In many parts of the world, droughts are getting longer, more intense and more frequent. A climate and environment director at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization discusses the risk to food security. Interview excerpts include:
Q: Could drought cause food shortages and famines in the years or decades to come, and what regions are most at risk?
Absolutely. The FAO estimate is that we have 830 million people who are currently food-insecure. They do not have enough food to eat without this kind of shortage. Obviously, decreasing production could be a major factor. We’re also looking at the issue of nutrient depletion. Climate change, CO2 changes in the air, are having an impact on the nutrient content of food. Some cereals have about 10 percent less protein, and they have less minerals and less vitamins. So it’s not just a question of how much food, but also the quality of that food.
Q: Is drought going to become the new normal for farmers?
Unfortunately, variability is going to become the new normal. Unpredictability is here to stay.
Q: The solutions are within our reach. But why aren’t they being tapped into?
Well they’re expensive, and farmers are already often very stressed in terms of barely making a profit. And of course in a bad year, where they’re probably going to lose money because of drought, if we were to come in and say: “Well, we want you to invest more money in limited tillage or zero-tillage equipment,” of course they’re going to say, “You’re crazy, I’m already in debt.”
What we need is to speed it up because we don’t have two decades to work on this. We really need to get results within a few years. Otherwise it will be too late.