Climate Change and Global Food Prices

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Eating is something that we all do, and all of us—no matter who we are or where we live—have to engage in this practice multiple times every single day. There’s no way to opt out of this essential human ritual. Eating isn’t a product of any custom or culture, it isn’t voluntary, and our need to eat doesn’t fluctuate based on how much money we have or how close we live to the coast.

So as the climate changes, observers engaged in science, commerce, and policy making are asking a critical question: what will happen to food? How will production, distribution and prices be affected by events around the world linked to increasing temperatures? 

Climate change is no longer a theoretical or future concern; it’s happening now and its effects are being strongly felt in real time. And as of the past year, it appears that changes to food access are also moving from the speculative into the real.

According to this brief article from the New York Times, markets for key ingredients like vanilla, chickpeas, nuts and chocolate are experiencing shake-ups as a result of traceable droughts in India, Madagascar hurricanes, fungus outbreaks, and challenging weather in West Africa and California.

As supplies slow and demand rises for these core ingredients and commodities like wheat and corn, manufacturers and processors deal with resulting higher costs in different ways depending on their circumstances. In many cases, these costs will be passed onto consumers who may find the price of hummus or chocolate—and ultimately staples like bread-- climbing out of reach.

This assessment by Worldwatch.org places the situation in stark terms. According to a recent report submitted by the House Committee on Agriculture, the Consumer Price Index (which monitors the cost of household goods) is expected to rise from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent of total GDP by the end of 2018. There are many factors that can contribute to an explanation of rising food prices, but at this moment, climate change seems to be taking center stage. Again, many of the events that have been directly linked to production problems are climate based, specifically storms, droughts, fires, and unpredictable weather patterns that reduce the utility of soil and water resources.

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