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Climate change, conflict are major causes of increasing food shocks

Researchers have identified 226 food production shocks across 134 nations in the last five decades, with an increasing frequency of shocks occurring in all sectors. Study lead author Richard Cottrell noted that extreme weather was a major cause of shocks to both crops and livestock, which highlights the vulnerability of food production to weather volatility.

“In recent decades we have become increasingly familiar with images in the media of disasters such as drought and famine around the world,” said Cottrell. “Our study confirms that food production shocks have become more frequent, posing a growing danger to global food production.”

“We looked at the full range of global food production systems, covering crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture. We found that crops and livestock are slightly more shock-prone than fisheries and aquaculture, and some regions, such as South Asia, are more frequently affected than others.”

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often.”

According to Cottrell, the increasing frequency of food shocks allows for less recovery time between events and negatively affects the resilience of communities. “Reduced recovery time hinders coping strategies such as accumulating food or assets for use during times of hardship,” he explained.

Since 2010, conflict-related shocks to food production across sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East have combined with poor weather conditions to cause a rise in global hunger.

“Land-based crop and livestock production are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as drought, which are expected to become more frequent and intense with climate change,” said Cottrell. “However, marine-based food production is not immune from shocks.”

“Overfishing was responsible for 45 percent of shocks detected in landing data, while disruptions to aquaculture production have risen faster and to a higher level than any other sector since the 1980s.”

“Globalized trade and the dependence of many countries on food imports mean that food shocks are a global problem, and the international community faces a significant challenge to build resilience.”

Cottrell said resilience can be achieved by investing in climate-smart food systems and and by establishing food reserves in import-dependent nations.

The study is published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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