Alfonso, Feliciano and Carmen harvest the paddy fields in Sobrenia.
Each year, the community of Sobrenia, in Bolivia, lose their homes and crops due to the floods. Photo: Alejandro Chaskielberg/Oxfam

World “woefully unprepared” for climate impacts on food

“Climate change is the biggest threat to our chances of winning the fight against hunger.”
Winnie Byanyima
Executive Director, Oxfam International
Published: 25 March 2014

Climate change could put back the fight against hunger by decades but our global food system is woefully unprepared to cope with the challenge, said Oxfam today. The warning comes as governments gather in Japan to agree a major new scientific report, which is expected to show that the impacts of climate change on food will be far more serious and will hit much sooner than previously thought.

Oxfam’s briefing paper, Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger analyses ten key factors that will have an increasingly important influence on countries’ ability to feed their people in a warming world. Across all ten areas, Oxfam found serious gaps between what governments are doing and what they need to do to protect our food systems. The results also show that while many countries – both rich and poor – are unprepared for the impact of climate change on food security, it is the world’s poorest and most food insecure among them that are least prepared and most at risk.

10 gaps

The ten gaps, “failing” policy areas that will undermine the world’s ability to feed itself in a warming world, are:

  1. International adaptation finance (score: <1/10): Rich countries promised to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate but have only provided around 2 per cent of the money poor countries need.

  2. Crop irrigation (score: < 1/10): In California irrigation covers over 80 per cent of arable land. In Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, where farmers are confronting cyclical droughts, irrigation covers less than one per cent of arable land.

  3. Crop insurance (score < 2/10): Just 1 per cent or less of farmers in poor countries such as Malawi have crop insurance compared to 91 per cent of farmers in the US – making it harder for them to survive when climate shocks destroy their harvests.

  4. Agricultural research and development (R&D) (score: 2/10): Global seed diversity has declined by 75 per cent in the last 100 years, depriving farmers of crop varieties better suited to changing weather patterns. Poor countries spend a sixth of the amount that rich countries spend on agricultural R&D.

  5. Social protection (score: 3/10): Just 20 per cent of people across the globe have access to adequate social protection schemes, such as free school meals or cash transfers, when food is unavailable or too expensive.

  6. Weather forecasting (score: 3/10): Information from weather stations helps farmers avoid crop failure. In California, there is one station every 2,000 square km. In Chad there is only one station every 80,000 square km – roughly the size of Austria.

  7. Gender discrimination (score: 5/10): Women make up 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries but discrimination makes it hard for them to adapt. For example, women rarely own the land they farm so it's hard to change their farming methods to deal with a changing climate.

  8. Food stocks (score 5/10): World grain reserves are at historically low levels. If extreme or erratic weather wipes out harvests in key producing countries, food prices could skyrocket, triggering major food crises.

  9. Agricultural investment (score: 7/10): Only four of the 20 African countries Oxfam looked at have delivered on their commitment to spend 10 per cent of their national budget on agriculture.

  10. Humanitarian aid (score: 6/10): Climate change could mean more food crises but humanitarian aid is already failing to keep pace with demand - the difference between the amount of aid which is needed and the amount provided has tripled since 2001.

Oxfam’s analysis also highlights that a number of countries such as Ghana, Viet Nam and Malawi that are bucking the trend by taking action in areas such as social protection, crop irrigation and agricultural investment. This is helping them to outstrip countries such as Nigeria, Laos and Niger on food security, despite sharing similar levels of income and climate risk.

Hunger is not inevitable

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International said: “Climate change is the biggest threat to our chances of winning the fight against hunger.  It could have grave consequences for what we all eat but the world is woefully under prepared for it.”

“Hunger is not inevitable,” said Byanyima. “If governments act on climate change, it will still be possible to eradicate hunger in the next decade and ensure our children and grandchildren have enough to eat in the second half of the century.”

Funding climate adaptation

“Paying for climate adaptation need not break the bank. Poor countries’ adaptation needs are estimated to be around $100bn a year - equivalent to just five per cent of the wealth of the world’s richest 100 people,” said Byanyima.

Already this year, the worst drought in a decade has ruined crops in Brazil’s south-eastern breadbasket, including the valuable coffee harvest.  In California the worst drought in over 100 years is decimating crops across the state, which produces almost half of all the vegetables, fruits and nuts grown in the US.

Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts will become more serious. It is estimated there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five in 2050 compared to a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all under-fives in the US and Canada combined.

IPCC's warnings

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation, due to be published on 31 March, is expected to warn that climate change will lead to declines in global agricultural yields of up to 2 per cent each decade at the same time as demand for food increases by 14 per cent per decade.  It is also expected to warn of higher and more volatile food prices - Oxfam estimates world cereal prices could double by 2030, with half of this rise driven by climate change. While temperature rises of just 1.5 degrees will have serious impacts on our food system the IPCC is also expected to highlight a global temperature threshold of 3 – 4 degrees beyond which we will experience runaway global food crises - we are on track to reach this threshold in the second half of this century.

Time to act

Oxfam is calling on governments and business to act now to stop climate change making people hungry by building communities’ resilience to hunger and climate change, slashing greenhouse gas emissions and securing international agreements to tackle climate and hunger.  Individuals can join the global campaign to stop climate hunger at  www.oxfam.org/foodclimatejustice

Notes to Editors

Expert spokespeople are available for interview at the IPCC conference in Japan and around the globe.

Download Oxfam’s media briefing ‘Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger’ 

The full data set on which Oxfam based its scores for the ten gaps can be downloaded from: http://oxf.am/iwb

Additional visual materials and testimonies:

The UK:
Somerset Levels, England: Farmer talks about the devastating flooding of her village and farmland, the challenges for farming in the future and what needs to be done
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15755&k=42ee61f44d – Pictures, testimony and video
Wales: Farmer talks about the flooding of his farm when the sea defences broke and the aftermath and how farming needs to change in the face of the changing weather.
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15774&k=ed02f7f56f

Pictures and testimonies:
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15774&k=ed02f7f56f

Video news release:
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15759&k=e201709a63

The Philippines – Coconut farmers, rice farmers and fisherfolk talk about the changing weather and the challenges of piecing their lives together following Typhoon Haiyan. Photographs, testimonies and video news release:
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15789&k=8359fdf9fb

Nicaragua and Guatemala – photographs and testimonies on the spread of coffee rust which has reduced coffee harvests, making it harder for people to make a living and have enough to eat.

Nicaragua:
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15756&k=fae8f064fa
Guatemala:
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=15721&k=acfa89804d

Contact Information

Sue Rooks, +1 917 224 0824 or sue.rooks@oxfaminternational.org

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