Extreme Weather's Threat to Food Security

10/10/2017 12:10 pm ET
World Food Day is this October 16th, 2017
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
World Food Day is this October 16th, 2017

Every hurricane season, the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean brace themselves for the expected onslaught of destructive storms. This year, there were four Category 4+ storms in rapid succession, hitting Texas, Florida and the Caribbean with a fury.

Harvey and Irma caused $290 billion in damage and 185 confirmed deaths; the toll is still being tallied for Hurricanes Maria and Jose. In the continental U.S., tens of thousands of Texans and Floridians have been displaced; many will be homeless for months or displaced for years. In the Caribbean, Barbuda, Dominica and St. Maarten were all but destroyed, and thousands of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are without power, water or food. Hundreds of thousands may have to be relocated.

Four “one-in-a-thousand-years” Category 4-5 storms within just a few weeks of each other, and the increasing destructiveness of hurricanes over the last decade, should provide ample proof that, no matter what you think the cause is, climate is changing. Annually, flooding affects 96.9 million people on average, and causes $13.7 billion in damage globally, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Those figures will rise dramatically with this year's Atlantic hurricanes and the rising number of deluges worldwide.

The debate on the link between climate change and extreme weather has been reignited by these recent disasters, but two things are beyond debate – climate is changing, and it is impacting every aspect of life. One area of impact – food – has an additional facet to it. Not only is food production impacted by climate – it actually can have a substantial effect upon climate.

Changing methods of food production may, in fact, offer a significant bulwark against the impacts of climate change, and transitioning to ecological agriculture is worthy of consideration by governments and farmers as a means of fighting and reversing climate change while providing food security – highly desirable during times of weather disasters like the hurricanes of August and September.

By adopting a natural agriculture approach, one that relies on drought- and flood- resistant native seeds, one that works with nature and not against it, and one that regenerates soil and improves its health, farmers can attain a level of resilience not currently possible through chemical-input-dependent methods of agriculture. Additionally, by cutting the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and discontinuing industrial practices that depend on fossil fuels, farmers can drastically decrease greenhouse emissions and improve soil’s ability to draw down carbon from the atmosphere, therefore decreasing their impact on climate and the environment.

Another aspect of food during these disasters is shortage. Food security, the state of having reliable access to safe, nutritious food, has been tested by hurricanes and floods of 2017 and found wanting.

Appropriately, the 2017 theme of World Food Day on October 16th, is Change the Future of Migration: Invest in Food Security and Rural Development. Organizers note that currently, more people have been forced to flee their homes than at any time since the Second World War, often caused by increases in extreme weather linked to climate change.

Three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture or other rural activities, and small-scale farmers supply 75% of the world’s food crops. Creating conditions that allow rural people to stay safely at home and have more resilient livelihoods, is a crucial component of any plan to tackle the migration challenge.

Rural development can address factors that compel people to move by creating related jobs and business opportunities such as small dairy or poultry production, food processing or horticulture. These enterprises increase production and lead to better food security and more resilient livelihoods. Cooperative communities also provide better access to social protection and reduced conflict over natural resources.

There isn’t time to lose.

"There are now many indications that the incidence of storms and persistent rainfall events is increasing with climate change," says Dr. Justin Butler, chief executive of Brighton-based flood risk assessment firm Ambiental. The length of hurricane season and storm intensity are also affected.

2017 has been a devastating year. And yet, this World Food Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we can do to change the future of migration by bringing our planet back to a more secure footing.

By advocating for the shift towards natural agriculture, we can help communities to increase food security and stabilize their economies. At the same time, by adopting more resilient methods of food production in harmony with nature, farmers can regenerate agricultural land to heal the planet and reverse climate change. For our sake and the generations to come, we must do all that we can to help them.

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