Food supply chains threatened by climate change

We know that climate change will affect food production. But how far down the supply chain are the impacts likely to fall?

Australian researchers modeled the effects of climate change and extreme weather events on supply chains across the country.

According to the modeling, rural communities will find it harder to cope with disasters, while wealthy people will be the least affected.

The modeling is published in Natural food.

“Climate change can have a direct impact on our economy, our livelihoods and our health. Disruptions caused by extreme weather events can ripple across regions and sectors, leading to job and income losses and impacts on food availability,” says lead author Dr Arunima Malik, a researcher at the group. of Integrated Sustainability Analysis from the University of Sydney.

“I hope the results will be used to suggest strategies for mitigating the impact – not only on the economy, but also on communities.”

Malik and his colleagues used input-output tables of Australian Bureau of Statistics data to chart Australia’s food supply chains.

“These input-output tables essentially provide a snapshot of the economy,” says Malik.

The researchers then used this data to build a database of the economy that operated on a regional scale.

“This regional database was developed in the virtual laboratory of industrial ecology,” explains Malik.

“We combined this with the household expenditure survey and the nutritional composition database to look at how employment and income are affected by a range of scenarios we model for extreme weather events, the climate change and how these events also impact food and nutrient availability. availability – not just in directly affected regions, but also indirectly in the supply chain.

In total, this work took about three years, according to Malik.

“What plays out globally also seems to play out locally,” adds co-author Professor Manfred Lenzen, a sustainability research fellow also at the University of Sydney.

“Everyone is affected by climate change, even if they are not in areas directly affected by extreme weather, and vulnerable people are the most affected.”

Modeling shows that extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, bushfires and heat waves can lead to reduced food availability or employment in remote areas.

“We looked at vulnerability as the ability to cope with a disaster. And that is determined by socio-demographic characteristics,” says Malik.

“We found that, of course, when we have a disaster, there are price increases, due to reduced food availability. These price increases then lead to consumption losses. And these consumption losses can vary depending on your location in the region and your level of income.

“Thus, higher-income households have more ability to cope with the effects of reduced food availability. Because they are able to cope with high prices.

“People on low incomes and those in rural areas are more affected by the effects of climate change and extreme weather.”


To learn more about food supply chains, watch our Cosmos Briefing: The Future of Food


A second study by a separate team of researchers, published in A landfound that a similar inequality plays out globally when it comes to wheat production.

The research surprisingly reveals that global wheat yields are likely to rise slightly in a 2°C warmer world. But the increase will not be uniform across all wheat-growing regions, and there will likely still be an increase in the price of wheat.

“This counterintuitive result is initially driven by geographically uneven impacts,” says lead author Tianyi Zhang, an agrometeorologist at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Wheat yields are expected to increase in high latitude wheat exporting countries, but show declines in low latitude wheat importing countries.”

“These results would potentially lead to a larger income gap, creating a new economic inequality between wheat importing and exporting countries,” adds co-author Taoyuan Wei, co-author and economist at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research. , in Norway.

Australia, as a major wheat producer, stands to benefit from this inequality.

Teresa H. Sadler