In our careers, we have seen famine in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Yemen, and also hunger spikes following the 2008 economic crisis. These crises have toppled governments, impoverished millions, and destroyed decades of economic and social progress. Yet the food crisis occurring now is the worst we have ever witnessed.
Prior to Russia’s invasion, the World Food Programme reported that 45 million people were on the brink of famine. Food prices, already the highest in a decade, spiked, and as UNICEF reports, this has put millions of children at risk of malnutrition. Thankfully, WFP and other organizations are working with national governments to mobilize resources to reach vulnerable people.
These efforts are desperately needed. But if we don’t take steps to address the underlying inefficiencies and insufficiencies in the food system, the crisis will be perpetual. The global community has a moral imperative to ensure that investments made in response to the current crisis promote global transformation to a more regenerative, resilient food system. Today’s food prices are rising in response to several concurrent crises.
The conflict in Ukraine — and those in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Yemen, Venezuela, and the Democratic Republic of Congo — put millions at risk of food insecurity and famine. International conflicts are the primary cause of famine during the last half-century. During peacetime, human communities almost always find ways to ameliorate the consequences of droughts, floods, pests, and other natural disasters by moving food to where it is needed.
Unprecedented climate extremes across the globe have reduced crop yields, increased food loss, and damaged ecosystems. In the coming years, nighttime temperatures could well decrease yields of rice and wheat in some regions, and the nutritional content in many crops is likely to deteriorate due to increased carbon dioxide levels.
The world’s food supply is generated by very few varieties of crops. Seventy-five percent of the global food supply comes from only 12 plant and five animal species. Rice, maize, and wheat make up nearly 60% of calories from plants in the entire human diet.