Knowledge for better food systems

Food production shocks across land and sea

Image: Narek75, Tomato harvesting in Armenia, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

This paper maps interruptions to food production across the world between 1961 and 2013 and highlights the links and tradeoffs between events in different food sectors, including crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture.

The study finds that food production shocks have increased in frequency across all sectors. As shown in the figure below, the causes of production shocks vary between sector. For example, most crop production shocks were driven by climate or weather events, while mismanagement (such as overfishing) contributed to many fishery production shocks. For livestock, 41% of shocks were due to geopolitical factors such as conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The ‘other’ category includes disease.

Image: Figure 2, Cottrell et al. Drivers of food production shocks.

 

Abstract

Sudden losses to food production (that is, shocks) and their consequences across land and sea pose cumulative threats to global sustainability. We conducted an integrated assessment of global production data from crop, livestock, aquaculture and fisheries sectors over 53 years to understand how shocks occurring in one food sector can create diverse and linked challenges among others. We show that some regions are shock hotspots, exposed frequently to shocks across multiple sectors. Critically, shock frequency has increased through time on land and sea at a global scale. Geopolitical and extreme-weather events were the main shock drivers identified, but with considerable differences across sectors. We illustrate how social and ecological drivers, influenced by the dynamics of the food system, can spill over multiple food sectors and create synchronous challenges or trade-offs among terrestrial and aquatic systems. In a more shock-prone and interconnected world, bold food policy and social protection mechanisms that help people anticipate, cope with and recover from losses will be central to sustainability.

 

Reference

Cottrell, R.S., Nash, K.L., Halpern, B.S., Remenyi, T.A., Corney, S.P., Fleming, A., Fulton, E.A., Hornborg, S., Johne, A., Watson, R.A. and Blanchard, J.L., 2019. Food production shocks across land and sea. Nature Sustainability, p.1.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource resource How might climatic change affect food systems in the future?

 

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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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