Increased demand for water will be the No. 1 threat to food security in the next 20 years, followed closely by heat waves, droughts, income inequality and political instability

First threat to food security is water scarcity
First threat to food security is water scarcity. Xinhua

Increased demand for water will be the No. 1 threat to food security in the next 20 years, followed closely by heat waves, droughts, income inequality and political instability, according to a new CU Boulder-led study which calls for increased collaboration to build a more resilient global food supply.

The report, published today in One Earth, comes as global hunger levels in 2021 surpassed the previous record set in 2020, and acute food insecurity in many countries could continue to worsen this year, according to the United Nations and The World Bank.

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These pressing threats are not new: The impacts of political conflict and compounding environmental effects of climate change are already measured and studied around the world. The new study, however, finds that increased collaboration between these areas of research could not only fortify global food security in the face of any one of these threats, but also strengthen it against all of them.

“We provide strong support for the idea of building more resilient food systems in general, rather than trying to deal with individual problems here and there,” said Zia Mehrabi, lead author on the study, and assistant professor of environmental studies and in the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a climate, environmental or political shock to the system—if you have resilient systems in place, they’ll be able to deal with all the different kinds of shocks.”

According to a recent analysis by The World Bank, the war in Ukraine, supply chain disruptions, and continued economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic are reversing years of development gains and pushing food prices to all-time highs—working against the United Nations’ goal to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

In addition, extreme events like heat waves, floods and droughts are on the rise.

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While researchers and policymakers are developing solutions to improve the resilience of food systems, they often work in isolation—tackling one problem at a time. The new study found a great need for increased collaboration and coordination between researchers who study specific threats to food systems, so that decision-makers have comprehensive information, updated models and relevant tools as threats arise.

Conflict, climate and capacity

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019, the researchers surveyed 69 global experts in various fields related to food security. They ranked 32 top food security threats by both their impact and probability over the next two decades.

They found that many environmental events due to climate change—such as unpredictable weather changes—could have the greatest negative impacts on food security. Considering both their impact and probability, increased water demand, drought, heat waves, and the collapse of ecosystem services (natural benefits we rely on every day from the environmental systems around us) ranked the highest.

Yet they also found that threats to food security presented by income inequality, global price shocks, and political instability and migration have high probabilities of occurring in the next two decades, landing these threats in the top 10.

Over half of the world’s food insecure populations live in conflict-prone regions: failed states or regions with political instability, terrorism, civil unrest or armed conflict. The migration and displacement caused by these conflicts ranked in the top five most probable threats to global food security in the next 20 years.

“Food security is not a problem of production, it’s a problem of distribution, access and poverty, and that is exacerbated by conflict,” said Mehrabi. “Conflict not only makes people more vulnerable but also limits their ability to adapt.”

Conflict itself is not new, either. Prior to the conflict in Ukraine and the ongoing Ethiopian civil war, civil wars such as those in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere have continued to threaten regional and global food security.

“If we’d already been focused on addressing conflict and extreme events when COVID happened, we would have been in a much better situation,” said Mehrabi.

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Research for resilience

The researchers also asked the surveyed experts what the biggest outstanding research priorities in these areas are, and what top 50 questions scientists and policymakers should be focusing on.

Many prioritized food system diversification—as more diverse entities are typically more stable. For example, Ukraine provided 10% of global wheat exports in 2021 and 40% of the World Food Program’s wheat supplies—a supply severely impacted by Russia’s attacks on the country in 2022.

While we cannot change where agricultural land is distributed, Mehrabi noted, researchers and policymakers might ask: How can countries diversify their food production, both in terms of location and nutritional output?

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Researchers also can create better maps and predictions, which can inform proactive steps to preserve food security before, during, and after extreme events. Mehrabi points out that the collection of data underlying our maps has not kept pace with the advanced tools available to researchers today for prediction, and many models are not validated with matching on-the-ground measurements.

“We can see it happening in our world right now, conflict and climate getting worse. The trends show, and experts agree, on this getting worse in the future,” said Mehrabi. “How are we going to build and govern food systems that are resilient to all different kinds of shocks and extreme events? We need to start thinking about how we can build systems that can adapt and cope with all of them.”

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Here some things to add to your disaster & preparedness kit:

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  1. Tuesday, 07/18/22:
    We had two radio beeping severe storm warnings. One interesting point was a creek which feeds Colorado River was predicting 5″ of rain.
    Keep the drought fear porn at bay.

  2. Earth Wobble increasing. Extreme weather going to get more extreme. Greenhouse a great idea. We will all have to grow our own food soon. After the Pole Shift, the weather will go back to normal.

    • @Gary
      Meat Chickens and laying hens for protein. Duck eggs and goose eggs are deeelicious too. Even when I was young we had a few chickens in the city. Everybody can raise chickens. It’s not hard to doneven in the city. Ducks will pull weeds and keep the soil manure going to. I put water tubs by trees that need a boost. Ducks go hang out and poop. Then when you refill water tubs, you pour the dirty water into the tree basin, and refill water tubs.

      If you want eggs in volume the Foghorns and Rhode Island reds are prolific layers. I was donating 3 doz a day to poor people out here.

      Brahama chickens and New Jersey Giants are good meat birds.

      Indian Runner ducks lay blue/green eggs, if you like that. They whistle and run on their tippy toes, they breed alot too.

      The Americana and Arucana chicken poulettes will lay colored eggs too, if you like that.

      Geese are more work, but I love geese. Best watchdog geese are Roman crested. Best friendly geese are grey and white Chinese geese. Embden geese are more common, and very good too. White Chinese are pretty friendly, but pugnacious during Spring.

  3. Been thinking about a below ground greenhouse, where the roof is just above the ground level. I researched these style of greenhouses before. If you live in windy areas (like myself) it is too windy for many types of vegetables. Onions stalks get blown over, pepper bushes get mowed down by wind. Then you have rabbits and rodents that attack your vegetables and berry bushes. Even young trees are challenging to plant and keep strong. I usually plant tree 3′, below ground level. Ground is cooler, and you get a deep basin for watering. The bark mulch stays in a hole better too. Don’t let fear stop you from prepping. In fact, if you prepare, then fear level diminshes, and you have peace of mind.

  4. Well fires in Europe killed at least 20 people including fire fighters in france, Italy, and EU.. and other way also we have seen floods are killing humanity. We have 2 choices left indeed either we kill all wars or wars will kill all humanity.
    State of emergency imposed in Balochistan after 8 dams burst
    A state of emergency was imposed in Balochistan after 8 dams burst with devastation across Sindh in Pakistan. Floods across the globe
    i am not same mohamed from 90 days live i want my green card only lol..

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