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


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Recent crises such as the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have brought into sharp focus the fragility of supply chains, and thus the food supply. The war between Ukraine and Russia has already pushed wheat prices to their highest point in 14 years. Fertilizer prices have also reached record highs, partly due to the war and the consequences of sanctions.

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

In addition to the direct effects of extreme weather, the UN report states that shocks, such as energy failures, can affect food supply chains. Damage to food storage caused by power outages and to transportation routes could significantly reduce the availability and increase the cost of 22 highly perishable nutrient-dense 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 parts of the world.

Despite the bleak forecasts, the UN report has suggested some measures that could mitigate the negative impacts on food security. These range from better managed fisheries to forest conservation and diversification of farms and landscapes. The report pointed out that agroecological farming, sustainable farming that works in tandem with nature, improves resilience, yields, emissions and farm income. Agroforestry was also discussed, where 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 percent more soil carbon than conventional farming.

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