“Stress test” needed for global food system

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Frequent and extreme weather are expected to continue creating volatility in the global food system as agriculture struggles to feed a growing world population. A new report titled, “Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices: The Costs of Feeding a Warming World,” was published this month from Oxfam. According to the brief, more research is needed to “stress test” the global food system and “identify its vulnerabilities and the policy options to increase resilience in a warming world, particularly for the world’s poorest consumers and food producers.”

The report suggests that the changing climate is causing more extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, which are anticipated to increase food price volatility.

Oxfam commissioned the research from the Institute of Development Studies, which modeled the price impacts of extreme weather on staple crops such as corn, rice and wheat in 2030. Research into long-term average food prices shows dramatic increases with some research showing corn prices could more than double in the next 20 years. Half of that spike in prices is expected to come from changes in average temperatures and rainfall patterns, according to the report.

The report used the GLOBE Computable General Equilibrium model of the global economy to estimate how prices for key commodities could be impacted by 2030.

With this level of price increases and weather volatility anticipated, the report claims more research is needed in agriculture to develop hardier crops that withstand the changing climate and to study how global markets would be impacted.

The report also breaks out by region how price shocks could impact parts of the world. North America’s impact would be “dramatic temporary impact on market export prices for corn of 140 percent, and strong impact for wheat, with prices predicted to increase 33 percent, both because of drought.” In Sub-Saharan Africa would be “predicted increase of 50 percent for corn and coarse grains due to drought in East Africa, 120 percent due to drought and flooding in Southern Africa, and 50 percent due to drought in West Africa.” In India and South East Asia, “simultaneous occurrence of poor harvests in India and South East Asia leading to an increase in global average export price of processed rice of 25 percent.”

Oxfam stressed that these results are only projections and are not fated to happen. Humans have the ability to change. The group proposes scaling up community-based disaster preparedness globally in order to reduce vulnerability, and also to increase local, national and regionally coordinated food reserves and social protection plans to protect the most vulnerable.

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