Weathering the challenges: Ensuring food security in a changing climate
Visit BSI's Experts Corner: Home for insights from BSI’s practice directors and industry experts on digital trust, environmental, health, safety, security, and sustainability.
September 21, 2023 - Climate change and global natural disasters continue to disrupt the food industry, especially in agriculture-producing regions. Droughts, flooding, and cyclones are a few of many incidents exacerbating the risk of food insecurity, logistical disruptions, and backsliding on carbon-friendly commitments.
Organizations that adopt a forward-looking lens to get in front of potential risks and disruptions will be armed with the correct tools to build a safe, sustainable, and socially responsible food supply chain.
Adverse weather events are leading to freight delays and incomplete shipments, which are greatly impacting the food industry due to the perishable nature of products in a living supply chain. For example, climate change is significantly impacting wheat crop yields, particularly in the world’s largest wheat producing country, China. This is causing a decline in the global supply of flour and shortages in staple products such as bread and pasta across Europe. NASA predicts that by 2030, maize crop yields will decline by 24 percent.
Rising CO2 levels are also leading to nutritional deficiencies in staple crops such as rice and wheat while water scarcity in many regions is decreasing irrigation and lowering crop yields, hindering food production.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stats from 1980 to 2021, the annual average number of weather and climate disaster events is seven. However, in the last five years, that has increased to 17.8. In 2022, the regulatory agency tracked 18 events (drought, wildfire, flood, severe winter storm, several cyclones, and 11 severe storms) causing losses of over $1 billion. Recent NOAA updates estimate that the US has already surpassed 2022 figures, having seen 23 weather disasters so far, 18 of which were from March through August.
Recent disasters such as the California drought at the end of 2022/early 2023 have affected the production, distribution, and processing of food. A cold, wet spring resulted in delayed planting of many fruits and vegetables, including broccoli and strawberries, causing locally produced foods to increase in price.
Southeast Asia is particularly vulnerable to natural disaster exposure. In 2022, over 5,000 people lost their lives due to such events, and financial damages reached $36 billion. The provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh, which are not normally impacted by summer monsoons, received 450 percent more rain than normal. This significant flooding spanned across roughly one-third of the country’s territory and destroyed or damaged roughly four million acres of agricultural land. In April 2023, parts of Southeast Asia saw the hottest period in 200 years, with temperatures peaking at 45.4°C (113.72°F) in Tak, Thailand.
In August 2022, the European Commission released a report with data suggesting that the drought in Europe was the worst in the last 500 years. In contrast, many countries saw wetter than average weeks in Spring 2023. However, given the severity of 2022’s drought on groundwater levels, it was unlikely to recharge aquifers.
The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) has reported that June through August 2023 was the warmest on record, with an average temperature of 16.77°C (62.186°F), 0.66°C (33.188°F) above average. C3S also highlights above-average precipitation over most of western Europe, with local rainfall records broken, leading to flooding in some areas. In the UK, the wet summer affected the quality of crops, with over-ripe oilseed rape pods and potatoes causing concern for farmers.
Multiple regions have experienced heatwaves, including southern Europe. Summer 2023 has also seen marine heatwaves in several areas around Europe, including Ireland and the UK in June and across the Mediterranean in July and August.
Organizations throughout the food industry can take proactive steps to reduce the impact of unplanned events that disrupt operations and supply chains:
- Develop a Business Continuity Plan that includes a strategy detailing how the organization will continue to operate in the event of a disaster or business disruption, comprising key stakeholders and their roles as well as backup suppliers and alternate facilities.
- Develop and implement a Supply Chain Resilience Plan to identify critical suppliers and advance plans that ensure continuity of supply in the event of a disruption. This may involve diversifying suppliers, stockpiling critical inventory, or establishing alternative transportation routes.
- Effective and up-to-date risk intelligence enables organizations to understand risk types and severity, permitting better preparation and response to incidents throughout their supply chain and operating regions, from natural disasters to port closures and worker strikes.
Register for BSI Consulting’s Extreme Weather webinar on September 26 for more on adverse weather events in the US. Read more from Neil Coole in Bridging the gap between food fraud and food security and Greenwashing: The unhealthy side of the food industry. Look out for Neil’s upcoming webinar series on the food supply chain. For real-time updates on top supply chain issues, register for BSI’s Connect SCREEN tool; this platform provides daily analysis on the latest and most relevant global supply chain trends. For more supply chain, digital trust, and environmental, health, and safety topics that should be at the top of your list, visit BSI’s Experts Corner.