3.2 The impact of climate change on industrial agriculture

Almost one billion people in the world are hungry today. By 2050 our food systems will have to feed 50 per cent more people than they do today.

We can see then, that the overall impact of climate change on food security will be a consequence, not just of biophysical climatic changes, but of the social, economic, institutional, demographic and technological responses (or non-responses) to the challenge that climate change poses.

Food security is undermined by lack of action or the wrong kind of action in these spheres. It is also exacerbated by the following factors:

  • fossil fuel depletion

  • corporate control of genetic diversity, seeds and natural resources

  • displacement of indigenous people

  • soil degradation

  • water scarcity

  • increasing population

  • increasing urbanisation

  • intensive livestock farming

  • competition for land and resources

  • super farms and monoculture

  • poor planning of urban areas

  • just-in-time distribution

  • supermarket domination

  • geopolitics and war.

If we take our ‘just-in-time’ food distribution system, we can see that it takes only a minor shock to almost bring our food system to a halt. In the UK in 2000, road hauliers’ protests at increasing fuel costs led to a blockade of fuel depots across the country and brought the food distribution system to a standstill. Supermarket bosses told government ministers that shelves could be bare within three days. Considering 80 per cent of our food is purchased through supermarkets, this is a sobering example.

For further information see the report Nine Meals from Anarchy by Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation, 2008. And the UK government’s 2009 report, Securing Food Supplies up to 2050: The Challenges for the UK.

3 How will climate change affect food security?

4 How can we adapt our food systems to mitigate these effects?