From Farm to Table: Climate Change’s Impact on Food Security

Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing challenges of our time, affecting almost every aspect of our daily lives: from the air we breathe and the energy we consume to the food we eat.

Given the complex interplay between the Earth’s climate and agricultural production, one critical area where climate change is acutely felt is food security— posing a significant threat for people around the world.

“Climate impacts on food systems are projected to increase undernutrition and diet-related mortality and risks globally,” which are expected to put between 8–80 million people at risk of hunger by mid-century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published in 2023.

To put it into perspective, a population similar in size to Germany (83 million) will be at risk of hunger within the next few decades.

In the middle of this crisis, the four pillars of food security developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)—availability, access, utilization and stability—stand as the benchmark for assessing climate change’s repercussions on the ability of people worldwide to obtain adequate and sufficient food.

But how does this play out in the real world? For example, the catastrophic Pakistan flooding in 2022, caused by unprecedented monsoon rains, as followed by severe nationwide hunger and malnutrition problems. This disaster illustrates how climate change impacts the four pillars of food security.

Let´s begin by stating that food security starts by having enough food to meet the demands of the population. However, food availability can be severely impacted due to unpredictable weather patterns and change of weather conditions, which may reduce crop yields and make it increasingly difficult for farmers to plan agricultural production.

In turn, this uncertainty with food availability leads to increased prices, compromising food accessibility and affordability. The heaviest burden falls on vulnerable communities who already have the hardest time ensuring their daily dietary needs are met. For example, following the Pakistan flooding, those with reduced income or relying on assistance faced challenges in eating a well-balanced diet due to a combination of higher food prices, reduced market options and lower family income, according to the most recent Data in Emergencies (DIEM): Pakistan report published by the FAO.

In addition, the quality of the food we consume (utilization) is significantly impacted by the disruption of dietary patterns, which can be caused by the alteration of crops’ nutritional content due to changes in ecological conditions or modification of traditional staple food items available on the market. Furthermore, utilization is affected by the inaccessible safe water sources caused by natural disasters—leading to increased exposure to pathogens and potentially causing micronutrient malabsorption caused by diarrheal disease outbreaks, which results in deteriorating public health.

According to the DIEM: Pakistan report, the frequency of consumption of some basic food groups decreased in the country as the climatic and subsequent economic effects from the flooding became apparent. Additionally, the World Health Organization Pakistan Floods Situation report states that tens of thousands were affected by outbreaks of diarrhoea attributed to foodborne diseases during the aftermath of the disaster.

Climate change also destabilizes global food systems and erodes stability to access adequate food by disrupting supply chains through an increased risk of shocks to trade networks. Additionally, higher volatility of market demand can affect stockpiles—exacerbating poverty, hunger and inequality and can affect vulnerable communities like farmers, wage workers and others in the agricultural sector. Following the Pakistan floods, the most frequently reported crop market issue was increased transportation costs because of impaired logistics, according to the 2023 DIEM:Pakistan report.

As climate change continues to worsen, its impacts on food security are only becoming a more crucial concern, and their repercussions will affect everything from the environment to the social and economic well-being of small communities and big nations alike.

But is there anything we can do? Well, according to a recent report published by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, efforts are being made around the world to ensure sustainability and stability of agricultural supply chains.

Smallholders are adapting their agronomic practices to their new conditions through crop diversification, modified irrigation schedules, protecting soil fertility and increasing water retention. Governments are setting a framework through international agreements and due diligence requirements, like the Paris Agreement and the EU’s upcoming Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). Banks and investors are developing instruments to finance sustainable activities, including the EU Taxonomy. Additionally, individuals are demanding change through responsible consumption patterns and demanding for standards, certifications and labels—like the Food Security Standard—to help increase transparency and verify compliance with sustainability requirements and human rights.

From farm to table, collective efforts are being made in food systems to promote resilience and to manage and mitigate the impacts of climate change—ensure food security for us and for future generations.

Written by Juan Andrade, an ESG student assistant at Meo Carbon Solutions, for the Food Security Standard (jointly managed by Meo Carbon Solutions and Welthungerhilfe). A special thanks to GRAS – Global Risk Assessment Services for providing the photo.

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The Food Security Standard (FSS) takes into account the Right to adequate Food in agricultural production. Applying the FSS in sustainability certification systems ensures that farmers, workers, and neighbouring communities are food secure.

Welthungerhilfe is one of the largest private aid organisations in Germany, independent of politics and religion. It was established in 1962, as the German section of the “Freedom from Hunger Campaign”.

Meo Carbon Solutions is an independent consulting company with a focus on sustainable development solutions, smallholder empowerment and social compliance, sustainability certification and carbon footprint improvement. Meo is working on a global scale and supporting the application of the FSS.

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