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Climate Change: How a Warming World is a Threat to Our Food Supplies

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

When the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, it was in protest at heavy-handed treatment and harassment in the province where he lived. But a host of new studies suggest that a major factor in the subsequent uprisings, which became known as the Arab spring, was food insecurity.

Drought, rocketing bread prices, food and water shortages have all blighted parts of the Middle East. Analysts at the Centre for American Progress in Washington say a combination of food shortages and other environmental factors exacerbated the already tense politics of the region. As the Observer reports today, an as-yet unpublished US government study indicates that the world needs to prepare for much more of the same, as food prices spiral and longstanding agricultural practices are disrupted by climate change.

"We should expect much more political destabilisation of countries as it bites," says Richard Choularton, a policy officer in the UN's World Food Programme climate change office. "What is different now from 20 years ago is that far more people are living in places with a higher climatic risk; 650 million people now live in arid or semi-arid areas where floods and droughts and price shocks are expected to have the most impact.

"The recent crises in the Horn of Africa and Sahel may be becoming the new normal. Droughts are expected to become more frequent. Studies suggest anything up to 200 million more food-insecure people by 2050 or an additional 24 million malnourished children. In parts of Africa we already have a protracted and growing humanitarian disaster. Climate change is a creeping disaster," he said.

The Mary Robinson climate justice foundation is hosting a major conference in Dublin this week. Research to be presented there will say that rising incomes and growth in the global population, expected to create 2 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, will drive food prices higher by 40-50%. Climate change may add a further 50% to maize prices and slightly less to wheat, rice and oil seeds.


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