Food Justice

World Food Day 2016: Climate Change and the Food Crisis

World Food Day 2016: Climate Change and the Food Crisis
A woman harvests rice in the Cambodian village of O Kroich.

“The climate is changing. Food and agriculture must, too.” This is the theme of World Food Day 2016, which stresses the direct impact of climate change on global food and agriculture systems. Climate change is a reality, and we need to move beyond viewing it as an abstract concept. Climate is an environment within which we and all living organisms exist and rely on for our survival. It is the air that we breathe, the water we drink, the oceans within which vibrant ecosystems exist, and the land we cultivate and which provides sustenance to both humans and animals.

Therefore, any change in climate has a direct impact on these ecosystems. Among others, changes in climate affect basic agricultural and food production in the world, especially in the poorest communities. These changes can also affect fish populations, both in oceans and fresh water. As these changes impact global food production and agriculture, more developed countries have more resources to develop solutions to protect their food security. Yet most likely these nations will disregard the impact this will have on those trying to sustain themselves at the bottom of the pyramid. This demonstrates the reality of global inequality of the haves and the have-nots.

The world's poorest are the most affected by climate change. They are farmers, fishermen and pastoralists — all people working to make food for the world. Natural disasters are on the rise as a direct result of rising temperatures and climate change. These disasters have dire consequences for the poor in developing countries who do not have the infrastructure to immediately address the needs of their citizens following a disaster.

800 Million Hungry in the World

According to the World Food Programme, there are almost 800 million hungry people in the world today —125 million of whom are affected by some sort of humanitarian crisis. Eighty percent of the world's hungry live in countries that are prone to floods and droughts, causing a deadly cycle of hunger and poverty. Drought, increasingly caused by a combination of unsustainable farming practices and climate change, is one of the most common causes of food shortages in the world. Droughts lead to crop failures and livestock losses, and the resulting hunger leads to loss of human life.

According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, an additional 2 billion people will suffer from hunger by the year 2050 as the population is expected to grow to 9.6 billion people. This causes unimaginable strains on global food systems as the world tries to feed a population growing at an exponential rate. At the same time, inequality will be greater than ever as the poor become poorer, the hungry become hungrier, and the rich grow richer.

In response to the growing population and demand for food, sustainability in food and agriculture needs to be prioritized so that climate change does not intensify further to dangerous levels. There needs to be a focus on rural development and more support given to small farmers, because these are the solutions that have been proven to work. Women farmers need to be empowered, especially in developing countries, as they make up almost half of the world's farmers. Improving the productivity of women farmers around the world brings populations out of poverty and also addresses deforestation and climate change through the spread of sustainable practices.

In the United States, the top exports are from the agricultural sector, such as soy, corn and wheat. This makes up a large and crucial part of the national economy. The average yields for corn and soybeans are about 173 bushels per acre, but by 2050 it is predicted that yields could fall by as much as 25 percent due to climate change. This will affect the entire "Bread Basket" of the United States economically and socially, deepening inequality in the country and disrupting global trade. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that climate change will have an overall detrimental effect on most crops and livestock. As temperatures increase and alter precipitation levels, yields of major U.S. crops will decline.

Food as a Need and a Right

Food is a basic need and right, and disparity among food distribution is a solid indicator of inequality at the basic survival level, which affects the life, health and livelihoods of billions of global citizens. Climate change directly impacts food and agricultural production at all levels. Droughts, increasing and decreasing temperatures, floods, major climatic events and deforestation impact land availability and fertility of soil, thus impacting productivity. The world's fertile farmland is under threat from the damaging process of climate change. Global food and agricultural systems must adapt and change to mitigate the impact of climate change.

At the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September of last year, 193 governments committed to eliminate hunger in the next 15 years — by the year 2030. Two months later, they also committed to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, thereby acknowledging a direct link between climate change and food security, as well as committing to global solutions through the new global development agenda.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 interrelated global goals to address global poverty, inequality, economic livelihoods, health, environmental sustainability and peaceful societies. Food and agriculture are at the very center of the global Development Agenda. Goal 2 of the SDGs is a goal to eliminate global hunger, achieve global food security and improve nutrition through the promotion of sustainable agriculture. The global community acknowledges that SDG2 will be a challenge to achieve due to complex and diverse ecosystems around the world, unequal distribution of land, natural resources and assets for agricultural production, and the impact of the changing climate. It requires a concerted effort by all to strive to complete the global goals.

Sixty Percent of the World’s Hungry are Women

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 60 percent of the world’s hungry are women. In many countries women have few legal rights over inheritance, land and property ownership. Climate change further impoverishes poor women and communities by destroying food and water security, creating adverse health and sanitation conditions and often forcing migration. It has a disproportionate effect on communities of color. Extractive industries, production and waste are often physically located in economically deprived areas, where the release of environmental toxins in the air, on land and in water undermine women’s health, wellbeing and human rights.

World Food Day marks the creation in 1945 of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Every year food advocates around the world gather to celebrate World Food Day on October 16 to promote just global food policies and systems that work for all. The Committee on World Food Security hosted by FAO provides unique opportunities to member states, small farmers, food and agriculture producers, civil society, private businesses and academia to work together on finding solutions to improve global food systems.

 

 

Posted or updated: 10/15/2016 11:00:00 PM
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