In a recent CNN article, Derrick McElheron asks “Why is Food Security Sparking Unrest?” The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security as having adequate food supply or availability; having a stable supply of food, without fluctuations or shortages from season to season or year to year; and having quality and safety of food. Food security has been linked to development efforts, as many believe that poverty alleviation, hunger, and food security must be addressed simultaneously to make real strides in improving standards of living around the globe.

In his article, McElheron writes about the current volatile market—not the craziness of the NASDAQ or the Dow, but rather the increasing volatility of wheat and corn prices. Russia canceled all exports of its wheat due to forest fires and a massive heat wave, and Pakistani floods have also contributed to growing instability has centered on access to affordable wheat. Some have argued that the rising cost of wheat has triggered riots, the riot in Maputo, Mozambique occurred after bread prices in Mozambique rose 30 percent and killed between 13 and 18 civilians. The FAO will be holding a meeting in Rome tomorrow to discuss the issue, a fitting location as the UN’s involvement in the global food security crisis was codified there with the UN FAO Rome Declaration on World Food Security in 1996.

The riots in Manputo bring to mind the deadly riots of 2007-2008 that occurred across the globe as rice prices rose more than 200 percent, and wheat and corn prices doubled. The article quotes an interview with Hafez Ghanem, the FAO’s assistant-general for economic and social development, who said:

“(I)n the years ahead we’ll probably be seeing more of the turbulence we’re experiencing now because markets are set to become more volatile in the medium term for at least three reasons: a) the growing importance as a cereal producer of the Black Sea region, where yields fluctuate greatly from one season to the next; b) the expected increase of extreme weather events linked to climate change; and c) the growing importance of non-commercial actors in commodities markets…”

McElheron then quotes Julian Cribb, a scientist and author of “The Coming Famine”, who argues that the “most urgent issue confronting humanity in the next 50 years is not climate change or the financial crisis, it is whether we can achieve and sustain such a harvest.”

Personally, I wonder if Cribb is artificially separating the current food crisis and climate change. Climate change will give rise to more frequent severe weather events, such as droughts and forest fires—and agriculture is highly sensitive to climate variability. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report argues that,

“Recent studies indicate that increased frequency of heat stress, droughts and floods negatively affect crop yields and livestock beyond the impacts of mean climate change, creating the possibility for surprises, with impacts that are larger, and occurring earlier, than predicted using changes in mean variables alone. This is especially the case for subsistence sectors at low latitudes. Climate variability and change also modify the risks of fires, pest and pathogen outbreak, negatively affecting food, fiber and forestry.”

Though maybe I’m trying to draw too many connections. After all, the United Nations specifically divides food and agriculture issues (FAO) and climate change issues (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). Do you think an inter-disciplinary approach might work best with food security? That making the argument that climate change will negatively impact many nations not only through rising temperatures, but will also place their populations at risk due to an increasing inability to access adequate food supply? Or do you think creating an inter-disciplinary approach will divert funds from ensuring food security by using them for climate change activities?

Photo Credit: World Food Programme distribution site in Afghanistan, courtesy Flickr user USAID Afghanistan. Some Rights Reserved.

Slide Show Credit: Food– A Slideshow, copyright the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).