by Max Hoffman and Meredith Leal | Center for American Progress
The Center for American Progress has long focused on the underlying drivers of conflict and instability and sought to outline ways in which to strengthen the liberal international order through cooperation with emerging powers to address shared challenges. The linked challenges of global food security and climate change are at the heart of these twin efforts.
Writing for U.S. and international policymakers and the public, CAP’s primary objective has been to convey how underlying trends like population growth, climate change, and human migration contribute to acute secondary effects like rapid increases in staple prices, political instability, and conflict. This effort, housed largely in our project on Climate Change, Migration, and Security, has produced a series of reports focusing on key regional hot spots.
Over time, we have realized that the scholarship must go a step further. Our research on the security and foreign policy side is often missing crucial expertise from the agricultural and investment community. We can identify how rural disruption and migration contribute to urban unrest and political instability, but we need input from commodities traders, insurance companies, and agricultural scientists to understand, for example, how climate patterns around the world reverberate through supply chains to spark food riots. The trading and scientific communities, in turn, stand to benefit from exposure to the political and security analyses which are our focus, identifying how insecurity and diverse political pressures can complicate responses to food insecurity.
Through this research—from CAP and many others—two things have become clear: the international order is not currently equipped to deal with likely future strains on food production and challenges to reliable access; and governments have so far failed to address the root causes and structural risks which made the 2008 global food crisis so disruptive. Many nations are still not equipped to deal with food scarcity or rapid price increases and are deeply vulnerable to the civil unrest they can spark. As our climate changes and the world population continues to grow, the need to understand and prepare grows more urgent.
In 2013 Christopher Barrett, a Cornell professor and expert on international agriculture and economics, published Food Security and Sociopolitical Stability, seeking to breakdown the division between foreign policy and food security studies. Discussing government responses to food security stressors, Barrett wrote that, “intellectual property rights, migration, trade and humanitarian response will not only affect the food security of subject populations, but may also have significant spillover effects on other countries´ food security.” In other words, successful policies cannot be strictly domestic, but must be fully synchronized into foreign policy decision-making.
This synchronization has begun, but is not yet second-nature. Certainly, government policy on agricultural development—a subset of most foreign policy setups—has focused on global food security. Concern about climate change and natural resource scarcity has permeated parts of the United States’ national security apparatus–particularly the analytical sections of the intelligence community. But only by better communicating the links between long-term trends and short-term crises can this understanding penetrate the top echelons of government and private-sector leadership.
Food Chain Reaction aims to help do this, and CAP is delighted to be a part of it. We hope to better understand the ripple effects which threaten the global food supply chain and identify the institutional gaps the international community must address. By teasing out poorly understood causal relationships, the partners and players involved in this exercise hope to mitigate the risk factors that are likely to arise in the decades to come.
Max Hoffman is a Policy Analyst on the National Security and International Policy team at American Progress. Meredith Leal is a Consultant on the National Security and International Policy team at American Progress.
Image: AP Photo/Amr Nabil via FCR partner Center for American Progress