Two Thoughts About Food Security

First, food security contributes to national security.

I guess the best way to illustrate this is to give a real world example concerning the case of Egypt and China. Let’s look at Troy Sternberg’s essay, “Chinese Drought, Wheat, and the Egyptian Uprising: How a Localized Hazard Became Globalized,” which can be found in a series of essays entitled, The Arab Spring and Climate Change. Sternberg explains that the severe 2011 drought in China devastated China’s wheat harvest to the point where the global market price of wheat went up significantly. The skyrocketing price was especially felt in far off Egypt where wheat is a staple ingredient in a majority of foods (See Time’s article on Bread is Life: Food and Protest in Egypt). Globally, Egypt is the leader in importing wheat. The impact on the economy is exacerbated because roughly 40% of an Egyptian’s income goes directly to food. Egypt’s inability to respond to the overwhelming demand for wheat contributed to the development of protests and civil unrest. The stress of food insecurity helped fuel further questions of legitimacy regarding the Egyptian government. U.S. relations with Egypt are important because we share interests of peace and stability in the Middle East. Egypt has been a key partner with the United States in a wide spectrum of security issues in the Middle East. Across six administrations, aiding Egypt in times of difficulty, whether it be in economic or military development, has been essential to maintenance of that partnership. Initiatives to ensure that a nation is food secure would be more efficient than reacting to a food insecurity crisis which might lead to future conflicts. This is just one real world example that shares numerous similarities with others around the world.

Second, climate change affects food security.

There are so many dimensions to this issue but let us examine a real world example. According to the Food Security and Climate Change report by the High Level Panel of Experts (HPLE) on Food Security and Nutrition for the World Committee on Food Security, climate change variations in temperature and precipitation will have impacts that vary by region. For example, Sri Lanka has already seen their rice harvest wildly fluctuate because of the unpredictable amount of rainfall. Nearly 20% of their harvest was wiped out due to floods followed by a harsh drought in 2011. Sri Lankan climate change expert, Riza Yehiya said, “Sri Lanka, being closer to the equator, is more vulnerable to climate change impacts (than other countries).” Too much or too little rainfall affects not just rice paddies but all crops. The WorldWatch Institute reports “climate change has been attributed to greater inconsistencies in agricultural conditions.” The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego led a study that could help forecasters predict the appearance of monsoons in Asia, which could hopefully lead to the prediction of the magnitude of these monsoons with their impact on food and water security in the region. The Asian Development Bank’s report, Food Security and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific: Key Challenges and Policy Issues, predicts large crop losses in the coming years, of as much as 50% by 2100 compared to 1990 yields. With Asia being the most populous continent, significant drops in crop production does not bode well for food security. Keep in mind; climate change is just one factor, albeit a very important factor that threatens food security. According to International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) report (on Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaption), “agriculture and human-well-being will be negatively affected by climate change…”One of those impacts being that the U.S. would have to invest around $7 billion in agriculture productivity “to offset the negative impacts of climate change on the health and well-being of children.”

Clearly, food security links to a variety issues, ranging from climate change to national security to poverty to political instability.

-Rachelle Lagman, Intern

** The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California San Diego. **

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