We often talk about food security—whether or not a person has access to enough nutritious, culturally appropriate food to live a healthy life. But food security is not just about individuals, it’s also about our collective future. In a broader sense, global food security refers to our ability to grow enough food to feed, well, everyone. Currently, we produce enough food for the global population, but not everyone has equal access to food, due to income inequality, geopolitical conflicts, and other factors. In fact, we produce (and waste) so much food that if we prevented just 25% of global food waste, which totals at 1.3 billion tons annually, we could feed all 870 million people suffering from chronic undernourishment.
Besides geographic and economic inequality, there is another looming threat to our global food security — the climate crisis. Climate change affects our agricultural system in many ways and threatens to cause significant decreases in crop yields. Firstly, a warming climate means changes in temperature, which leads to an increased risk of heat stress. Heat stress causes plants to conserve their energy, and put less of it towards growing and reproduction. Hotter temperatures also increase evaporation from both plants and the soil, negatively impacting the moisture content in plants. Another key aspect of climate change is more extreme precipitation—and for agriculture, drought is a huge risk. Rising temperatures will cause soil to dry out, and reductions in precipitation will mean that there is less rain when it is most needed. More extreme precipitation patterns may also result in more intense and frequent flooding in certain regions, which can destroy crops and devastate farming communities. Sea level rise will contaminate coastal freshwater aquifers with salt water, affecting agricultural production in those regions. And a changing climate means changing seasons and patterns—disrupting the cycle of agriculture. Indigenous agricultural knowledge of when to plant crops and when to harvest will be eroded.
The above graph shows projected increases and decreases in agricultural production as a result of climate change, for the year 2080. Red and pink denotes decreases in productivity, and green represents areas where yields may increase due to increased carbon in the atmosphere. This graph makes clear that the Global South, which is already disproportionately impacted by low food security, will be most negatively affected by climate impacts on agriculture.
There are many solutions offered up to address the impending impacts of climate change on global food production. They range from technological fixes, such as genetically engineering crops for increased yields, to ideas like regenerative agriculture, which aims to restore soil for better agricultural production and healthier ecosystems. These and other solutions should be diligently researched as we prepare for the effects of climate change. But, there’s another simple solution right in front of us—reducing food waste. We already produce enough food for everyone, but because of gaps in harvesting, storing, transporting, and purchasing of food, much of this food is wasted. Making more of this food available would not only improve food security, it would also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, thus lessening agriculture’s own contribution to the climate crisis. For small-scale farmers in certain parts of the world, less food waste means better business, and could also lead to better economic opportunity.
It’s important to note that food waste looks different in different parts of the world—in Global North, or “developed” countries, food waste primarily occurs at the consumer and retail level. Food is wasted due to cosmetic standards, overstock, and purchasing habits of consumers. However, in Global South, or “developing” countries, food is mostly wasted at the harvest and storage stage. The Global North is also responsible for a greater share of food waste than the Global South. In the Global North, education is needed to help consumers waste less and shift our collective mindset of what “good food” is, while in the Global South, investment in infrastructure to better harvest and store food (such as refrigeration technology) is critical. Much can be done to prevent food waste from happening in the first place—and more infrastructures should also be built to rescue and redistribute surplus food.
In the Global South, better practices and infrastructure for harvesting and storing food are needed to mitigate food waste, while in the Global North, most food waste occurs at the retail and consumer level, and education is needed to encourage businesses and consumers to reduce their waste.
We also need to recognize that food is a basic human right and continue to work towards equitable access to enough nutritious food for all people, no matter their nationality, race, gender, age, sexuality, gender identity, ability, or refugee status. Mitigating food waste will make more food available, but it will not guarantee that it is equitably distributed. To do that, we must continue to fight for food justice, and share the abundance that is around us. You can take action to support our efforts to share abundance by donating your fruit or funds, or, if you live in Los Angeles or Ventura, by volunteering with us!