Explore the Issue

Food security is a complex issue affected by a wide range of decisions and natural events. Policy decisions by governments about energy usage, trade flows, and agricultural production can fundamentally change the way food is produced and distributed both locally and around the world. Global traders influence commodity prices that impact food market dynamics. And natural factors, like flooding, drought, and warmer temperatures can reduce the amount of food produced, causing regional shortages that can have far-reaching effects.

At the same time, disruptions to food security have a cascading effect on communities across the globe. Disruptions can impact human health, harm the environment, contribute to civil unrest, hinder economic growth, and even threaten national security.

The complexities and interactions among these issues are the reason why we are playing Food Chain Reaction. As the game unfolds, players will react to a series of world events—some man-made and some natural—that will require them to decide how their team will respond. While we don’t know what they’ll do, we know their decisions will likely have an impact that reverberates around the world.

Food Security and Open Trade

To feed a world on its way to nearly 10 billion increasingly urban and affluent people by mid-century, food must be able to move from areas of surplus to areas of deficit.

The areas of food surplus are endowed with fertile soil, plentiful rain, ample sunshine, and moderate temperatures. These favorable traits are not spread evenly around the globe. As a result, parts of the world are natural food exporters while other parts of the world are destined to be net food importers.

The net food importing parts of the world are also places where population growth and urbanization are on a fast track, including parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In fact, most of the world’s population growth between now and 2050 will be in developing countries, and most of those people will reside in cities. For the growing populations in these regions to have ready access to adequate amounts of safe, affordable, and nutritious food, more must move across international borders—much more than the 16-18% that currently does.

When food flows freely, a cascade of food security benefits results:

  • the impact of local crop shortfalls on local food availability is moderated
  • farmers have more market access, can improve their incomes, and are motivated to produce more
  • natural resources are used more sparingly for agricultural production
  • consumers buy their food for less

Food Security and Foreign Policy

The availability and price of food can have significant political consequences. Protecting domestic food production and securing reliable access to staple crops and associated commodities is a critical responsibility of governments worldwide. When governments fail in this task, the results can be dire. Food scarcity or rapid price increases can undermine internal stability in vulnerable countries and provoke political protests or civil unrest. Given the stakes, concerns about food security—and related issues like access to water—can shape foreign policy decisions surrounding trade and, in extreme cases, seriously affect bilateral relations.

There is recent precedent for these concerns. In 2008, a series of natural disasters and unusual weather patterns in key producing regions contributed to a rapid spike in global food prices. This rapid price increase led some countries, like Russia, to institute export bans, further exacerbating the problem. The second-order effects—of much higher staple prices, particularly in urban areas—sparked riots in dozens of food insecure countries, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa. These events contributed to regime change and pulled a World Bank-estimated 105 million people into poverty.

The structural risks which contributed to the 2008 global food crisis have not been addressed and make a future crisis more likely. As weather patterns become less predictable due to climate change and as the world population continues to grow, the availability and price of food may become less consistent. With food insecurity contributing to political unrest, instability, and violence, it is important to better understand how countries will advance their interests both domestically and on the international stage in a resource-constrained future environment.

Food Security and Energy Policy

By 2050, the world’s population will approach 10 billion people and the demand for food will double. Yet today, agriculture already uses 40 percent of the Earth’s land and 70 percent of the fresh water we consume. It’s also the leading cause of deforestation and responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gases we emit.

Food production and climate change are caught in a negative feedback loop: using all that land, water, and energy to grow crops and feed livestock stresses fragile ecosystems and exacerbates climate change, which in turn disrupts food production.

Complicating matters, demographers forecast populations will grow most significantly in regions where climate change will have the most negative impact on agricultural yields, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. A growing body of research demonstrates that food insecurity is contributing not just to malnutrition but also to food riots and social unrest in politically fragile regions, and that these events will only become more frequent.

By mainstreaming simple practices such as rehabilitating degraded lands, eliminating food waste, and implementing new technology that helps us grow more food on the same amount of land, we can provide the food and nourishment we need, while ensuring we are conserving nature for future generations.

Food Security and Conservation

By 2050, the world’s population will approach 10 billion people and the demand for food will double. Yet today, agriculture already uses 40 percent of the Earth’s land and 70 percent of the fresh water we consume. It’s also the leading cause of deforestation and responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gases we emit.

Food production and climate change are caught in a negative feedback loop: using all that land, water, and energy to grow crops and feed livestock stresses fragile ecosystems and exacerbates climate change, which in turn disrupts food production.

Complicating matters, demographers forecast populations will grow most significantly in regions where climate change will have the most negative impact on agricultural yields, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. A growing body of research demonstrates that food insecurity is contributing not just to malnutrition but also to food riots and social unrest in politically fragile regions, and that these events will only become more frequent.

By mainstreaming simple practices such as rehabilitating degraded lands, eliminating food waste, and implementing new technology that helps us grow more food on the same amount of land, we can provide the food and nourishment we need, while ensuring we are conserving nature for future generations.