Category Archives: Food insecurity

Climate Change and Food System Shocks: Threats of Cascading Catastrophe

Charles W. Elliott

Food System Shocks
A global pre-eminent insurance market is waving red flags about the risk of climate-change shocks to our world food system that could quadruple the price of basic food commodities, cause widespread famine and social instability, and  bring down governments. Are world capitals paying attention?

Adding to the chorus of voices warning of threats to the global food system caused by climate change is global insurer Lloyds, which recently issued its report, “Food System Shock: The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply“.  Food System Shock is one in a series of Lloyd “emerging risk” reports that address risks that are “perceived to be potentially significant but which may not be fully understood or allowed for in insurance terms and conditions, pricing, reserving or capital setting.”  This is not the first risk report on climate change issued by Lloyds (see, Lloyds’ Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change (2014)), nor the first to address global food security (see, Lloyds’ Feast or Famine (2013)).  But it is the first by Lloyds to connect these two, explicitly addressing the impacts of climate change on food production and follow-on effects to society in a globalized economy.

As with other Lloyds’ emerging threat reports, Food System Shock employs scenario modeling, in which events occur that are based on plausible expert data-based assumptions.  In this case,  a “production shock” is posited to occur within one year affecting several agricultural commodities in various regions of the world:

Experts in the fields of food security and the economics of sustainable development were asked to develop a plausible scenario of a global production shock to some of the world’s staple food crops, and to describe the cascade of impacts that could result.

The climate-change event driving the scenario is a strong warm-phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)  in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean.  Climate models indicate that climate change increases the probability and amplitude of these events. See, e.g.,  “Climate Change Could Double Likelihood of Super El Ninos.” The scenario event causes flooding in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, drought in India, Australia, and Southeast Asia, and intense rainfall in Bangladesh and eastern Pakistan that submerges cropland.  As a result,  severe impacts to agricultural production of rice, soybeans, corn, and wheat occur.  The analysis modeled the impacts to global commodity prices as a result of these production losses and export control responses by individual countries. In the scenario, corn and wheat prices rise to triple from 2000 prices; rice prices rise 500% in India.  Countries on the World Food Programme (WTF) food insecurity watch list become unable to import food.  Food riots break out in urban areas across the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America. Government instability results in a number of countries.  The U.S. stock market falls by 5%; main European markets fall 10%; more than a $1 trillion of market value is wiped out.

As the report tersely concludes:

In summary, quadrupled commodity prices and commodity stock fluctuations, coupled with civil unrest, result in significant negative humanitarian consequences and major financial losses worldwide.


There is little doubt that a systemic production shock to the world’s most important food crops as described in this scenario would generate a cascade of economic, political and social impacts. What is striking about the scenario is that the probability of occurrence is estimated as significantly higher than the benchmark return period of 1:200 years applied for assessing insurers’ ability to pay claims against extreme events.

Masked by this dry language, the insurance industry is, and should be, deeply worried. Our global connectedness is both a strength and a deep vulnerability. We are reminded that we are all interconnected in fundamental ways. What happens in one ocean affects us all. The cascading consequences revealed by this scenario modeling demonstrate an urgent need to build more robust resilience throughout the global food production, supply, and distribution system.

But even this is likely to enable only a weak adaptive response to the impacts of the climate change dynamics already “baked into” the levels of CO² we have released and will inevitably release into the atmosphere. What we need, of course, is collective action that will swiftly end the burning of fossil fuels and prevent the worst effects from emerging.

Absent from the Lloyds’ report is any sense of the scale of human suffering that would be wrought from these consequences. It is as though the sheer magnitude of the damage and chaos that would result cannot be directly spoken of. Yet we should not speak of a million starving people without pausing to understand what that truly means for each person, each family, each community that would be so badly hurt.

The world’s climate change negotiators will descend upon Paris on November 30, 2015 for the 21st U.N. Conference on Climate Change.  After decades of delay and inaction, we hope that they will finally keep in mind the millions of the poor and those most vulnerable to climate change disasters, most of whom have never burned a gallon of gasoline or a pound of coal their entire lives.

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

US Projects

23. Detroit: Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit is a 501(c)3 nonprofit (registered 2014) operating in one of the most neglected cities in the US, where 20% of the residents are food insecure and the city’s jobless rate is 14.3%. Residents have limited access to grocery stores due to an unreliable mass transit system and buy their food at gas stations or convenience stores with bulletproof windows in monitored transactions. The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is to promote food sovereign so that the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within city limits. The long-term strategy is to foster healthy relationships with food by increasing knowledge of food and farming, nurturing leadership skills, cultivating community connections and capacity, changing the value of food, and developing food assets.

The goal of this year’s project is to enable urban farmers to increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables and to facilitate educational and community events that promote healthy relationships of people to good nutritious food. The first objective is to support more than 1500 family, community, school and market gardens that will produce 150 tons of produce for predominately low-income families. The second objective is to facilitate 19 educational workshops and community events that will engage approximately 400 residents. Annually renewable project.
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New Report: Feeding the World Without GMOs

Charles W. Elliott

Feeding the World Without GMOsA new report, Feeding The World Without GMOs , by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) refutes the corporate biotech/industrial narrative that genetically modified organism (GMO) foods offer real solutions to global hunger and food insecurity.

Despite significant progress over the past 30 years, the world still faces an ongoing crisis of hunger and food insecurity. 805 million people continue to go hungry, according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.[1] The world also faces a “hidden hunger” problem —micronutrient deficiency—which affects some two billion people, causing long-term, irreversible health effects and significantly impairing economic productivity. We face stark challenges posed by population growth: by 2050 the demand for food will be twice what it was in 2005.[2]

Feeding the World Without GMOs takes a hard look at ways to address this problem and concludes that GMO food is a non-solution. In nine pages of tight synthesis, it analyzes: (1) why GE crops don’t contribute to food security; (2) what would work to boost the global food supply; and (3) the unfulfilled promise of genetic engineering.
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Hunger Still Shadows US Schoolchildren

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

A recent bulletin from the Southern Education Foundation reports that, for the first time in fifty years, a majority of students in US public schools come from low-income families. The data, collected for the 2012–13 school year, considers a family low income on the basis of whether the children register for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches to students. Figures show that 51% of students in US public schools, ranging from pre-kindergarten through the twelfth grade, were eligible for the lunch program. While poor students are spread across the US, the highest rates of poor and low-income families are concentrated in the Southern and Western states. In twenty-one states, at least half the public school children were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. In Mississippi, more than 70% of students were from low-income families. In Illinois, 50%—one of every two students—were low-income.
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Many Americans Don’t Get Enough Food

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

While the United States proclaims itself the land of limitless opportunity, the shining “nation on a hill” where dreams of prosperity and success become true, the reality on the ground often belies this pastel rhetoric. The reason for this failure is not lack of resources but policies determined by voodoo economics and rabid cruelty. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. Too many workers are earning poverty-level wages. Too many programs that provide critical assistance to the neediest of our fellow citizens are being cut. Yet the big shots in Congress, who lecture the poor about the need to work hard, still subscribe to the belief that cutting taxes for the rich and granting subsidies to big business will result in rising incomes for everyone else.

One of the most effective measures in assessing a country’s real economic health is the extent of food insecurity among its population. Figures from reliable sources indicate that a shocking number of Americans perpetually live in the shadows of hunger. Over 46 million Americans–roughly 1 in 7 people–are dependent on SNAP, the food stamps program, which has been in the crossfires of a radically regressive Congress. If funding for the program is cut still further, the number of SNAP recipients will go down while the number of people unable to obtain sufficient food will rise.
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Marching Toward A New Climate Future

Charles W. Elliott

BGR at Peoples Climate March


This past Sunday, Buddhist Global Relief joined 400,000 others at the People’s Climate March in New York to demand swift action to halt the threat of global climate change. The streets were filled with marchers as far as the eye could see with young and old, rich and poor, of all races and religions, joined by their common humanity.

Buddhist Global Relief was part of an Interfaith contingent of thousands that packed 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues so tightly there was barely room to breathe. Joining us were more than twenty other Buddhist groups in the common cause of compassion and concern for the world.

BGR Peoples Climate March
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Preserving the Fecundity of the Earth

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This small farmer in Burkin Faso had to plant five times since the drought dried his seeds.

Among the many things that the Buddhist principle of conditionality teaches us, three are particularly pertinent to any endeavor to diagnose and alleviate suffering on a global scale. The first is that events and processes that appear remote and disconnected from one another may be intimately connected through subtle chains of influence operating subliminally across the systems that generate them. The second is that conditions that appear slight and insignificant on their own can converge to produce effects massive in their impact. The third is that human volition is an important factor in the web of conditions and can thus transform even processes driven by the weight of physical laws.

These three principles are evident with startling clarity in the acceleration of climate change. As to the first, science teaches us the basic chain of conditions involved in anthropogenic global warming. We use coal to generate electricity, burn petroleum derivatives to power our vehicles, ship goods across continents, raise cattle for food, and we thereby release gases that trap heat and warm up the planet. Continue reading