The latest Global Report on Food Crises indicated that more than 205 million people today live in “crisis situation” countries
or territories. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification’s (IPC) Acute Food Insecurity Stages , these are households with “above -usual acute malnutrition” and who are “marginally able to meet minimum food needs but only by depleting essential livelihood assets or through crisis -coping strategies.”
Recent Supply Chain Challenges
Numerous factors have precipitated in the worsening food insecurity. Russia’s war on Ukraine has since February 2022 disrupted supply chains for fertilisers and grains. It added to disruptions in labour as well as farming inputs like fertilisers and pesticides which resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020.
These disruptions had significant impacts on food producers, since farming is a time-sensitive activity that is tied to crop-growing seasons. Delays in the supplies of labour, seeds and other inputs, may in the worst case cause farmers to miss out on the entire planting or harvesting season, leading to increased food waste as well.
Longer-term Food Insecurity from Climate Change
Even before COVID-19 and the Ukraine war, though, the bigger issue which farmers were already struggling with was climate change. As early as 2014, the share and number of undernourished people in Asia and globally was already starting to increase, which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) attributed to climate change.
Within Asia, the growth in crop productivity has declined by close to half over the recent three decades (1990-2020), relative to the previous decades (1960-1990), translating to more episodes of acute food insecurity. Increasing frequencies of extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts, and less predictable rainfall and day temperatures have made it more challenging for farmers to sustain improvements in their productivity. Rising temperatures over the past decades have also made food more vulnerable to spoilage during transport or storage.
Moving forward, the risks to food security are set to further increase, with an immediate challenge being the burgeoning financial crisis which the World Bank warned of earlier this year. This can worsen food insecurity, learning from the previous Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08 wherein 100-200 million people fell into poverty and 63 million became undernourished.
At this time, food price inflation rose above 4 percent in more than half of the countries globally. The 2nd UN sustainable development goal (SDG) of “Zero – Hunger” would be further beyond reach should a financial crisis occur today.
Concerted efforts will be needed in addressing the overlapping spheres of challenges, including political, health, and economic challenges, which worsen the existential threats to individuals’ food security. The UN FAO, for instance, has proposed re-purposing food and agricultural policy support, in order to increase the availability and reduce the cost of nutritious food. Disaster preparedness will be crucial as well, given the impacts of climate-related disasters on lives and livelihoods. Finally, initiatives towards improving the adoption of digitalisation towards development climate-smart food supply chains may yet trigger a much-needed Green Revolution in agriculture.