Entries tagged with “FEWS-NET”.
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Tue 19 Mar 2013
If food insecurity is not about global food shortages, what is it? Following the a vast body of literature and experience addressing food insecurity, it is the outcome of a complex interplay between:
- locally-accessible food production
- local livelihoods options that might provide sufficient, reliable income or sources of food
- local social relations (which mobilize and create social divisions by gender, class, age, etc.) which shape access to both livelihoods opportunities and available food within communities and even households
- structures of governance and markets in which that production takes place
- global markets for food and other commodities that can impinge on local pricing.
Changes in the natural environment play into this mix in that they generally impinge upon locally-accessible production and on global markets. The experience of the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS-NET) provides evidence to this effect. FEWS-NET builds its forecasts through a consideration of all of these factors, and as it has gained resolution on things like local livelihoods activities and market pricing and functions, its predictive resolution has increased.
Despite decades of literature and body of experience to the contrary, it seems that the policy world, and indeed much development implementation, continues to view issues of hunger as the relatively straightforward outcome of production shortfalls that can be addressed through equally straightforward technical fixes ranging from changed farming techniques to new agricultural technologies such as GMOs. This view is frustrating, given its persistence in the face of roughly five decades of project failures and ephemeral results that evaporated at the end of “successful” projects. More nuanced work has started to think about issues of production in concert with the distribution function of markets. However, the bulk of policy and implementation along these lines couples the simplistic “technical fix” mentality of earlier work on food security with a sort of naïve market triumphalism that tends to focus on the possible benefits of market engagement with little mention or reasonable understanding of likely problematic outcomes. Put another way, most of this thinking can be reduced to:
increased agricultural production = increased economic productivity = increased food security and decreased poverty
The problem with this equation is that the connection between agricultural productivity and economic growth is pretty variable/shaky in most places, and the connection between economic growth and any specific development outcome is shaky/nonexistent pretty much everywhere unless there has been careful work done to make sure that new income is mobilized in a specific manner that addresses the challenge at hand. Most of the time, the food security via economic growth crowd has not done this last bit of legwork. In short, the mantra of “better technology and more markets” as currently manifest in policy circles is unlikely to advance the cause of food security and address global hunger any more effectively than prior interventions based on a version of the same mantra.
These issues present us with several key points about the problem we are trying to solve that should shape a general approach to food insecurity:
1) Because food insecurity is the outcome of the complex interplay of many factors, sectoral approaches are doomed to failure. At best, they will address a necessary but insufficient cause of the particular food insecurity issue at hand. However, in leaving other key causes unaddressed, these partial solutions nearly always succumb to problems in the unaddressed causes.
2) Production-led solutions will rarely, if ever, address enough significant causes of food insecurity to succeed. Simply put, while production is a necessary part of understanding food insecurity, it is insufficient for explaining the causes of particular food insecurity situations, or identifying appropriate solutions for those situations.
3) Increased production is not guaranteed to lead to economic growth. The crops at hand, who consumes them, the infrastructure for their transport, and national/global market conditions all shape this particular outcome, which can shift from season to season.
4) Economic growth does not solve things magically. Even if you can generate economic growth through increased agricultural production, this does not mean you will be addressing food insecurity. Programs must think carefully about where the proceeds from this new economic growth will go in the economy and society at hand, and if/how those pathways will result in greater opportunity for the food insecurity.
5) Embrace the fact complexity takes different forms in different places. In some places, markets will be a major cause of insecurity. In other places, environmental degradation might play this role. In still other places, failed governance will be the biggest issue driving food outcomes. In nearly all cases, though, all three of these factors will be present, and accompanied by others. Further, the form this insecurity takes will be highly variable within countries, provinces, districts, communities and even households, depending on the roles people play and the places in which they play them. There is no good template in which to fit a particular case of food insecurity, just a lot of causal factors that require extensive teasing out if one hopes to explain food outcomes and therefore address the problem.
Tue 27 Nov 2012
Posted by Ed under Africa, development, Development Institutions, Food Security, Livelihoods, policy
Comments Off on Fiscal cliff or Food cliff – how the farm bill threatens food aid
While all the current screaming in Washington is about the fiscal cliff, an aspect of USAID’s aid efforts has already slipped off its own precipice, and is hanging by the roots of a dried-out shrub. The farm bill is stalled – some analysts don’t expect any movement until April 2013. Given all of the fiscal challenges the country faces, this might sound reasonable – but within the aid and development world, the deferral of the farm bill is setting up a trainwreck. The Office of Food for Peace’s (FFP) Title II programs are authorized by the farm bill. In the absence of a new bill, a number of FFP’s authorities expired at the end of the fiscal year (September 30th). The rest of Title II’s new awards, which are authorized by the farm bill, will expire at the end of the calendar year.
What is Title II? According to the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA:
Title II provides for the donation of U.S. agricultural commodities by the U.S. government to meet humanitarian food needs in foreign countries. Commodities may be provided to meet emergency needs under government-to-government agreements, through public and private agencies, including intergovernmental organizations such as the World Food Program, and other multilateral organizations. Non-emergency assistance may be provided through private voluntary organizations, cooperatives, and intergovernmental organizations. Commodities requested may be furnished from the Commodity Credit Corporation’s (CCC’s) inventory acquired under price support programs or purchased from private stocks. The CCC also finances the costs of ocean transportation to ports of entry, or to points of entry other than ports in the case of landlocked countries, or when the use of a point of entry other than port would result in substantial savings in costs or time. The CCC may also pay transportation costs from designated ports of entry or points of entry abroad to storage and distribution sites, and associated storage and distribution costs for commodities, including pre-positioned commodities, made available to meet urgent or extraordinary relief requirements.
Who cares? Title II funds authorize a huge chunk of the FFP program each year. There are some limited community development funds, and similarly limited emergency food security funds. In fiscal year 2009, this was a $2.6 billion program. Billion, with a B. For FY 2012, the appropriated amount was $1.466 billion, down significantly but still a huge share of the global food aid budget. Note that this is the aid that the United States moves through various NGOs and intergovernmental organizations like WFP, so if Title II grinds to a halt, these organizations and their work will be severely compromised.
We might get away with this without a total disaster. For example, FEWS-NET shows a lot of stress in the horn of Africa right now, but projects improving situations over the next few months. But if Title II grinds to a halt, and any major food crisis hits (which could include food price spikes), FFP will little capacity to do anything about it.
Congress cannot agree on much these days, but I suspect there are few in that august body that think it is OK to leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to their fates because they can’t get their legislative act together. Let’s hope they figure this out. Soon.
Mon 27 Aug 2012
Today, I reentered the classroom for the first time in two years. That’s not completely accurate, actually – I lectured at the Foreign Service Institute several times while I was in DC, and I have a number of lectures, so I am not totally out of practice. And after you’ve spent over 1000 hours (!!!) in front of a classroom, it really is like riding a bike…
Despite my classroom experience, I was seriously thrown by a moment in class today – I was discussing the different climates we see in East Africa, and mentioned the Horn of Africa famine in an offhand way…then realized there were too many blank stares. So I asked the class directly how many of them were aware of the famine. Not a single hand went up – 70 students, no hands. Now, maybe someone put up a hand in that half-shrug, uncomfortable sort of way and I missed it. And perhaps a few people had heard of the famine, but had not heard of it as something going on in the Horn of Africa. But…at best, that is a few people. Out of 70.
HOW THE HELL COULD THIS HAPPEN? Somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in this famine – actually, that is a very low estimate, given that we were looking at 20,000-30,000 under-5 deaths in August 2011, and things stayed bad for quite a while after. This is probably the single biggest human catastrophe since the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 (that killed 230,000 people).
I don’t blame the students. Honestly. They are wired in – they get all kinds of media all day long. The simple fact is that the story of this famine was never sold very well, or very widely. I thought the PSA campaign around the famine was terrible – a bunch of B-list celebrities, at best, in really dull clips (more on that in a later post). Media coverage was confused. Most could not separate drought from famine (which led me to write my most-viewed post ever), attributing the causes completely to the weather. Others played up the Somalia terrorism angle with al-Shabab, a heterogenous and not terribly effective fundamentalist group in Somalia that decided to turn itself into drone bait by aligning with al-Qaeda. But the whole story was much more than could be compressed into 2 minutes on the nightly news.
That these students didn’t know about the famine is a lost opportunity – an opportunity to illustrate how complex the world is, how climate change compromises development efforts, how relief work is very hard, and very political, and how there are a hell of a lot of really heroic people doing amazing work that probably saved as many lives as were lost, if not many, many more. These are the people who will become educated voters, who will shape America’s place in the world through who they elect and what sorts of priorities they express – and they have no idea that America has a tool like FEWS-NET, which now can predict when and where famine will break out months in advance in several African countries…this is an astonishing accomplishment, and the envy of the world. And if the foreign aid cutters in Congress get their way, it could go away.
Maybe many more people paid attention to the famine on other campuses, in other states…but somehow, I have a feeling that my class was not all that much of an anomaly. Simply put, we in the relief and development community suck at messaging. Between the frantic and often disingenuous fundraising that imprint television viewers with the belief that the situation is hopeless, the confused media reporting as everyone looks for their unique angle, and the near-total failure of messaging from the donor institutions, it is no wonder my students were clueless – hell, they almost certainly knew about the famine, at least in passing, but the completely disjointed storytelling probably prevented any meaningful understanding of the causes of the events or how to address these causes and their impacts.
I have no idea how to fix this, but somebody has to fix this. It is too important to be lamented and then ignored in favor of “doing the work” of development and relief. Messaging is the work of development and relief – telling the story of what we do, why it needs to be done, and how we could do less of it in the future if we just addressed some root causes now is fundamental to getting the societal buy-in we need to do our jobs right. Somebody do this right. I can only reach 70 people at a time…
Tue 13 Sep 2011
Over at the Guardian, Damian Carrington has a blog post arguing that “Food is the ultimate security need.” He bases this argument on a map produced by risk analysts Maplecroft, which sounds quite rigorous:
The Maplecroft index [represented on the map], reviewed last year by the World Food Programme, uses 12 types of data to derive a measure of food risk that is based on the UN FAO’s concept. That covers the availability, access and stability of food supplies, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations.
I’m going to leave aside the question of whether we can or should be linking food security to conflict – Marc Bellemare is covering this issue in his research and has a nice short post up that you should be reading. He also has a link to a longer technical paper where he interrogates this relationship…I am still wading through it, as it involves a somewhat frightening amount of math, but if you are statistically inclined, check it out.
Instead, I would like to quickly raise some questions about this index and the map that results. First, the construction of the index itself is opaque (I assume because it is seen as a proprietary product), so I have no idea what is actually in there. Given the character of the map, though, it looks like it was constructed from national-level data. If it was, it is not particularly useful – food insecurity is not only about the amount of food, but access to that food and entitlement to get access to the food, and these are things that tend to be determined locally. You cannot aggregate entitlement at the national level and get a meaningful understanding of food insecurity – and certainly not actionable information.
Further, you can’t aggregate food markets or prices at the national level and get anything meaningful with regard to food security – let’s compare Maplecroft’s map with FEWS-NETs maps for the immediate future (August-September 2011):
While FEWS-NET does not have global coverage, compare their maps to those of Maplecroft and you see two things: One, FEWS is clearly working at a much finer geographic scale, because they have on-the-ground information about actual markets and access, as well as a deep understanding of climate and livelihoods through which to contextualize their grounded data. This is what it takes to represent variable vulnerability within a country. The variability you see on their map illustrates my point about the problems of national-level statistics – clearly food insecurity is a regional-to-local problem in every country, even Somalia. Two, FEWS is not projecting major risk in the same places as Maplecroft, whose map has painted most of equatorial and dryland Africa as problematic at best. Now, FEWS-NET’s medium-term projections (October-December 2011):
Again, no real resemblance to the Maplecroft map.
Now, you can argue that the Maplecroft map is aimed at a different goal than the FEWS-NET maps, as Maplecroft is trying to create a risk-assessment picture of food security in the region. However, Maplecroft’s timescale is unclear (does it cover the next 6 months? 1 year? 5 years?), and its data is so over-aggregated as to be non-actionable. You can’t build policy or programs from this, and I would argue that you can’t really assess the risk of food insecurity from the map or the underlying index either. FEWS-NET’s maps are what actionable information looks like . . .
I appreciate the point Carrington is trying to make on his blog – food security is a really important issue. But if we are to address the challenges of hunger and conflict, we need to build our understanding of the connection between them from meaningful data . . . and probably work from the outstanding material already available via FEWS-NET and others.
This paper is currently available for review at The Winnower.
Thu 21 Jul 2011
After reading a lot of news and blog posts on the situation in the Horn of Africa, I feel the need to make something clear: the drought in the Horn of Africa is not the cause of the famine we are seeing take shape in southern Somalia. We are being pounded by a narrative of this famine that more or less points to the failure of seasonal rains as its cause . . . which I see as a horrible abdication of responsibility for the human causes of this tragedy.
First, I recommend that anyone interested in this situation – or indeed in food security and famine more generally, to read Mike Davis’ book Late Victorian Holocausts. It is a very readable account of massive famines in the Victorian era that lays out the necessary intersection of weather, markets and politics to create tragedy – and also makes clear the point that rainfall alone is poorly correlated to famine. For those who want a deeper dive, have a look at the lit review (pages 15-18) of my article “Postmodern Conceptualizations, Modernist Applications: Rethinking the Role of Society in Food Security” to get a sense of where we are in contemporary thinking on food security. The long and short of it is that food insecurity is rarely about absolute supplies of food – mostly it is about access and entitlements to existing food supplies. The HoA situation does actually invoke outright scarcity, but that scarcity can be traced not just to weather – it is also about access to local and regional markets (weak at best) and politics/the state (Somalia lacks a sovereign state, and the patchy, ad hoc governance provided by al Shabaab does little to ensure either access or entitlement to food and livelihoods for the population).
For those who doubt this, look at the FEWS NET maps I put in previous posts (here and here). Famine stops at the Somali border. I assure you this is not a political manipulation of the data – it is the data we have. Basically, the people without a functional state and collapsing markets are being hit much harder than their counterparts in Ethiopia and Kenya, even though everyone is affected by the same bad rains, and the livelihoods of those in Somalia are not all that different than those across the borders in Ethiopia and Kenya. Rainfall is not the controlling variable for this differential outcome, because rainfall is not really variable across these borders where Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia meet.
This is not to say that rainfall doesn’t matter – it certainly does. But it is not the most important thing. However, when we focus on rainfall variability exclusively, we end up in discussions and arguments that detract from understanding what went wrong here, and what we might do going forward. Yes, the drought reflects a climate extreme . . . but this extreme is not that stunningly anomalous in this part of the world – we are getting similar (but not quite as bad) results quite often these days. Indeed, these results seem to be coming more frequently, and appear to be tied to a shift in the climate of the region – and while it is a bit soon to say this definitively, this climate shift is very likely is a product of anthropogenic climate change. So, one could indirectly argue that the climate change (mostly driven by big emitters in the Global North) is having a terrible impact on the poorest and weakest in the Global South. It will take a while to make this a firm argument, though.
On the other hand, it is clear that politics and markets have failed the people of Somalia – and the rainfall just pushed a very bad situation over the precipice into crisis. Thus, this is a human crisis first and foremost, whatever you think of anthropogenic climate change. Politics and markets are human inventions, and the decisions that drive them are also human. We can’t blame this famine on the weather – we need to be looking at everything from local and national politics that shape access and entitlements to food to global food markets that have driven the price of needed staples up across the world, thus curtailing access for the poorest. The bad news: Humans caused this. The good news: If we caused it, we can prevent the next one.
This paper is currently available for review at The Winnower.
Thu 21 Jul 2011
We continue to scramble here – believe me, we are scrambling – the sheer volume of work taking place is staggering. In the meantime, please understand that as bad as things are at the moment, the relief effort MUST be done right because a) things are about to get much worse and b) they will stay worse, at least until December. We are trying not to sacrifice productive efforts to address the next 3-5 months in this region. To illustrate, two maps. The first is a map of current conditions:
As you can see, the two affected areas in southern Somalia (the Bakool agropastoral livelihood zones and all areas of Lower Shabelle) are highlighted. These are currently the only places where we have hit levels of suffering high enough to be labeled famine. Everywhere labeled “emergency” is pretty dire, but not a famine. Unfortunately, this situation has acquired momentum – as FEWS-NET summarizes:
The total failure of the October-December Deyr rains (secondary season) and the poor performance of the April-June Gu rains (primary season) have resulted in crop failure, reduced labor demand, poor livestock body conditions, and excess animal mortality. The resulting decline in cereal availability and ongoing trade restrictions have subsequently pushed local cereal prices to record levels and substantially reduced household purchasing power in all livelihood zones.
In other words, there is little local food available, no real jobs to earn money to buy imported food, and the livestock are dying, meaning livestock owners cannot sell them off for food (and they are not so great for eating once they get emaciated enough to die). This means that the resources people normally use to address challenges such as we are seeing in Somalia right now are being drawn down very, very rapidly – they are running out of things to sell, and therefore things to eat. On top of all of this, we cannot get in to these areas with our aid – so we cannot do anything, at the moment, to stop this backslide. The result is reflected in this map:
This reflects FEWS-NET’s projections for the outcomes of this backslide in August/September. As you can see, all of southern Somalia will soon fall into famine conditions. If we cannot get in there before then, our interventions will not be as effective as they could be . . . it is much easier to fight a small fire than to put out a burning house.
An interesting thing to note from these maps (I will post on this at length soon) – they show the importance of development. Where we could do development work (Ethiopia and Kenya), we do not have famine. Yes, things are dire, but nowhere near as dire as in Somalia, where we have not been able to work for two decades. The fact that things are dire in Kenya and Ethiopia means that development doesn’t work well enough . . . but it does work, at least a little.
Wed 20 Jul 2011
As of 10am Nairobi time today, the United States Government, along with the UN, is acknowledging the presence of famine in southern Somalia. This is the first declaration of famine in twenty-odd years, reflecting the fairly high bar for human suffering that has to be crossed before an official declaration can be made.
The declaration is complex. The full text of the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS-NET) statement is here. But to summarize:
- a famine is currently ongoing in two areas of southern Somalia: the Bakool agropastoral livelihood zones and all areas of Lower Shabelle
- A humanitarian emergency currently exists across all other regions of the south, and current humanitarian response is inadequate to meet emergency needs. As a result, famine is expected to spread across all regions of the south in the coming 1‐2 months
- FEWS-NET estimates 3.7 million people are in crisis nationwide; among these 3.2 million people need immediate, lifesaving assistance (2.8 million in the south).
- FEWS-NET projections suggest that assistance needs will remain extremely high through at least December 2011
I think it is important to review what the currently understood conditions on the ground are right now:
- The crude death rate (simple measure of the number of deaths) has surpassed 2/10,000/day in two areas (Bakool agropastoral, and all of Lower Shabelle).
- The under 5 death rate has surpassed 4/10,000/day in all areas of the south where data is available, peaking at 20/10,000/day in Riverine areas of Lower Shabelle. These numbers are horrific.
- The prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) exceeds 38 percent in 9 of the 11 areas where recent survey data is available – we consider 15% to be an emergency threshold. Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) exceeds 14 percent in these areas – and the emergency threshold here is 2-4%.
The projections going forward are not pretty. If, as FEWS-NET projects, we have famine conditions in play across all of Southern Somalia, historical death rates suggest we could be talking about mortality rates somewhere in the range of 2500 deaths a day at some point in August (though this is a high estimate, and a minimum number would be more in line with 700 deaths a day). I have no idea what percentage of these deaths will be children, but given the extremely elevated under-5 death rates (2X to 10X the global crude death rate), we can assume that the answer is “a hell of a lot.”
The causes of the famine are complex, and FEWS NET reviews them in the link above.
We are trying – and we are all frustrated at how slowly our response is moving. FEWS-NET’s efforts have been herculean, from data collection (see the picture below) to the organization of reports and data – I am seeing emails from these guys at 3am. I was impressed with them before I got here. I am even more impressed with them now. FEWS is just one part of the equation, though. There are a lot of people who are not sleeping right now, and even more who have dropped everything else they are doing to support this effort. We are trying.
Measuring arm circumference for a nutrition survey in Southern Somalia, July 2011
Please follow developments at FEWS-NET’s site for this emergency here. There is no better resource on this anywhere.
Mon 28 Mar 2011
I sat through an outstanding FEWS-NET briefing today at work – some of the material falls under the heading of sensitive but unclassified (SBU), which basically means I can’t give details on it here. However, the publicly-available information from the briefing (link here – click on the near-term and medium-term tabs) makes it clear that there are really bad things taking place in parts of the Horn of Africa right now that are likely to result in large areas being extremely food insecure, which FEWS-NET defines as:
Households face substantial or prolonged shortfalls in their ability to meet basic food requirements. Reduced food intake is widespread, resulting in significantly increased rates of acute malnutrition and increasing mortality. Significant erosion of assets is occurring, and households are gradually moving towards destitution.
To summarize, people are dying due to food insecurity in the Horn of Africa right now, and it is going to get a whole lot worse for the next 6 or so months.
The briefing was very well run and presented, and the question session afterward was generally quite informative. FEWS-NET is a remarkable tool – I think it is probably the best food insecurity assessment tool in the world right now – and I am engaged with thinking about how to make their assessments and projections even more accurate. So I had a sort of technical disconnect from the meaning of the data during the briefing – to me, the numbers were data points that could be parsed differently to better understand what was actually taking place.
I returned to my desk, head buzzing with ways to reframe some of the analysis, but before I could get to writing anything down, an email came in telling me that the wife of one of my closest friends had passed away from ovarian cancer. She was 41, and leaves behind my friend and their very young son. For some reason, in that moment all of my data points became people, tens of thousands of mothers, fathers and children whose loss was beyond tragic.
That was it for me. I logged out, walked out of the office, and went to get my oldest daughter out of preschool an hour early. Somebody needs to parse the data, to reframe and retheorize what we see happening in places like the Horn of Africa so we can respond better and reduce the occurrence and impact of future events. But not me, not today.
Fri 25 Feb 2011
Posted by Ed under Adaptation, Climate Change, development, environment, Food Security, sustainable development
Comments Off on On Math, Climate Change and Food Security
Idiot Tracker has a post on food security that uses food security as a means of focusing the reader on the challenges that climate change are likely to present in the near future. In short, the argument goes that climate change will negatively impact our future agricultural productivity, making it difficult to increase that productivity as our population grows. If we do hit nine billion people by mid-century (barring cataclysm this seems to be the minimum number we will hit), the author calculates that we will need to come up with 14.5 trillion calories per day, and notes that climate change is likely to present significant barriers to meeting this need.
I agree . . . in a general way. We are losing huge amounts of arable land each year to soil degradation, and we are running out of productive places in which to extend new farms that do not create really problematic ecological tradeoffs (like massive deforestation that speeds climate change). Climate change is likely to force the transformation of entire agricultural regimes in otherwise sustainable areas – for example, by changing temperatures and precipitation such that most strains of maize will have difficulty germinating in Southern Africa in a few decades. This is all a very big deal. But this post is also very, very thin on support for its argument.
As the post does not present any hard data, including how the 14.5 trillion calorie per day figure was derived, I cannot be sure if the author did any real math on our current production or the likely loss of caloric production that might occur under any number of likely climate scenarios (a problem unto itself, at global circulation models are much better for temperature than they are for rainfall, and there are few regional circulation models that can correct this problem – see the fascinating recent work of FEWS-NET on modeled versus empirically-measured patterns of precipitation in East Africa). All of these might create significant error bars around likely future caloric production. Further, I cannot tell if the author has considered whether or not crops will migrate as their ecological zones shift – surely farmers that previously could not raise a certain crop will start to take it up as the local environment allows and as other producing areas fall out of favor. We know that some ecosystems will at least start to migrate if corridors for such movement are available – and agricultural systems are just another form of (heavily managed) ecosystem. As cropping areas shift, what will the net caloric impact be? It is not enough to say that we will lose a lot of calories when maize stops germinating in southern Africa. We will need to get a net figure by calculating in all of the new areas in which maize will germinate.
Of course, such math only works at the global scale, and issues of hunger have very little to do with global production – hunger is local, shaped more by the intersection of markets, the environment, politics and society. So noting that maize will germinate in new areas does nothing for the people in southern Africa who will be without maize. However, we have to obtain another net figure: the lost calories from maize versus the new calories from new crops that people can grow, but chose not to before. This may still total a net decrease in calories (indeed, it probably will), but this is not the same as simply subtracting maize from the equation.
Finally, what of plants that are edible, but that we currently choose not to eat? The clearest analogy, to me, is the evolution of seafood here in the US. I like to explain to my students that these new, exotic fish that are showing up at restaurants are the species that no self-respecting chef would touch two decades ago. But when you wipe out the cod, you start getting creative. And don’t get me started about tilapia. It’s the rat of fish. Seriously, it likes murky, stagnant water. It will grow anywhere. There is nothing I find funnier than hearing a server say “we have a very nice tilapia today.” Yeah, I’d love to pay $20 for the swimming pigeon, thanks! That said, people do eat tilapia and all sorts of other hilarious species because they are hungry and willing to pay. So what new species of plant and animal will we be willing to eat a decade from now? Three decades from now? This is hard to predict, but I’ll bet quite a lot that we will find new species to exploit and offset even more of this caloric loss.
Despite all of this, I do think we face significant food challenges in the next three to four decades. These will be felt very unevenly around the world, but they will be felt in significant ways. To figure out what these impacts will look like, and who will experience them, requires that we carefully think through not only the exposure of crops to climate change impacts, but also the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of the agroecological system to those impacts. It is only when we understand how such systems are likely to respond that we can begin to really plan for the challenges ahead.