Climate change is worsening world hunger. There are already too many hungry mouths to feed, but climate change means we could struggle even more.
a global population, expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050, with more people eating meat and dairy products while biofuels are demanding more farmland, agricultural production will have to increase by about 60% by 2050, according to a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Meanwhile, higher temperatures and erratic weather are undermining the health of soils, forests and oceans on which agricultural sectors and food security depend. Climate change is expected to lower grain yields and raise crop prices, leading to a 20% rise in child malnutrition, according to
a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Alarmingly, the IFPRI predicts that the total calories available in 2050 will be lower than in 2000, increasing malnutrition rates in South Asia and sub-Saharan Asia in particular.
Climate change is becoming the biggest threat to eradicating world hunger by 2030 Martin Frick
Without concerted action, by 2100 maize yields could decline by 20-45%, wheat yields by 5-50%, rice yields by 20-30% and soybean yields by 30-60%. By 2050, catches of main fish species are set to decline by up to 40% in the tropics, where livelihoods and food security rely on the fisheries sector. “Climate change is becoming the biggest threat to eradicating world hunger by 2030,”
says Martin Frick from the climate, energy and tenure division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). THE POOR AND HUNGRY
The poor will be the worst hit by climate change. Many of the 800 million worldwide suffering from chronic undernourishment are small-scale farmers, fishers and pastoralists who are most affected by higher temperatures and weather-related disasters. Such events are increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change.
While we’re aware of the major disasters triggered by a changing climate, we are less aware of slow onset disasters and the enormous effect that small fluctuations in temperature have on food production, continues Frick. Take sub-Saharan Africa, where most farmers are smallholders.
“The way these farmers farm is the way they learned from their parents,” says Frick, “so it is all based on traditional knowledge. When rainfall patterns change and conditions slowly change then what you have learned is no longer valid. You need new information, new agricultural varieties and new systems to keep your land in productive use.”
THE CLIMATE FOR CHANGE
It’s clear that if we’re to break the cycle of poverty and hunger, we need to change the way we approach food and agriculture. Firstly by ensuring that rural smallholder producers are resilient to the impacts of a changing climate. Secondly, agricultural sectors need to adapt by reducing food losses and waste and avoiding deforestation and overfishing. Furthermore, they need to better integrate water management and convert animal waste into biogas as a renewable energy source.
Calories need to be produced with fewer inputs, less pollution and less waste, says
Jason Clay from the Markets Institute for the World Wildlife Fund. “We waste one in three calories globally or about 1.3 billion tons of food each year – four times the amount needed to feed the more than 800 million people who are malnourished and about half of all the additional food that we will need to have for everyone by 2050.”
Climate change means crop change, continues Clay. In the next three to five years, producers will try to become more efficient in what they are producing today. In the medium term, producers will need to diversify or switch crops. But to grow new crops, people need new knowledge. “Luckily, the most important resource is unlimited and this is human intelligence and ingenuity,” says Frick. “A big effort on education and training is needed.”
With core competencies in risk management and finance, the insurance industry is in a good position to help. Insurers and re-insurers are introducing new products, such as micro insurance for small farmers currently lacking access to traditional insurance.
Crop insurance and index-based insurance can also play a role in making agriculture sustainable, asserts Frick. Poor farmers are often living on the edge. If there is an insurance system that needs outside investment to work, then this can tide farmers through tough periods.