Magazine article Foreign Policy

Threats to Food Security

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Threats to Food Security

Article excerpt

"It is less expensive to protect the planet now than to repair it later."

--European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

Dubbed a "global food crisis" by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the 2007 global surge in food prices vividly illustrated the thin line between eating enough and going hungry for many low-income populations. As a result of high food prices, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the number of chronically hungry people in the world rose by 75 million in 2007 to reach 923 million.

A number of causes contributed to the jump in the cost of food: low levels of world cereal stocks; crop failures in some major exporting countries and export restrictions in others; increased demand for meat in East Asia; rapidly growing demand for agricultural commodities for biofuels; and rising energy and agro-chemical prices. Although such dramatic price hikes have now eased, prices still remain high in many developing countries despite record production. Worse, global food prices appear to be on the rise once again, with the December 2009 FAO Food Price Index registering four straight monthly price increases.

Balancing Food Security and Climate Change

According to FAO estimates, food production must increase by at least 70 percent to meet the growing demands of a world population expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050. Meeting that demand is further complicated by the world's changing climate, which poses severe risks to food security and the agriculture sector.

Changing weather patterns can be expected to lead to increased temperatures and rainfall; severe droughts and flooding; shorter growing seasons; changes in ocean temperatures and fish stocks; heat stress on crops and animals; changes in disease patterns; and reduced crop yields.

Some poor developing countries could suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change because temperatures and precipitation are often already close to the tipping points beyond which crops fail or animals die, despite having contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). For example, Africa is responsible for a mere 4 percent of global GHG emissions, but the potential impact of climate change on the African continent could be devastating.

Through its Action Plan on Climate Change and Development, the EU will ensure that climate change is incorporated into all aspects of its development cooperation policy; it will support adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries and help develop administrative capacity in vulnerable nations.

In 2007 the EU launched the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA), to strengthen political dialogue and cooperation on climate change with the most vulnerable and poorest developing countries. GCCA helps integrate climate change adaptation measures into developing countries' policies by supporting capacity-building programs, improving their knowledge of the impacts of climate change, effectively integrating climate change vulnerability into development plans and budgets, and identifying and preparing GCCA activities in particular sectors, especially agriculture and water. Implementation of improved farming practices, for example, includes promoting sustainable land management, land tenure, soil erosion and flood control, water management in coastal communities, and hazard mapping.

The EU is also committed to contribute substantially to the costs of climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. By 2020, this could require some $100 billion annually, which would need to be met through a combination of domestic finance (developing countries themselves), the international carbon market (trading/purchasing emission allowances), and international public finance from developed countries. …

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