'Urgent' action needed to tackle extreme weather risks to global food supply

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
17 August 2015

A taskforce on global food security has recommended the creation of international contingency plans, better modelling and changes to agriculture to tackle the risk from extreme weather events.

In a report the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience warns the frequency of “production shocks”, where global food production is seriously disrupted, is likely to increase from once a century under past conditions to once every 30 years in coming decades due to climate change.

The report, which focused on the “globally most important” commodity crops of maize, soybeans, wheat and rice, said a 1998-9 drought cut global production of maize by 12 per cent and soybeans by 8.5 per cent. Another drought in 2002-3 reduced wheat and rice production by 6 per cent and 4 per cent respectively.

The taskforce presented a “plausible scenario” in the future where all these crops are hit by extreme weather at the same time which, coupled with factors including lower global stocks and increased demand, could lead to hoarding, export bans and civil unrest.

The report, produced for the Global Food Security (GSF) programme, recommended exploring opportunities for coordinated risk management, improving the functioning of international markets, adapting agriculture to climate change and more modelling research.

Professor Tim Benton, champion for the UK's GFS programme, said: “It is likely that the effects of climate change will be felt most strongly through the increasing frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves and floods and their impact on the production and distribution of food – something we almost take for granted.

“Action is urgently needed to understand risks better, improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks and to mitigate their impact on people.”

The GFS programme brings together the UK's main public funders of food security-related research to coordinate efforts.

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