The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) just released its 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report. Two alarming facts immediately stand out.
First, for the third straight year — and after a long period of decline — the number of undernourished people in the world has increased. According to the report, today, 821 million people are undernourished; about 50 million more than there were in 2015 or one out of every nine people on the planet.
The other flashing red light is the link between the rise in global hunger and climate change. FAO finds that “exposure to more complex, frequent and intense climate extremes is threatening to erode and reverse gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition.” Moreover, the impacts are not always obvious. Even in places where harvests appear normal, there is increasing evidence of climate change altering crops in peculiar ways that reduce their nutritional value.
For example, last month, a study in Nature Climate Change from the Harvard School of Public Health examined crop production in 151 countries. It found that rising carbon levels in the atmosphere — the key cause of climate change — are, by themselves, slowly depressing production of critical nutrients like protein, iron, and zinc. They don’t completely understand why, but it appears that absorbing larger amounts of carbon — which plants use as food — is altering internal processes within plants and making crops like rice and maize less nutritious.
Taken together, the FAO food security barometer and the Harvard study make it clear that climate change is no longer a distant threat. Read more