation between the public and private sectors to strengthen the global food system and increase production.

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