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A trinity of crises heads our way

By Lena Aahlby - posted Friday, 21 October 2011

As the global population hits seven billion this month, a triple crisis of climate change, depleted natural resources and rocketing food prices, is threatening our ability to feed them all.

Children born this month will join millions of others facing a triple crisis never before witnessed in history. Accelerating climate change, growing population and rising food prices pose a triple crisis that could lead to a collapse of the global food systems.

The food crisis in East Africa, including a famine in Somalia, has provided a terrible preview of how such crises could play out in years to come, with severe drought, conflict over access to water and land, and high food prices interacting to push 13 million people into starvation.


Climate change alone is predicted to push an additional half a billion people in the tropics into hunger, with experts warning crop yields from rain-fed agriculture in some southern African countries could fall by up to 50 per cent by 2020, and yields in central and south Asia could fall by 30 per cent by 2050.

Although the passing of the carbon tax bill through Australia's lower house of Parliament last week is welcome news for those on the front line of climate change impacts, a new binding global deal to limit climate change is nowhere in sight.

In addition, small-scale farmers, who grow the majority of food in poor communities, are struggling to access the productive resources needed to grow more food as a result of increasing land grabs by foreign companies, soil degradation caused by intensive export oriented farming and decades of underinvestment by governments in the agricultural sector.

Women in particular do it tough. In sub-Saharan Africa, women grow over 80% of the food, yet receive only five percent of the training, own just two percent of the land and access only one percent of the credit available for agriculture. This loss of food production capacity is a growing concern as it leaves rural communities less resilient and adaptive to changing weather patterns and conditions.

Meanwhile, food prices are rising as a result of rapid population growth, stagnating yields and the conversion of croplands into biofuels. On average, the real price of a typical food basket has risen nearly 50 per cent over last year, with prices only set to rise further in the next decade. With poor people in developing countries spending anything between 50 to 80 percent of their weekly household income on food, the World Bank has estimated 44 million people fell into extreme poverty since June last year because of high food prices.

It's no surprise then that food security will be high on the agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth at the end of this month and the G20 in France in early November.


The real question is what can be done to alleviate these pressures?

A new report released by ActionAid this month reveals 1.6 billion people – nearly a quarter of the world's population – live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate-related food crises, yet only a handful of these are putting adequate measures in place to assure future food security.

Among the countries most affected by the triple crisis, Brazil scores top marks in ActionAid's preparedness survey, with the right to food now enshrined in its constitution and a newly announced $10 billion package of support to small-scale farmers. Second and third placed are Rwanda and Malawi for their long-term plans for climate adaptation and support for farmers.

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About the Author

Lena Aahlby is the Director and Founder of StrategyforChange, a consultancy that works with the not-for-profit sector on strategy development, campaign design, training and capacity building. Lena has extensive experience of working with NGOs both in Australia and internationally, most recently in her capacity as International Programme Director for Greenpeace at the global HQ in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Please see for more.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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