Food supply chains in rural regions could be the most adversely impacted by climate change, according to new research from the University of Sydney.
Indeed, Broken Hill residents may well remember several weather-related supermarket produce shortages early this year – and that could be an increasing problem in the decade ahead.
Dr Arumina Malik and her cross-disciplinary team’s new modelling analysed the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on Australia’s food systems.
“It is vitally important that communities and organisations have an awareness of these impacts to encourage better mitigation planning and climate change resilience,” Dr Malik said.
The researchers found the climate threat could create a domino effect on food supply chains, leading to adverse effects on income, food and nutrient availability, with rural regions like ours most adversely impacted.
The research also showed that poor households fared worse than affluent counterparts even in the same area – which might seem a little bit obvious.
Price increases and shortages for lettuce, strawberries and blueberries earlier this year were attributed to higher production costs and flooding in the Lockyer Valley and Belt regions of Southern Queensland and in northern New South Wales.
“This research highlights that climate change may not only affect food supply in NSW but access to health and equitable diets, particularly among the most vulnerable population,” CSIRO co-author Dr Sinead Boylan said.
The fruit, vegetable and livestock sectors would be most affected by post-disaster impacts, and this flowed on to other non-food production sectors such as transport services.
“Everyone is affected by climate change, what plays out globally seems to play out locally as well” one of the research co-authors, Professor Manfred Lenzen, said.
Food security is also on the United Nations (UN) main agenda.
After decades of steady decline, the number of people suffering from hunger and undernourishment began to increase globally again from 2015.
The UN data shows that food supply chains are being effected by global fuel and fertiliser price hikes because of the Ukraine war, intense droughts, and poverty.
The number of food insecure people globally doubled from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million at the start of 2022. The UN expects the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine to drive this number up to 323 million in 2022.
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Australia’s agriculture production sector was analysed and shown to fare well because our country produces substantially more food than it consumes, even in drought years.
However, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) who did that analysis also warned that Australian agricultural producers rely on global supply chains and imported inputs – like fertilisers – so global impacts will also have a local effect.
“The cascading effects…not only disrupt supply chains, but may also trigger zoonotic diseases, foodborne epidemics, and broad socio-demographic stresses, including inter-regional migration and social unrest.
It’s vital that we understand the impacts of climate change on food supply chains so we can build a more resilient society,” Dr Malik said.
The study, Impacts of climate change and extreme weather on food supply chains cascade across sectors and regions in Australia, was financially supported by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and is available on the University of Sydney’s website.