The Covid-19 Pandemic has revealed weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the global food supply chain, and these weaknesses will be made worse by climate changes, according to McKinsey and Co.
According to the management consultants, “While global food supply is still strong, individual countries and regions are starting to experience shortages due to interruptions of local agricultural labor, grain export bans by some countries and interruptions in logistics services. This can be compounded by weather-related harvest declines, such as the locust infestation in Africa.
In a report published last month called, “Will the world’s breadbaskets become less reliable” authors Jonathan Woetzel, Dickon Pinner, Hamid Samandari, Hauke Engel, Mekala Krishnan, Nicolas Denis, and Tilman Melzer write, that the world’s growing population depends on four key crops – rice, wheat, corn, and soy – with a high geographic concentration of production.
“The human diet is highly dependent on just four grains: rice, wheat, corn, and soy. They make up almost half of the calories of an average global diet, with rice and wheat contributing 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively.”
However, there is a serious problem with the concentration of production, with the report noting that sixty per cent occurs in just five countries – The USA, CHINA, Brazil, India and Argentina, and worse still, production within these countries in concentrated in only a few zones.
Added to that is the problem that developing countries with faster-growing populations are the most dependent on imports, and that the authors say grain storage is a potentially serious problem.
“Despite historically high levels today, grain storage levels appear insufficient to withstand a large shock in production,” the authors write.
According to the paper, “Our analysis suggests that a “true” multiple-breadbasket failure—simultaneous shocks to grain production through acute climate events in a sufficient number of breadbaskets to affect global production—becomes increasingly likely in the decades ahead, driven by an increase in both the likelihood and the severity of climate events. For example, a greater than 15 percent shock to grain production was a 1-in‑100 event between 1998 and 2017.”
They say furthermore, the likelihood doubles by 2030 to 1 in 50, suggesting that there is an 18 percent likelihood of such a failure at least once in the decade centered on 2030. “A greater than 10 percent yield shock has an 11 percent annual probability or a 69 percent cumulative probability of occurring at least once in the decade centered on 2030. This is up from 6 percent and 46 percent, respectively.”
On the upside the report notes that the world is producing enough food to feed the growing population, however, they warn of threats caused by episodes of acute climate stress which lead to price hikes, putting at risk sustainable supply for three-quarters of a billion people.