Can we avoid climate-related food shocks? | FT Food Revolution

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Recent crises such as the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have thrown the vulnerability of supply chains, and with them, food supplies, into sharp focus. The war between Ukraine and Russia has already sent wheat prices to a 14-year high. And fertiliser prices have also hit record highs, partly due to the war and the impact of sanctions.

But a landmark UN report says climate-related shocks, such as extreme weather events will become more common and severe as the world warms and could further upend interconnected supply chains. That could drive up the price of critical items such as food and hamper international development. For example, wildfires devastated agricultural crops in Russia in 2010 and 2011, disrupting wheat supply chains and causing a spike in food prices.

As well as the direct impacts of extreme weather, the UN report said shocks, such as energy outages, could hit food supply chains. Damage to food storage caused by electricity failures and to transport routes, could significantly decrease availability and increase the cost of 22 highly perishable nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and dairy, the report said. It also stated that climate change will make it more difficult to grow food in certain areas of the world.

Despite the gloomy forecasts, the UN report has suggested some actions that could mitigate the negative impacts on food security. These range from better managed fisheries, to forest conservation, and farm and landscape diversification. The report pointed out that agroecological farming, sustainable farming that works with nature, has been shown to increase resilience, yields, reduce emissions, and improve farm incomes. It also talked about agroforestry, in which trees and shrubs are deliberately grown in the same areas as crops and livestock. Studies referenced in the report show that agroforestry can store 20 to 33 per cent more soil carbon than conventional agriculture.

Another recommendation involves minimising nitrogen-based fertilisers and other synthetic inputs. And the report also says that shifting diets away from meat and dairy would make a positive difference. The world has warmed by about 1.1 degree Celsius since the pre-industrial period and is on track for 3 degrees by 2100. While agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, it also has strong potential to reduce this pollution.

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