In 2019, conflicts and extreme weather events such as enduring droughts will increase food insecurity in many parts of the world, pushing refugees to start moving. This food insecurity could be accelerated by disruptions in trade due to trade wars. In 2018, millions of people globally experienced food insecurity already, largely as a result of conflict and political instability or extreme weather events. Food security denotes the accessibility (including the affordability) of food for individuals. Unreliable access to food can lead to undernutrition, which can result in conditions such as childhood stunting and anemia in women of reproductive age, or – and this appears paradoxical – in overweight and obesity, as we explained earlier.
First, the strong link between conflict and food insecurity is illustrated in the 2019 Emergency Watchlist by the International Watchlist Committee. This annually published watch list names the top ten countries that run the greatest risk of experiencing unprecedented humanitarian crises over the coming year. Food insecurity is a major factor in nearly all of the top ten countries. In 2018, crisis levels of food insecurity have been reported in parts of Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia. Severe food shortages have also been reported in Venezuela and Syria, caused by internal chaos and conflict. Over three million Venezuelans have fled their country’s soaring hyperinflation, food and medical shortages, expected to reach 5.3 million by the end of 2019 in what has become the largest exodus in modern Latin American history.
Next to conflicts and mismanagement (in the case of Venezuela), extreme weather events were a major contributor to food insecurity, depleting food stocks. The FAO Early Warning Early Action report on food security and agriculture provides a forward-looking analysis of major disaster risks to food security. It lists a climate-related phenomenon among the biggest threats: El Niño. El Niño is a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean with a global impact on weather patterns. El Niño events occur naturally every few years and stem from abnormally high ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific. There is a 75-80% chance of a climate-warming El Niño event by February 2019. In 2016, the last El Niño event took place, and in combination with the heating caused by humanity’s carbon emissions, 2016 became the hottest year ever recorded. El Niño disturbed rainfall and temperature patterns and threatened the food security and livelihoods of some 60 million people globally.
Finally, as food insecurity rises globally, many countries will increasingly depend on open markets for their national food security. IFPRI’s 2018 Global Food Policy Report reminds us that global trade has played a crucial role in rapidly decreasing levels of undernourishment and improved nutrition and that trade wars threaten food security as they undermine food systems. The major geopolitical event in 2018 affecting agriculture and food security was the unfolding of the trade war with China started by U.S. President Trump. Since the beginning of the trade war this year, U.S. overseas sales of agricultural products have suffered, while net farm income is already near 15-year lows in 2018 and it is predicted to further decrease in 2019, Trump thus provided farmers with $12 billion in emergency aid. Brazilian soybean farmers are the principal beneficiary of the trade war, as China is a major soybean purchaser.
Based on these outlooks and the political environment and climate change-related weather events that have already been seen this year, 2019 will bring us global risks of more food insecurity, food shortages, food-fueled unrest, and migration due to hunger.
RISKS MARKED ON THE RISK RADAR AS NUMBER 1: food insecurity