By Christine Parthemore and Franklin Holley
On July 1, for the second time in eight months, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) drastically cut food aid to more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. And as Yemen’s security and humanitarian crises continue to build, the WFP estimates that more than 5 million people in the country are severely food insecure.
This present and growing food insecurity in parts of the Middle East is worrisome for its potential to compound existing security, political, natural resource, and social stresses in affected countries. The mounting pressure of food insecurity is hitting just as the international community is working with countries in the region to confront threats such as state weakness in Iraq, prolonged civil war in Syria, and violent encroachment by the Islamic State and other terrorist networks.
We can look to the past eight years to see the repercussions of food insecurity mixing with other strains on societies to create or exacerbate security threats. Rapidly rising food prices in 2008 sparked riots in dozens of countries, contributed to regime change in others, and pulled a World Bank-estimated 105 million people into poverty. Inconsistent food availability and price spiking — intensified by less predictable weather patterns — drives political unrest, instability, and violence when conditions are ripe.
While our global food system produces enough to feed everyone on the planet, inefficiencies, waste, uneven distribution, and conflict breed food insecurity. Moreover, food production itself exacerbates climate change and stresses our natural resources, using 70% of global freshwater, 30% of global energy, and 38% of land area, and generating 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
These food security challenges are well understood but under-addressed. While governments often react in times of crisis, they also need to proactively prevent them from manifesting. Food security is an issue of global scope, yet some actions that may keep abundant food supplies for one population may reduce food availability and affordability for others. Likewise, some short-term actions to increase food production (for example, clearing forests, grasslands, and wetlands that would otherwise store carbon) can be unsustainable and counterproductive in the long term due to impacts on water, soil, and the climate.
Creating a future of greater global food security requires public and private sectors across the world to share relatively aligned objectives. Information sharing and coordinated policies and actions by governments and private companies will be necessary as the world’s food needs expand to keep pace with its growing population and increasing development.
On November 9 and 10, the Center for American Progress and World Wildlife Fund are partnering with CNA, Cargill, Inc., Mars, and a range of academic experts in an exercise called “Food Chain Reaction: A Global Food Security Game.” The event will gather more than 60 high-level policy and private sector leaders to participate in a two-day future scenario game intended to improve our understanding of how governments, institutions, and the private sector might interact to address a crisis in the global food system.
Players will assume the roles of a broad array of stakeholders in the global food system — including experts in policy, agriculture, trade, climate change, and diplomacy — to respond to and help manage a disruption in the global food system brought on by drought, crop failure, and social unrest. Participants, representing the world’s major economies and many of the world’s top food-producing and consuming populations, will develop strategies and partnerships similar to those in the real world and, in the end, take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. After the exercise concludes, we will analyze how country teams interact with each other, with the private sector, and with multinational institutions.
Through the format of a dynamic future scenario exercise, we can gain new insights into how countries might respond to future crises and identify new opportunities for reducing the potential for future instability. If the world can reduce the risks at our doorstep, a future of greater food security will mark a critical step in a more stable 21st century.
Christine Parthemore is director for food and climate security at the Center for American Progress (CAP). Franklin Holley is manager of agricultural commodities at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This post originally appeared on medium.com.