Food Shocks, A Growing Threat

12 Feb 2019

The term ‘food shock’ refers to the loss of a harvest or livestock as a result of a sudden, extreme climate event or a geopolitical crisis. A recent study carried out by the University of Tasmania and published by Nature Sustainability confirms what was already seen in many quarters as an evident phenomenon: The frequency of food shocks is increasing decade by decade. The data resulting from the study’s analysis of 53 years of agri-food production in 134 countries confirm, in fact, that food shocks have become more frequent with the passing of time and that the area most affected is Southern Asia.

Another study, this time by Columbia University, draws a connection between climate change, food shocks and disease, with researchers discovering that serious drought threatens to provoke new HIV infections. In the urban areas of Lesotho, the focus of the research, drought was associated with an almost fivefold increase in the number of female sex workers and a consequent increase in the virus. Natural disasters that cause the loss of a harvest or head of livestock—increasingly frequent due to climate change—are threatening to undermine progress made in the treatment of HIV, one of the most lethal scourges for the African continent.

The second study sounds the latest in a long series of alarms—based on international statistical records, research and measurements—launched by major supranational institutions, governments, civil society and miscellaneous other organizations, among which Slow Food.

State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, a report published by FAO at the end of 2018, shows that hunger has increased over the last three years, largely as a result of conflict and the impacts of climate change. What is most serious is that the cause has effects that contribute to the fuelling of a never-ending spiral: climate change promotes conflicts because it impedes access to increasingly scarce land and water resources, thus exacerbating food insecurity.

At the presentation of the report, the director general of FAO, Graziano da Silva, declared that insufficient funding remains one of the major impediments to adapting agriculture to climate change. The World Bank estimates the cost at about seven billion dollars a year. Though the estimate is now dated (it dates back to 2010), for some perspective Donald Trump’s long threatened wall between the United States and Mexico is meant to cost about ten billion dollars. It is true that the investment hypothesized by the World Bank would have to be repeated year by year, but if we consider that it would be an investment from all countries—or at least from those with medium-high GDPs—the final goal is in no way beyond humankind’s capabilities.

It is thus possible to mitigate and remedy the social, economic and environmental consequences of ‘food shocks’ caused by climate change by investing money and changing the gear of international policies—and working to make this happen is an urgent necessity.

In the meantime, it is also important for us to act all together, day by day and each in our own small way. Slow Food is working with its projects and world network of activists to provide a concrete answer to climate change. Discover how here— and help us work at our projects! Join Us.


ANSA, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Blog & news

Change the world through food

Learn how you can restore ecosystems, communities and your own health with our RegenerAction Toolkit.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Full name
Privacy Policy