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  • Advanced Review

    Adapting to climate changeto sustain food securityGina Ziervogel1 and Polly J. Ericksen2

    Climate change poses considerable challenges to food security. Adapting foodsystems both to enhance food security for the poor and vulnerable and to preventfuture negative impacts from climate change will require attention to more thanjust agricultural production. This article surveys the multiple components of foodsecurity, particularly those relating to access and utilization, which are threatenedby the complex responses of food systems to the impacts of climate change. Foodsecurity can only be ensured and enhanced with a suite of interventions acrossactivities, ranging from production to distribution and allocation. Although manystudies have demonstrated the importance of policy and institutional interventionsfor ensuring food security after a shock, the climate change impacts and adaptationcommunity have been slow to pick up on these lessons. This article pulls togetherlessons from the literature on the type of institutional interventions that could bestrengthened to enable adaptation in the food system to buffer against climatechange at multiple levels, from the local to the global level. 2010 John Wiley & Sons,Ltd. WIREs Clim Change 2010 1 525540

    The links between food security and climate changeare complex, because food security involves foodand its production, trade and nutrition as well ashow people and nations maintain access to foodover time in the face of multiple stresses. Althoughthe likely significant impacts of climate change onfood production have recently received a lot ofattention, the links between climate change andthe other components of food security includingaccess, availability, stability, and utilization havenot yet been well researched.13 This is likely toresult in underestimating the impacts of climatechange on food security, for example, through factorssuch as price increases4 and malnutrition.5 It alsoignores a considerable body of research explainingvulnerability to climate change as embedded in social,economic, and political processes.68 In a similar vein,response or adaptation to climate change impactsin the food system has focused on adaptive actionsrelated to agriculture, mainly adoption of improvedtechnologies to accommodate the effects of changesin temperature, precipitation patterns, and length of

    Correspondence to: gina@csag.uct.ac.za1Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, Univer-sity of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa2Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford,United Kingdom

    DOI: 10.1002/wcc.56

    growing season.2,9,10 Although production impactsare critical, this article argues that the policiesand institutions underpinning adaptation to climatechange across the spectrum of food security issuesneed to be prioritized. A broad range of actions isnecessary for adaptation responses to be stepped upto avoid increasing food insecurity, particularly forthe most vulnerable.

    The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)of the United Nations (UN) defined food securityat the World Food Summit in 1996 as when allpeople, at all times have physical and economic accessto sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet theirdietary needs and food preferences for an activeand healthy life.11 The components of food securityinclude adequate food production, but they alsotouch on larger socioeconomic issues surroundingfood availability, or the ability to effectively translatehunger into an economic demand for food and tohave access to nutritious, safe and culturally preferredfoods. So too, the stability of food systems is importanton both the supply side in terms of production andthe demand side in terms of being able to trade forfood.12 Thirty years of research and interventionsto protect or enhance food security (i.e., since Senswritings13) have demonstrated that the right to foodembodied in the FAO food security definition restsin the performance of institutions such as markets,

    Volume 1, Ju ly /August 2010 2010 John Wiley & Sons, L td. 525

  • Advanced Review wires.wiley.com/climatechange

    government programs, bilateral and internationaltrade agreements, and donor obligations.14,15 Politicalprocesses and power relations among and withincountries are a key determinant of the effectivenessof these institutions.16

    The challenge of mitigating and adapting toclimate change, as well as achieving food security,is embedded within a suite of issues related todevelopment pathways and hence choices of decisionmakers at multiple levels. Meeting both the climatechange and food security challenges requires progressin poverty eradication, reduced global inequality,assured resource rights, the promotion of stable liveli-hoods, and gender equity. These challenges need to beaddressed at the same time as decoupling developmentfrom fossil fuel and energy intensive responsesi.e.,moving to low carbon development pathways.17,18

    The problems of global disparity and achieving foodsecurity in a highly variable climatic context areconnected and cannot be solved separately. Currently,20% of the population enjoys 85% of the worldswealth, and the poorest 20% live on 1% of globalincome.19 This meager percentage of global incomehas to contribute to the poorests access to food, whichis often compromised when resources are lacking (orincome is chronically insecure) and complicated byeconomic and political histories.20 Food insecurity istherefore concentrated more in sub-Saharan Africa,where 30% of the population is undernourished andin South Asia, where 23% is undernourished. It isalso more prevalent at a local level in places with highpoverty or conflicts, such as Haiti and Afghanistan.21

    The challenges of achieving food security areclosely intertwined with the challenges of humandevelopment and economic growth that includechronic poverty, poor health, inadequate distributionmechanisms, inadequate and distorted markets, lackof nutritious and culturally preferred foods, andproduction constraints. These challenges are mostpronounced in developing countries and so this articlefocuses on food security in the Global South, payingparticular attention to sub-Saharan Africa (whilerecognizing that this food security very much dependsupon policies and markets in Europe and NorthAmerica). Despite the challenges faced, there arenumerous opportunities to adjust elements of the foodsystem to cope better with current and future climatevariability, although these opportunities often facepolitical, cultural, technical, and institutional barrierswith deep historical roots.

    This article starts by defining food security andthen addresses how it is and can be impacted byclimate change. This sets the context for exploring thetypes of institutional support needed for sustainable

    adaptation responses in food systems at multiple scalesby exploring local, national, and international leveloptions.22 The article ends by focusing on some of thechallenges of strengthening institutional support foradaptation to climate change in the food system.

    It is also becoming more apparent that the foodsystem is a significant contributor to the problemof climate change and that reductions need to bemade in emissions related to soil use, land clearingfor agriculture, animal feed, and transport of foodamong others.23,24 This is a large area for discussion,particularly as consumers in developing countrieschange their food preferences, but the mitigation issueswill not be addressed in this article. However, we doacknowledge that adaptation options to enhance foodsecurity should not exacerbate climate change.

    DEFINING FOOD SYSTEMS AND FOODSECURITYThe complexity of food systems and the link to foodsecurity are perhaps best described by Gregory et al.3

    (p. 2139) as follows: Dynamic interactions betweenand within the bio-geophysical and human environ-ments lead to the production, processing, preparationand consumption of food, resulting in food systemsthat underpin food security. These food system activi-ties contribute to four food security outcomes, namelyavailability, accessibility, stability, and utilization offood. These components are outlined below.

    Food availability depends on the production,distribution, and exchange of food.3,12 Included hereis the production of adequate crop, livestock, andfisheries as well as the collection of wild foods andresources for migratory and indigenous communi-ties. While the components of food availability arecontextual, current thinking suggests that domes-tic production, reliable import capacity, presence offood stocks, availability of social protection measures,decent transportation infrastructure and, when neces-sary, access to food aid are the major elements ofsecuring food supply.25

    Food accessibility refers to the affordability,allocation mechanisms, and preferences that enablepeople to effectively translate their hunger intodemand that is satisfied. Poverty and vulnerability playa central role in food accessibility, as this componentis centrally concerned with the purchasing power ofhouseholds and individuals and the social dynamicsgoverning access.26 Accompanying growth in urbanareas has been a decline in the emphasis of productionand greater emphasis on the incomes and socialnetworks that are used in accessing food.27 Nationaleconomic security is also a factor, as it is reflected in

    526 2010 John Wi ley & Sons, L td. Volume 1, Ju ly /August 2010

  • WIREs Climate Change Adapting to climate change to sustain food security

    the presence of adequate food market infrastructure.28

    The food distribution and the location where foodarrives for purchase also relate to food accessibility.25

    Food stability involves the presence of continu-ous food supply and access to food. This recognizesthat c

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