Threats to food security and nutrition – global environmental climate change, COVID-19 and conflict

Posted on November 22, 2022

Professor Sheryl Hendriks, Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development at the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, together with other food security experts recently published an article in BMJ in which they reflect on the threats that global environmental climate change, COVID-19, and conflict have had on global food security and nutrition.

The article follows the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, where researchers called for urgent action to be taken to ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Prof Hendriks writes that climate change, COVID-19 and conflict all have an impact on the food systems, interacting with several aspects of geopolitical influences namely; the geopolitics of food, fertilizer, finance, fodder and fuel systems. As shown in the figure below, the interactions between the various drivers and geopolitical influences create a feedback loop with impacts on several different outcomes.


Figure 1 The “three Cs” and “five Fs” of concern (Hendriks et al., 2022)

Climate change, for example, has an impact on temperature and the availability of water which has an impact on food production. Climate events such as floods and fires have increased, both in severity and the number of occurrences, in the last few years, and this has resulted in increased migration and the need for humanitarian assistance. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a major impact on food security and nutrition, disrupting the job market and food supply chains, which reduced access to healthy diets. While many had hoped that the food security situation would improve once the worst of the pandemic was over, the 2022 SOFI reports that world hunger increased even further in 2021. We have also seen the impact that conflict can have on the food system, as shown by the ongoing Russia/Ukraine war. Russia and Ukraine export a significant amount of wheat and produce approximately 62% of global sunflower oil stocks, and the costs of both wheat and oil have skyrocketed in the last year, further exacerbating rising food prices. Additionally, the cost of fertilizer has increased significantly because Russia and Ukraine are two of the largest exporters of fertilizer. This has increased the cost of production.

To improve and ensure global food security in the future, Prof Hendriks says, “efforts must be made to curb further environmental change while preparing for changes that are happening. This means simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the resilience of food systems to protect food security and health. Collaboration is needed between professionals and policymakers across agriculture, climate, energy, health, and political economy if the complexities, interlinkages, and trade-offs in future policy choices are to be understood and solutions identified.”

Read the full article here.

Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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