The report, drafted for the UK’s Global Food Security programme, found that weather-related food production ‘shocks’, which cause price spikes and disruption to supply, are likely to become more common in the future.
Professor Tim Benton, one of the report’s lead authors, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the most constructive action food manufacturers could take to guard against the increased risk of price hikes and shortages was to “build resilience” into their supply chains.
The best way of doing this would depend on the complexity of the supply chain, he said.
“One strategy is to work with individual suppliers and ensure they are as resilient as they can be. For example, if sourcing beans from Kenya, make sure the grower has good water security. Another approach is to develop multiple supply chains so that if one or two drop out you have spare capacity,” he added.
More frequent food ‘shocks’
The report found that that severe ‘production shocks’ caused by extreme weather of a scale likely to occur once in a century under past conditions may occur as frequently as once every 30 years as the world’s climate and global food supply systems change in the coming decades.
“Preliminary analysis of limited existing data suggests that the risk of a one-in-100 year production shock is likely to increase to one-in-30 or more by 2040,” wrote the authors.
Benton said that these extreme weather events were likely to impact on the commodities food chain, from globally important crops such as maize, soybean, wheat and rice, to those grown and consumed on a smaller and more regional scale such as coffee and cocoa.
While the picture painted by the report is a worrying one, the taskforce does not intend to incite mass hysteria about food security, according to Benton.
“We are trying to flag up to governments and industry that there is an issue that needs to be mitigated, rather than panicked about,” he said. “We want to avoid the scenario whereby governments impose export bans and prices go through the roof.”
The first recommendation was to conduct more research into the relationship between the evolution of the weather and the evolution of the climate.
“We haven’t run computer models for long enough to model rare events,” explained Benton.
The report also makes recommendations aimed at governments to ensure that international markets continue to operate in the event of agricultural production shortages.
“There needs to be development of trade rules to keep the market open in the event of an agricultural shortfall,” he said.
The report, brought together by the UK’s GFS programme, was jointly commissioned by the UK Science and Innovation Network and Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The GFS programme brings together the UK's main public funders of food security related research.