The resilience of the global food system could be undermined if more than one major food-producing region (breadbasket) is exposed to extreme climatic conditions at the same time. Climate variability is responsible for 20-49 per cent of the year-to-year fluctuation in agricultural yield. Under normal conditions, crop loses in one or more regions can be mitigated by grain storage and trade in one or more other regions.
The likelihood of simultaneous breadbasket failures occurring is judged by examining trade patterns between regions and climate risks (represented by temperature, rainfall and solar radiation. The article notes that wind speed, ozone exposure and CO2 levels could also affect risk evaluations, but does not consider them. Similarly, due to limited data availability, irrigation, pest infestation and the adoption of different crop strains were not considered either). The probability of simultaneous breadbasket failure has increased, particularly in those regions that produce large amounts of wheat, maize and soybeans, based on yield data collected between 1967 and 2012. The risk of simultaneous breadbasket failure in rice-growing regions has declined in recent decades, but it is possible that will be reversed in the future.
The Economist Intelligence Unit launched the 2019 Global Food Security Index earlier this week. It ranks 113 countries according to the affordability, availability, quality and safety of food. It also assesses natural resource and resilience risks that could undermine food security in certain countries over time (Singapore, for instance, declines 11 places in the rankings as a result of future climate-related risk). Singapore and Ireland remain the two most food secure countries, while Venezuela, Burundi and Yemen are the least food secure.
It also suggests that: the percentage of cultivated land equipped for irrigation is inadequate to meet global needs, public expenditure on agricultural research and development has declined compared to 2018, food prices are rising worldwide and dependency on food aid in countries beset by turmoil has increased over the past five years – mainly because of deteriorating conditions in Yemen.
Population growth and rising incomes are expected to increase global food demand. A new study adds another dimension to this literature by suggesting that increases in human weight, as a result of increased body mass and height, will further increase food demand. If weight remains stable, food demand is projected to increase by 61 per cent between 2010 and 2100. That increase in demand is projected to be driven solely by population growth and rising incomes. Average body mass and height is likely to increase over that time, however, and could increase food demand by a further 19 per cent.