Simultaneous breadbasket failures threaten sufficiency of global food supply
In a world of growing environmental strains our increasingly complex food system is becoming more vulnerable to sudden supply shocks. The interaction of disruptors such as extreme weather, political instability or crop diseases could result in a simultaneous blow to output in key food-producing regions, triggering global shortages and price spikes. The risk of a systemic breakdown could be further elevated by wider fragilities, including reduced crop diversity, competition for water from other sectors and geopolitical tensions.
Widespread fear—let alone death on a large scale—could lead to devastating spillover effects. Social fractures would intensify in affected and at-risk countries. Political and economic crises would be likely. So too would a surge in smuggling, both of food and people. Against such a volatile backdrop, cross-border tensions could worsen sharply, hampering existing humanitarian response networks, frustrating efforts to develop regional and global mitigation strategies and increasing the possibility of interstate conflict.
Even on optimistic climate-change trajectories food-supply risks will remain elevated. Steps are needed to improve sustainability and resilience throughout the food system. Among the changes that could help are increasing crop diversity, establishing stress tests of “choke points” and other national and regional vulnerabilities, reducing waste along supply chains, reaffirming humanitarian principles and commitments and establishing early warning indicators.