How to secure the global food system in a time of climate change

Climate change could destabilize the global food system, but there are ways to keep that from happening, say Cargill and the other organizers of the global crisis simulation Food Chain Reaction in a new report. 

By Tom Vandyck February 11, 2016

Cargill, WWF, Mars and the Center for American Progress (CAP) today presented the findings from Food Chain Reaction, a global crisis simulation held last November in Washington DC. The game was played by 65 international experts, who assumed the roles of nations, multilateral organizations and multinational business, and confronted a burgeoning food security crisis in the decade 2020-2030.

At a public event in Washington, the organizers said Food Chain Reaction had exposed three critical gaps in the world’s capacity to mitigate future climate-induced food security breakdowns, and laid out policy recommendations to fill those gaps.

“We expected to gain insights into how far players would go to meet climate, and food security challenges,” said CAP Chairman and former U.S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, noting that the challenges Food Chain Reaction tackled would shape the future trajectory of world affairs. “The exercise did not disappoint.”

Climate change won’t break the global food system all by itself by 2030, but in a world of population growth, rapid urbanization, and political instability in places, we do need to secure the system against climate shocks, they argue.

“Food Chain Reaction demonstrated that the global food system can withstand the pressures of climate and political instability,” said Cargill Animal Nutrition leader Joe Stone, who was a player in the game. “But a new approach focused on breaking down barriers and public-private action is required.”

To do that, and close the gaps identified during the game, Cargill and its Food Chain Reaction co-organizers recommend the following policy steps:

  • The Knowledge Gap: The public- and private-sector should develop a real-time global food security dashboard that allows decision-makers to detect and address disruptions to the global food system before they occur.
  • The Productivity Gap: Public, private and multilateral actors must invest to increase agricultural productivity in low-income countries, while minimizing its impact on the environment.
  • The Collaboration Gap: Global leaders must create specialized forums to improve decision-making in times of crisis, introduce coordinated long-term measures, and engage decision-makers from all sectors on global food security issues.

At their event in Washington DC, the organizers presented two documents:

Food Chain Reaction – A Global Food Security Game is a full-scale, 38 page recap an analysis of the crisis simulation, compiled by the Washington-based Center for Naval Analysis (CAN), which designed the game.

Climate, Conflict and Global Food Systems summarizes the findings and lays out the policy recommendations formulated by Cargill, Mars, WWF and CAP.

“This exercise shed light on areas in which collaboration can catalyze cooperation to help head off food shortages before they occur,” said Daschle. “Climate change will certainly stress our global food system, but we are now better armed with a deeper understanding of how decision-makers may act as shortages escalate into crises.”