Food shock increasing globally, say researchers

Wednesday, 30 January, 2019

Food shock increasing globally, say researchers

The increasing number of ‘food shocks’ — sudden losses in food production — caused by extreme weather, overfishing and geopolitical crises pose significant threats to global food security, according to new research.

An international study led by researchers from University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and the Centre for Marine Socioecology looked at global production data from crop, livestock, aquaculture and fisheries sectors between 1961 and 2013, and identified 226 food production shocks.

Although some regions are hot spots for sudden losses to food production, the study found that shock frequency has increased across all sectors at a global scale. The researchers warned that losses in one food sector can potentially affect others and disrupt global food supplies.

“While the number of food shocks fluctuates from year to year, the long-term trend shows they are happening more often,” said lead author Richard Cottrell.

“We found that crops and livestock are slightly more shock-prone than fisheries and aquaculture, and some regions, such as South Asia, are more frequently affected than others.”

He said extreme weather, such as droughts, was a major cause of shocks to crops and livestock, and this is only expected to get worse with climate change.

Marine-based food production is also not immune from shocks, Cottrell stated. “Overfishing was responsible for 45% of shocks detected in landing data, while disruptions to aquaculture production have risen faster and to a higher level than any other sector since the 1980s.”

With food shocks becoming more frequent, people and communities have less time to recover between events, for example, accumulating food or assets in preparation for difficult times. The researchers recommended improving resiliency to these shocks.

“Globalised trade and the dependence of many countries on food imports mean that food shocks are a global problem, and the international community faces a significant challenge to build resilience,” Cottrell said. “This can be done through measures such as investing in climate-smart food systems and building food reserves in import-dependent nations so they are better able to deal with the impact of disruption caused by problems such as climate change.”

The research was published in Nature Sustainability.

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