World War III is unimaginable for many, but some experts believe that not only is this degree of global conflict imminent, but it may be instigated not by military tensions, oil and gas, or nuclear threats, but instead by, of all things, food.
As it stands, countries across the globe are enduring food crises, and the U.N.’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 840 million people in the world are undernourished, including the one in four children under the age of 5 who is stunted because of malnutrition.
Assistant director-general of U.N. FAO Asia-Pacific Hiroyuki Konuma told Reuters that social and political unrest, civil wars, and terrorism could all be possible results of food crises, and “world security as a whole might be affected.” Such consequences could happen unless the world increases its output of food production 60% by mid-century. This includes maintaining a stable growth rate at about 1% to have an even theoretical opportunity to circumvent severe shortages. These needs are due to the growing global population, which is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 while demand for food will rise rapidly.
Where the problems lie
Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the world is spending less on agricultural research, to the dismay of scientists who believe global food production may not sustain the increased demand. According to American Boondoggle, “The pace of investment growth has slowed from 3.63 percent per year (after inflation) during 1950–69, to 1.79 percent during 1970–89, to 0.94 percent during 1990– 2009.” Decreased growth in agricultural research and development spending has slowed across the world as a whole, but it is even slower in high-income countries.
Water scarcity is another problem, including in major food-producing nations like China, as well as climate change. Extreme weather events are having a severe effect on crops, which have been devastated in countries like Australia, Canada, China, Russia, and the U.S., namely due to floods and droughts. An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change recently warned that climate change may result in “a 2% drop each decade of this century,” according to RT.
Rising food costs also contribute to poor food security across the world as prices remain high and volatile. Higher food costs inhibit lower socioeconomic people’s access to food, which contributes to the FAO’s disturbing figure of global malnutrition. In addition to an inability for people to feed themselves, poverty can also reduce food production, such as some African farmers being unable to afford irrigation and fertilizers to provide their regions with food.
Still another issue for decreased food production is the fact that many farmers are turning crops like soy, corn, and sugar into sources for biofuel rather than edible consumption, which means these foods are taken away from people to eat.
Could these shortages lead to a major global conflict?
Studies suggest that the food crisis could begin as early as 2030, just a short 15 years from now, particularly in areas such as East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Both regions have significant problems with domestic food production.
Some experts believe that, to secure enough food resources for their populations, countries may go to war over the increasingly scarce food supply. This could be due in part to warring parties blocking aid and commercial food deliveries to areas supporting their enemies, despite the fact that such a practice breaks international humanitarian law.
Conflict also leads to lack of food supply for populations as people become displaced and forced from their homes, jobs, and income and thus cannot buy food to feed themselves. Displaced farmers are also unable to produce their normal crops, contributing still more to food shortages in certain countries.
Food insecurity is a major threat to world peace and could potentially incite violent conflict between countries across the world. Thus, the U.N. and other governmental bodies are desperately trying to find ways to solve the problem before it becomes something they cannot control.
Debates over how to solve the problem
According to RT, “To combat the problem, the U.N. body has outlined two primary options: increasing arable land areas as well as productivity rates. A lack of available arable land and more sluggish growth rates in staple crops have complicated efforts to bolster these two pillars of food security.” Increased production is a cornerstone of solving food crises, but this cannot be done without also increasing the land on which farmers can grow their crops.
Another analyst, Scott Ickes, a professor of public health and nutrition at the College of William & Mary told Fortune, “A lot of food rots because of bad storage facilities in poor countries, and bad infrastructure in those areas prevents delivery of food to a lot of the poor.” Thus, if countries can figure out how to better distribute and store food, this could be a viable way out of a global food shortage.
One common way to solve this problem touted by some food companies, like Monsanto, is to create genetically modified foods en masse. However, GMO food production has endured extensive criticism and backlash in many countries as being an unhealthy and unnatural choice of food.
Between better production, land availability, storage, and infrastructure, all these methods could help solve the problem of potential food crises, which could inevitably lead to increased global unrest. But another key option is food assistance, and the U.S. will hopefully continue to help countries in need before this problem gets out of hand and conflict is on the horizon.