Knowledge for better food systems

Blog: Disintegration of the global food system

In this blog post, Asaf Tzachor of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge describes four pathways by which the global food system could collapse. He calls for greater awareness that interactions between different processes (such as ocean acidification, climate change, wildfires and plant diseases) could lead to vicious cycles, and argues that policymakers should seek leverage points in the food system.

The four pathways hypothesised by Tzachor are:

  1. Increased demand for food and particularly animal products leads to agriculture both expanding and intensifying, driving a self-reinforcing cycle of climate warming, melting of sea ice and permafrost, and forest fires.
  2. Demand for animal protein leads to overfishing and the collapse of fisheries, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people and leading to mass movement of people.
  3. Climate change reduces crop yields, leading to higher food prices, hunger, civil unrest and mass movement of refugees, exacerbating xenophobic sentiment in some countries.
  4. Climate change encourages the spread of crop and livestock diseases, and damages transport and storage infrastructure.

Read the full piece, Down the Hunger Spiral: Pathways to the Disintegration of the Global Food System, here. See also the Foodsource chapter Impacts of climatic and environmental change on food systems.

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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