Too many countries have in history experienced the devastation of not only failed harvests, but also gross agricultural policy mismanagement.
The Great Famine of the 1930s in the Ukraine, which resulted in millions starving to death, is just one of many. It was a direct result of a political decision to impose a centralised and industrial agriculture model that obliterated centuries of farmers’ know-how. The results were so catastrophic that the Ukraine government describes it as genocide.
There is perhaps little wonder that Ukraine has been restricting wheat exports this year to maintain its own domestic stockpiles and prevent a rise in domestic bread prices following a heat wave and failed harvest.
Climate change scientists tell us that we can expect more extreme weather and more failed harvests in the coming years if measures are not taken to halt the impact of global warming.
We will see great famines in the future? Well, bad policies and corporate greed are certainly the drivers of industrial agriculture in our key breadbasket countries, where food is being turned into fuel. So, are we heading for another food crisis?
The short answer is yes … although where and when is hard to say. In the words of the physicist and Nobel Prize winner Neils Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”.
But there are some facts we do know for sure.
We know that human beings are overshooting planetary boundaries for water and biological diversity. We know that food prices continue to be high and that price spikes are as equally volatile and frequent as extreme weather events. We know that climate change is hitting agricultural yields badly while food production is increasingly used to fuel cars. And we know that powerful corporate lobbies continue to push for false solutions that feed profits more than people.
Those ingredients combined make a dangerous cocktail that is likely to spell disaster, particularly for the world’s poorest.
But there are solutions to prevent such a dire outcome.
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First, the US and Europe should immediately suspend and review their own biofuel policies to ensure that crops for fuel don’t compete with food availability and affordability for the poorest. We will soon need your support to demand specific actions from governments … so watch this space.
Secondly, too much food is being wasted in the world. According to the United Nations, one third of food produced globally is not eaten. In richer countries, the proportion of food wasted is even higher (40-50% in the US) and largely at the level of food manufacturers / retailers and consumers.
So let’s all be more careful in buying only food we really need and eat. It is good for our family’s wallet and helps reduce pressure on the food system, food prices and the environment.
Thirdly, we also need to help farmers make the transition to agriculture that is more resilient to extreme weather events sparked by climate change.
Moving to ecological agriculture is our best guarantee to prevent high volatility in food production and prices and therefore the best way to prevent a food crisis.
Ecological agriculture farmers use nature’s own diversity to produce a wider range of foods while preserving the health and the fertility of the soil. Ecological agriculture is good for the climate and is the best option for food security in Africa and in countries such as India and China.
Finally, we urgently need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, which represents the number one threat to sustainable agriculture and food security.
This involves reducing the amount of dirty energy we use, and ensuring governments making binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels.
The imminent danger of a food crisis is very real, but there are winning solutions if we avoid repeating past mistakes such as those in the Ukraine.