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Food & Hunger

Coming threats to food security

Flickr: Charles Smith

I'm here to talk about food security. 

Oh, I don't mean security to catch that guy.

Or that one...

I mean global access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food .

That's more like it!

Throughout my life I've always heard that the world has enough food to feed everyone, but it wasn’t getting to the people who needed it. That issue still stands today, but it's not the only thing to worry about.

Here are some of the challenges to food security we are expecting in the not-so-distant future:

1. Climate change on agriculture

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We're already experiencing the effects of climate changes. Droughts and tropical storms are harsher and more frequent, and crop yields have suffered as a cost.

California is responsible for the production of a lot of fruits, vegetables and nuts for the entire US but drought has hurt 97% of the state. As a result, prices for these nutritious commodities have gone up, limiting access to fresh and healthy food for lower-income families.

Heavier rains in Pakistan's monsoon season are expected to affect the production of staple foods like maize and rice. Flooding could also affect the transport of goods from one region to another.

Limiting both supply and access to food sounds like a recipe for disaster.

2. Climate change on marine life

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Plants can't grow legs (or wings, or fluid skeletons like earthworms) and walk off, but animals, if able to adapt fast enough, will migrate towards the poles to where it's cooler. The problem with that, especially in island and coastal nations, is that our fisheries and access to seafood will shrink as sea critters look for new homes.

Almost half of the world's population depend on fish for 20% of their protein intake, so loss of ocean biodiversity would be fishing for trouble!

On that note, let's move on to...

3. Overfishing

coming-threats-to-food-security-b4.jpgImage: Flickr: Roberto Maldeno

Unsustainable fishing has been an issue for decades, but a growing demand has put immense stress on fisheries all over the world. It's astonishing that over half of all fisheries are exploited. In 2011, cod stocks in Scotland completely collapsed, which was a sad year for fish and chip lovers all throughout the UK.

The good news is that the Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental organizations are dedicated to promoting sustainable fishing in the 12 countries responsible for 70% of the exploitation--Let’s hope they succeed!

4. Overpopulation

coming-threats-to-food-security-b3.jpgImage: Flickr: Matthias Ripp

No matter if you're on Team Malthus or Team Boserup, it's hard to deny that our population has been growing at an unprecedented rate since the industrial revolution, and there's only so much fertile soil to feed us all.

FACT: It can take up to 3,000 years to form 1 cm of soil.

Even though we've been arguing for years about whether we're overpopulated, it's hard to deny that more people = more need for food. Growth rates are decreasing, but population is still expected to increase until 2050.

Considering that Western rates of consumption are being adopted in developing countries, population growth is also a factor in global climate change.

5. Urbanization

coming-threats-to-food-security.jpgImage: Flickr: James Gray-King

As much as I love the city, the emergence of the multiplex metropolis all over the world brings up some concerns.

FACT: Even though urban areas only cover about 3% of the Earth, over half of the world’s population lives in cities.

Since the 1950s, people have continued to migrate to cities at an exponential rate, but when you have millions of people crammed on top of each other in a small area, poverty is super concentrated. Income and health go hand-in-hand when  hundreds of millions of city-dwellers face malnutrition . Low income families have no choice but to buy cheap, processed food and are the most susceptible to the slightest changes in food prices.

In such small quarters, existing resources can also be pushed to their limit, resulting in massive fossil fuel usage for the transportation of food, water, and other goods.

6. Western Diets

coming-threats-to-food-security-b5.jpgImage: Flickr: PINKÉ

If meat-heavy diets were just taken up by Americans, Canadians and Western Europeans, supplying the demand would be pretty manageable, but Western diets aren't really remaining, well, in the West alone. A surprising number of people in developing countries all over the world are also adopting these diets, which also includes the kinds of processed food that dominate Western supermarkets.

As the Western diet is spreading all over the world, so are cattle ranches and dairy farms, which happen to be the most resource-intensive use of land. The Amazon rainforest is a prime example of the problems posed by meat consumption, where cattle ranching has become the main cause of deforestation.

In terms of resource-efficiency, cereals are much better than meat. But a good amount of the crops produced in the world directly support the global meat industry. In fact, one-third of the world's cereal harvest and more than nine-tenths of the world's soya is used for animal feed

7. Water and soil pollution

threats-to-food-security-b7.jpgImage: Flickr: Julien Gomba

Agriculture and industry, the practices that give us food, are also two of the practices that contaminate our food in the process. We are literally biting off the hand that feeds us.

Banana plantations are infamous for using large amounts of pesticides to prevent the disease-susceptible crop from dying. That's not even fine to begin with, but the chemical runoff then goes on to contaminate rivers and soils. Chemicals that seep into the soil are hard to break down, and can reduce soil fertility. Remember how long it takes to make fertile soil?

Intense agricultural production has led to polluted farmland the size of Belgium, but China, among other key players, is actively trying to combat these problems. Just this year, the Soil Pollution Prevention and Remediation Action Plan was implemented to help manage, monitor and mitigate the issue of soil pollution. Way to clean up your act, China!


Food security is going to be a challenge in the years to come, but it's a cause that has to be fought for. Organizations like the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture organization are devoted to ensuring global food security for generations to come, and global citizens everywhere are making a difference by going organic, reducing their carbon footprint and raising their voices on how they want their governments to react.

Participants of the 1996 World Food Summit envisioned a world where “all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” It’s one I sure as hell want to live in. Don't you?

You can TAKE ACTION NOW by signing the petition telling the G7 to make commitments to lift 500 million people out of hunger!