The priorities for food-security research under extreme events

by the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

The priorities for food security research under extreme events

Ask questions, seek answers. Photo credit: CIAT / Neil Palmer

Satisfying hunger is as challenging as ever. Food insecurity affects many food producers, including farmers, hunters and fishermen; That means they’re not always sure where their next meal is coming from. More than 50% of the approximately 600 million people affected by food insecurity live in conflict zones. The risk that multiple calamities can overlap, such as war in one region and crop failures in another, raises the stakes for the most vulnerable, who generally can hardly withstand a single hit to their food supply, let alone several.

How can researchers help? To determine what questions to ask and how to prioritize, 69 food security professionals, including scientists, governments, international institutions and NGOs, have published a comprehensive set of research questions on various food-related areas that have the potential to strengthen food security . Her work was recently published in the journal one earth.

“While similar exercises have been conducted across a range of areas and topics, this work represents, to our knowledge, the first attempt to collate and build consensus on the key threats and priorities for food security research in the face of extreme events from experts who with different backgrounds and expertise and geographic focus,” the authors write.

The experts identified 32 threats to watch out for over the next two decades and 50 research questions to help understand and mitigate the threats. The threats were grouped into three categories: 1) worsening events and cascading risks, 2) vulnerability and adaptability, and 3) cooperation and conflict.

“Risk cascades can involve things that were previously unthinkable, such as: B. the failure of several breadbaskets in a single year, migration due to climate change, and disruptions such as those caused by war and pandemics,” said Liangzhi You, researcher at International Food Policy Research of the CGIAR Institute and member of ClimBeR, the main CGIAR Initiative on climate resilience and food security. “But today, with climate change, anything is possible.”

Vulnerability and adaptability relate to the nutritional risk of farmers or communities and how well they can respond to shocks. The cooperation and conflict category includes war, cross-border politics and cooperation between government and international organizations.

Other top threats include pest and disease outbreaks and marine heat waves, which have the potential to simultaneously and severely affect croplands and fisheries.

A question about questions

With limited resources and myriad research directions that could be pursued to increase food security, prioritization is key. The authors categorized questions into three areas and rated them for feasibility in terms of time and investment, and the impact unlocking the answer could have.

Better maps and forecasts, farm-scale interventions, and food system transformation are the three categories of research questions.

Better maps and forecasts before, during and after extreme events will be crucial to enable better responses. The “normal basis for identifying risks, forecasts and responses to the impact of extreme events on food security is high-quality data,” the authors write. Unfortunately, validated data on on-site food security has not kept pace with available technology.

Questions in this area include: “What are the likely food security implications of certain critical infrastructure failures?”; “To what extent can early warning systems identify and inform the people who are most vulnerable, vulnerable and unable to adapt to the challenges of food insecurity in the face of extreme events?”; and “Are there turning points in the intensity of extreme events that will lead to global food shortages?” Consult the full list here.

Farm-level interventions are critical as they have the potential to both stabilize food supplies through resilience to extreme events and improve livelihoods. But issues related to poor access to finance and markets can hamper resilience. Examples include the slow introduction of drought and flood resistant crop varieties and the slow uptake of irrigation in developing countries.

Farm-level research questions include: “What agricultural practices increase drought resilience, are cost-effective and easy to apply?”; “How much can increasing crop diversity improve the adaptability of small farmers?”; and “How does biodiversity loss make cropping systems more vulnerable to extreme events?” Consult the full list here.

Food system transformation refers to global and local actions that reduce the negative impact of food on the environment, increase equitable access to a complete and nutritious diet, and bring about far-reaching changes in the way most people move about feed in much of the developed world. The authors find that the related questions are the most difficult to answer, but a better understanding of governance, food producers and consumers are crucial parts of the research agenda.

Food system transformation questions include: “How does household, community, and regional crop diversification mediate food insecurity during extreme climate events?”; “How does insurance improve or undermine food security in the face of extreme events?”; and “What policies are needed to ensure that efficiencies in food distribution systems enable widespread food security without harming local and regional producers?” Consult the full list here.

The CGIAR climate research agenda

“Many of these questions are addressed in CGIAR’s new research portfolio, specifically the CGIAR Climate Resilience Initiative,” said You, who leads the work of the Smallholder Farming Risk Reduction Initiative. The initiative, called ClimBeR: Building Systemic Resilience Against Climate Variability and Extremes, aims to help 30 million smallholder farmers in six countries improve their resilience to climate extremes by 2030.

The authors recognize that the effective implementation of an ambitious research agenda and ensuring food security are greatly assisted by reducing armed conflict. In conclusion, they write: “Our findings support the notion that the road to peace globally remains essential to ensuring global food security in the face of extreme events. Conflict and lack of cooperation — in a variety of guises and at different political levels — continues to be a major impediment to global food security and is a key factor predisposing communities and nations to post-shock disasters.”

“But despite these challenges, we see a great opportunity in addressing these issues through a focused, long-term research agenda and promoting peaceful societies,” You said.

In the face of climate change and conflict, more resilient food systems are imperative, the report shows

More information:
Zia Mehrabi et al, Research Priorities for Global Food Security Under Extreme Events, one earth (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2022.06.008

Provided by the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

Citation: The Priorities for Food Security Research Under Extreme Events (2022, September 21), retrieved September 21, 2022 from

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