During my recent visit to Germany, I truly admired the green scenery that surrounded me and wondered; in a world rife with inequalities, do we have a plan in place to manage the rapid urbanization and population growth? While the advent of smart technologies has made our economies increasingly interconnected and globalized, billions of people still live in poverty and go to bed hungry every night.
The world is changing; our accelerating urbanization and population growth have strained our finite resources. While we are still working towards solutions for climate change and pandemics like COVID-19, data suggests that our urban environment is going to double through the building of megacities such that the population growth is expected to be approximately 3 billion people by the year 2050. Ultimately, we all require smarter management and stewardship of the political, social, environmental challenges and impact of our own population growth. This global growth, if not strategically managed, would further drive the complex issues of climate change and food security in the wrong direction particularly in terms of production, distribution, and consumption.
Humans depend on resources such as water, air, food, and energy, and with the growing effects of climate change rapidly, the resources are threatened since they are all inextricably linked. Our planet can only sustain a certain number of people, we cannot continue to deplete our resources and indefinitely abuse our planet. Therefore, food security emerges as a pressing issue facing humankind in the twenty-first century. Climate change affects all four dimensions of food security, including food availability, accessibility, utilization, and food systems stability .
The complexity of food security is associated with a wide spectrum of issues such as environmental policies, water scarcity, soil erosion, human health, and nutrition. Ultimately, the exacerbation of food security has captured the attention of the international communities due to an increase in the number of people that still lack adequate access to food. The Global Report on Food Crisis produced by “Food Security Information Network” 2018, has highlighted that 53 nations worldwide experience acute food insecurity, requiring an urgent humanitarian action . Furthermore, the exploitation of natural resources and the effects of climate change are other undeniable challenges affecting long-term food provision.
Air pollution and food security
While the impact of air pollution on our climate is well pronounced, its impact on food security is understated. The recent report by UNICEF, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019” has stated clearly that “Climate change and increasing climate variability and extremes are affecting agricultural productivity, food production and natural resources, with impacts on food systems and rural livelihoods, including a decline in the number of farmers” .
Pollutants damage the field of crops and degrade their nutritional safety and quality. The evolution of the Earth’s climate over the twenty-first century depends on the rate at which anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are removed from the atmosphere by the ocean and land carbon cycles. Emissions associated with fossil fuel and biomass combustion have contributed to nearly double the global mean tropospheric ozone concentration, and further increases are expected over the twenty-first century [4-7].
Food insecurity is more than just hunger
The image of an empty shelf in a local market resonates in my mind and makes me wonder whether the pandemic has disrupted the food supply chain, particularly in those countries deemed developing and challenged prior to the pandemic. While the recent pandemic is believed to have impacted the buying behavior of the consumers, the challenges ahead are great, ranging from eradication of hunger to dealing with the prevalence of malnutrition.
Food Loss and Waste
It is counterintuitive to realize that while food production is on the rise, the United Nations reports 820 million people worldwide still do not have enough to eat . In fact, according to the “What a Waste 2.0” report issued by the World Bank , “global Food, Loss and Waste (FLW) is a widespread issue, posing a challenge to food security, food safety, the economy, and environmental sustainability. Although no accurate estimates of the extent of FLW are available, studies indicate that FLW represents around 30% of all food globally” . This amounts to 1.3 billion tons per year. Ironically, this means that land and water resources are wasted, pollution created and greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted at no added benefit .
FLW lead to depleting resources such as land, water, labor, and energy used for food production. It strongly contributes to climate change because greenhouse gases are emitted during food production and distribution activities, and methane is released during the decay of wasted food. FLW is believed to:
- Decrease the income for food producers.
- Increase the cost of food for customers.
- Limit access to food.
Therefore, minimizing FLW would lead to substantial food security and environmental gains. The report stated that bad weather, processing problems, overproduction and unstable markets, overbuying, poor planning are behind the food waste . All of the above-mentioned reasons lead to food loss prior to its arrival to the shelves of grocery stores. Furthermore, food waste entails other environmental issues such as excessive water and fossil fuels consumption as well as farmland erosion [8-13].
Elevated O3 and CO2 Concentrations
Tropospheric or ground-level ozone is one of the most widespread air pollutants. It is formed when nitrogen oxides produced by combustion processes primarily from power stations, react with other air pollutants in the presence of sunlight.
Tropospheric ozone is known to damage plants, reducing plant primary productivity and crop yields. On the other hand, increased carbon dioxide and ozone levels can both lead to the closing of stomata, which are the pores on the leaf surface that regulate gas exchange with the atmosphere .
Atmospheric carbon dioxide is considered to be a major contributor to climate change. Between 1750 and 2011, it is estimated that 50% of the cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide was emitted between 1970 and 2010. During the same period, emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed to about 78% of the total increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions . It is evident we are not only combusting fossil fuels irresponsibly but also using energy excessively. Therefore, smart methods must be sought to allow societies to be more accountable in terms of power generation and use. A parallel approach to reducing emissions is essential in terms of controlling the sources and treating the inevitable emissions.
While the impact of air pollution on food cultivation is well pronounced, other challenges such as plagues of swarming locusts annihilate crop fields. These threats further amplify the challenges of food production of our farmlands and put our global cultivation at grave risk.
Betting on our common humanity
We live in an interconnected world and capitalizing on our common humanity is more important than highlighting our profound differences. Therefore, we cannot live in isolation and need to confront the twenty-first-century challenges with benevolence for the global village we have become. Food security is a growing challenge and our global efforts to mitigate this is an increasingly critical challenge and opportunity. Food needs to be provided, preserved, and secured to around 7.8 billion people today and approaching some 10 billion people by 2050. The intersection of climate change and food production is clear. Our responsibility to end hunger and secure food in a sustainable manner require new thoughtful strategies related to climate change that is global in perspective and action. We ought to integrate our ambitions and skills to harness our resources. Our mundane strategies to produce more food without extending its shelf-life, preserving its quality, and addressing food waste alone will not allow us to tackle the problem we face. If we are genuinely keen to live in a world that is more just and conflict-free, our food security plans ought to be driven by actions, enticed by our intelligence, and guided by common humanity. If we believe in equality and value human life, then shouldn’t everyone in the world have access to the basic needs in life such as clean air, water, food, and shelter?
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