Food companies urged to protect against supply ‘shocks’

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Extreme weather events in 'breadbasket' regions have the largest impact on global food production - but the risk has yet to be quantified
Extreme weather events in 'breadbasket' regions have the largest impact on global food production - but the risk has yet to be quantified

Related tags: Agriculture, Food security, Weather

Food companies need to better safeguard their supply chains against climate shocks, according to an independent report for the Global Food Security programme.

The report highlights an increasing risk to global food supply from extreme weather events and calls on governments and businesses to coordinate efforts to mitigate their impact. It claims that weather events like floods, drought and heatwaves are increasing in frequency, and could be severe enough to seriously affect food supply and prices as often as once every 30 years by 2040, compared to once a century in the past.

“Action is urgently needed to understand risks better, improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks and to mitigate their impact on people,”​ said Global Food Security programme champion Professor Tim Benton.

He said we often take food production and distribution for granted, but the impact of climate change was likely to be felt most strongly through its effects on the food supply – as well as increasingly frequent extreme weather.

The report’s recommendations for mitigating production shocks include improving modelling methods to predict problems in the supply chain before they occur, and developing trade rules to avoid export restrictions causing prices to skyrocket.

 “This study presents a plausible scenario for how the food system might be impacted by extreme weather, alongside a series of recommendations that should help policy and business plan for the future,”​ Professor Benton said.

The effects of extreme weather could affect all food crops, but the report specifically highlights increasing global dependence on just four major crops: rice, wheat, maize and soybeans. It said that while increased globalisation has decreased vulnerability to local crop failures, it has also increased vulnerability to large production shocks in distant regions.

“This means that the exposure of a large proportion of global production of the major crops is concentrated in particular parts of the globe, and so extreme weather events in these regions have the largest impact on global food production,”​ the report said, adding that China, the United States and India have emerged as major producers of several breadbasket crops, but the risk of multiple failures among these crops has yet to be quantified.

The report was jointly commissioned by the UK Science and Innovation Network and Foreign and Commonwealth Office and was developed by an independent US-UK taskforce.

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