Risks to the security of food supply chains

Barcelona, July 19, 2022.Supply Management magazine has published an analysis of current and future risks in food supply chains. The result are the following:

The top threat to food security over the next 20 years is increased demand for water, amplified by population growth, urbanisation, and a surge in extreme weather. A report on global food insecurity calls for increased collaboration between policymakers and research organisations to build a more resilient global food supply chain. 

Zia Mehrabi, lead author on the study and assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, said: “We provide strong support for the idea of building more resilient food systems in general, rather than trying to deal with individual problems here and there… Food security is not a problem of production, it’s a problem of distribution, access and poverty, and that is exacerbated by conflict. “If we’d already been focused on addressing conflict and extreme events when Covid happened, we would have been in a much better situation.”

The top threats to food security, ranked by impact and probability, are:

1. Increased water demand.

2. Drought and heatwaves. Specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to loss of crop production.

3. Collapse of ecosystem services. This includes water regulation, pollination and pest control, and supporting feed for fish and animal populations as a result of concurrent extreme events.

4. Marine heat waves. These negatively impact marine resources through changes in their abundance and distribution, especially affecting coastal systems and dependent communities in small and low-income countries.

5. Income inequality. Vulnerable communities are put especially at risk due to production losses and associated price hikes.

6. Political instability. Increasing conflict, terrorism, and migration/displacement within and between nations amplifies food insecurity.

7. Pest and disease outbreaks. More severe outbreaks and novel distribution is expected to impact crops, humans and animals.

8. Monsoon and meltwater disruption in Asia. This negatively affects agricultural production due to missing irrigation water and impedes food security for billions dependent on these water resources.

9. Price shocks and volatility. Middle and low-income countries are most vulnerable to price fluctuations transmitted to local markets and often lack the capacity to protect these markets.

10. Low agricultural diversity. The simplification of global agriculture systems has led to a lack of genetic diversity, making agriculture more dependent on chemical inputs.

The research brought together 69 experts in food security to assess its greatest threats over the next two decades. The research found two hurdles to effective action: a range of hazards can occur simultaneously to create risks, through different types of exposure, and widespread disagreement (both political and scientific) on which solutions would actually work.

In order to move past these barriers, the report advised governments to find areas of consensus and set priorities more effectively. The three areas of study should be:

 Maps and predictions. Improving the quality of data on food security would inform proactive prevention and timely response before, during, and after extreme events. In many areas critical to food security the research found issues of limited funding, poor infrastructure, and low-maturity data governance systems, exacerbated by logistical issues related to the pandemic

• Farm food security. Despite being food producers, many of the world’s farmers, herders, hunters, and fishers, are themselves food insecure. Food producers operate in socio-ecological systems that may enable or restrict their ability to be resilient or adapt to extreme events

• System-level intervention. Without widespread transformation of the food system, the research said the benefit of better maps and farm-level resilience would not be realised. The inequitable distribution of power and resources in food systems must be addressed.

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