Worldwide food shortages now more likely

Published: 14 August 2015 at 10:00

Dr Aled Jones

Contingency plans needed to cope with ‘shocks’ from extreme weather events

A UK-US taskforce warns that contingency plans are needed to cope with worldwide food shortages, which will be three times more likely to occur due to our changing climate.

A new report by the UK-US Taskforce on extreme weather and global food system resilience, which is supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, warns of an increase in extreme weather events such as severe heatwaves, droughts and floods.

Extreme weather can cause ‘production shocks’, whereby global food production is seriously disrupted. This can lead to food shortages, price spikes and market volatility, as well as civil disorder in some countries.

The report, which is co-authored by Dr Aled Jones (pictured) of Anglia Ruskin University, predicts that rather than being a once-a-century event, a severe production shock is likely to occur every 30 years.

Production of the world’s most important commodity crops; maize, soybean, wheat and rice, comes from a small number of major producing countries and so extreme weather events in these regions can have a serious impact on global food production.

The report identifies the need for agriculture to become more resilient in the face of extreme weather, while at the same time increasing productivity to meet an increasing demand for food.

The authors of the report recommend creating international contingency plans, developing better modelling methods to accurately predict the effects of production shocks, and identifying international trading ‘pinch points’ in order to minimise the impact and size of shocks.

Dr Jones, Director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“With physical risks from extreme weather increasing it is vital that we better understand how governments and societies around the world will respond to food production shocks.

“Only through this understanding of responses can we hope to better manage the food system and avoid catastrophic impacts at local, regional or even global scales.

“Our Global Resource Observatory project is attempting to build models that include social and physical systems so we can improve our understanding of these types of shocks and how they result in global and local impacts.”

This report was brought together by the UK’s Global Food Security programme and was commissioned by the UK Science and Innovation Network and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.