Global Food Security is an Emerging Concern

The ongoing Syrian conflict increased concerns about access to food in the war torn region. The UN reports that grain yields dropped over 50 percent over the past couple of years, from 3.4 to 1.5 metric tons.

The drastic drop in food production is a cause of concern for not only Syria but also the Middle East as a whole. Exacerbated by recent droughts, local NGOs seek new ways to alter the dwindling food production capacity of the region.

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has long taken steps to produce resilient seeds that could survive in extreme conditions. ICARDA’s expansion to countries such as Lebanon enables them to continue researching how to reposition Syria as a food basket for an entire region.

ICARDA believes thatsStrong seeds capable of growing in hostile climes are vastly important for the future as weather patterns continue to shift and disrupt agriculture.

Climate change is seen as the primary culprit in the increase of droughts throughout the world.

After a dry spring, Uganda is attempting to recover and stabilize its food production.

In Madagascar, 330,000 people stand on the brink of famine.

The inability of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to address the global food shortage is partially linked to diminishing cash reserves due to a lack of funding from governments worldwide.

Increased demand for countries that produce a surplus of food also threatens global food security.

In Nigeria there is rising concern that the country exports too much of its grain harvest. These exports, it is argued, threaten the stability of Nigeria to produce enough food to meet local needs.

Food abundance also brings the possibility of food waste. In the U.S. alone nearly 133 billion pounds of food packs landfills.

Scholars suggest that both food scarcity and abundance can lead to increased conflict. The reasoning is that marginalized communities in countries with food surpluses often don’t see the benefit of such abundance. They often go hungry and resentful of governments that do not meet their basic needs of sustenance.

From droughts to disease to conflict, developing genetically resistant seeds is seen as a vital necessity in the coming decades.

Some scientists suggest that genetically modified food (GMOs) could alleviate wasteful practices by insuring that Americans, and others, do not toss perfectly good food because of simple cosmetic flaws (e.g. browning).

The UN also argues that increasing small farming capacity in dry lands is a key to stabilizing global food security.

Dry lands are arid to semi-arid regions throughout the world. They all too easily fall to desertification if not managed in sustainable ways.

Others see the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement as the vanguard to reinvest in small scale farming operations. They reason that improved production from small farms can help offset negative impacts of climate change.


Producing high quality seeds to strengthen food security. (Photo by USAID. Flickr Creative Commons.)

Small farms also often produce a variety of crops, rather than focusing exclusively on cash crops. The investment in multiple crops helps to reinvigorate the soil with needed nutrients taken by one crop by replacing it with another.

Stronger, healthier soil could be a key to mitigating droughts while also strengthening food supplies worldwide.

Martin Frick, director of the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) argues that developing forests in arid lands could also stabilize the global food supply because the forests create “a huge water buffer – [which will] increase fertility, and you have stored carbon which is not in the atmosphere any more.”

In Malawi farmers use solar energy to power irrigation systems to offset the effects climate change has had on the country.

Other researchers in Australia work on producing seeds from crop wilds. Crop wilds are the ancestors of domesticated crops. They argue that returning to less domesticated seeds could hold the key to feeding the world because they are often more resilient than the seeds currently used globally.

Whether it is from the effects of climate change, conflict, or wasteful food practices, global food security is in a tenuous position.

The path forward may appear bleak, but from innovative practices to increased commitment to small farming there remains positive potential to stabilize the global food supply.

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