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The Future of Food Security

December 21, 2022

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One of the topics discussed at the recent COP-27 gathering in Egypt was global food security. Patricia Scotland (@PScotlandCSG), Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, told COP-27 participants that every available tool must be leveraged to improve food security. She stated, “We must use big data and digital tools to protect food security and increase climate resilience. New technologies and data generation can transform business practices across the agricultural value chain and address bottlenecks in, productivity, harvesting, market access, finance, and supply chain management.”[1] She went on to discuss how “digitalization is impacting the agricultural sector” and how it, along with new guidelines, can help policymakers “understand how to target key areas to improve and develop this vital sector.”

 

On the heels of COP-27, food security was also a topic of discussion at the G20 Summit held in Indonesia. Ahead of that conference, the UBS editorial team wrote, “Food prices are likely to remain high on a historical basis as weather and geopolitical risks persist, contributing to concerns about inflation and food scarcity. Empty supermarket shelves during the height of the pandemic exposed a food system that was not fit for purpose. The war in Ukraine amplified these existing challenges. Elevated food prices added to global inflationary pressures with rising food bills grabbing media attention in countries from the UK to Singapore and the US. Food security is expected to be a key topic at the upcoming G20 Summit in Indonesia — a country in a region that has experienced the impact of fragile food resilience.”[2]

 

The Pursuit of Food Security

 

It is estimated that some 811 million people regularly go to bed hungry, millions more suffer from malnutrition thanks to poor diets. Many individuals living in wealthy countries believed food security was only a developing world issue until they felt the effects of the past two year’s supply chain snarls. Securing the global food value chain is an international challenge. The UBS editorial team notes:

 

In the short term, a key factor negatively affecting food security is high energy prices, which are translating into higher production costs in areas like chemicals, fertilizer, and animal feeds. … We do not expect this to completely derail longer-term investments in areas that drive input use efficiencies. These include areas such as seed science, automation, and regenerative agriculture practices, which can help directly address current challenges while tapping into a growing market for sustainable solutions in areas like biodiversity and carbon. In the longer term, geopolitics, climate change, and population growth will continue to be challenges for countries faced with food security issues. The increasing frequency and severity of weather events like droughts, hurricanes, and floods are likely to impact agricultural output.”

 

As I noted above, food security involves many factors. Lori Tyler Gula, External Communications Manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), emphasizes, “Ending hunger isn’t only about supply. The problem [also involves] access and availability [to] nutritious food.”[3] Nevertheless, ensuring there is sufficient food to feed the world is a concern — a concern made all the more significant thanks to climate change. Gula explains, “It is likely climate change will affect far more than just agricultural systems and will impact the entirety of the food system, including food security.”

 

What Can Be Done?

 

The food security challenge is daunting. Solutions require action in many economic sectors including agriculture, transportation, distribution, energy, and retail — as well as efforts directed at confronting climate change. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) understands that global action is really a combination of national actions. To help countries address food security, the WWF released “a science-based platform and report, Solving the Great Food Puzzle, which provides a framework to transform food production, consumption, loss and waste on a global scale.”[4] The WWF report notes, “To effectively analyze similarities and differences between food system types, we have identified 20 transformation levers which can be applied across all types of food systems to achieve climate, biodiversity, and health goals.”[5] The 20 levers are divided into six areas: 1) Natural Resource Management; 2) Governance and Institutions; 3) Education and Knowledge; 4) Technology; 5) Trade; and 6) Finance.

 

Natural Resource Management Levers

1. Optimize land-use

2. Restore biodiversity

3. Increase carbon storage

4. Increase diversity

 

Governance and Institutions Levers

5. Support smallholder farmers

6. Improve land tenure rights

7. Strengthen national level commitments

8. Improve natural dietary guidelines

 

Education and Knowledge Levers

9. Strengthen research and development

10. Improve data collection and measurement

11. Increase public awareness

12. Promote traditional foods

 

Technology Levers

13. Adopt high-tech methods

14. Develop infrastructure

15. Develop alternative proteins

 

Trade Levers

16. Supply healthy food imports

17. Develop nature-positive supply chains

 

Finance Levers

18. Redirect subsidies to improve production

19. Finance school food and public procurement programs

20. Provide financial incentives and taxes to improve consumption

 

The WWF developed these levers by studying food systems in four different countries: Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, and UAE. The organization recognizes that different countries have different needs and that all levers may not necessarily apply to countries in the same way. They caution, “Some levers can enable and accelerate the implementation of others, while some could create trade-offs that need to be carefully managed to achieve environmental, health and social goals. As such, it is important for countries to consider this when implementing the transformation levers.”

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

The WWF concludes, “A full range of stakeholders will be required to implement national level food systems transformation — including scientists, policymakers, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and individuals. Explicitly, smallholder farmers, women, youth, indigenous people, local communities and other historically-marginalized and vulnerable people need to be involved in any food systems transformation.” There also needs to be collaboration and cooperation on a global basis. Gula reports that a survey of food security literature found that the subject “broadly aggregates around food availability, accessibility, utilization and stability with an uneven distribution in regions among those studying this topic.” All of these areas of concern are going to be negatively impacted by climate change in the years ahead — which means food security will continue to be a matter of global concern.

 

Footnotes
[1] Rena Gashumba, “‘We must use big data to protect food security and increase climate resilience,’ says Commonwealth Secretary-General at COP27,” The Commonwealth, 8 November 2022.
[2] UBS editorial team, “Investing in food security amid uncertainty,” UBS Wealth Management USA, 21 October 2022.
[3] Lori Tyler Gula, “Working to Reduce Food Insecurity,” USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 14 October 2022.
[4] Amelia Keleher, “WWF Identifies 20 Key Actions to Transform the Global Food System,” Foodtank, October 2022.

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