New research findings by international agency Oxfam indicate that the full impact of climate change on future food prices is being underestimated.
The report—Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices—highlights for the first time how extreme weather events such as droughts and floods could drive up future food prices. Previous research only tends to consider gradual impacts, such as increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns.
A nationwide drought in India and extensive flooding across Southeast Asia could see the world market price of rice increase by 22 per cent. This could see domestic spikes of up to 43 per cent on top of longer term price rises in rice importing countries such as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
Oxfam’s research seeks to go beyond this and look at the impact of extreme weather scenarios on food prices in 2030. The research warns that by that date the world could be even more vulnerable to the kind of drought happening today in the US, with dependence on US exports of wheat and maize predicted to rise and climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme droughts in North America.
The research also finds that even under a conservative scenario another US drought in 2030, could raise the price of maize by as much as 140 per cent over and above the average price of food in 2030, which is already likely to be double today’s prices.
Drought and flooding in southern Africa could increase the consumer price of maize and other coarse grains by as much as 120 per cent. Price spikes of this magnitude today would mean the cost of a 25 kg bag of corn meal – a staple which feeds poor families across Africa for about two weeks – would rocket from around $18 to $40.
Oxfam’s climate change policy adviser Tim Gore said that such price spikes would be a massive blow to the world’s poorest who today spend up to 75 per cent of their income on food.
“Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns hold back crop production and cause steady price rises. But extreme weather events – like the current US drought – can wipe out entire harvests and trigger dramatic food price spikes.
“We will all feel the impact as prices spike but the poorest people will be hit hardest.”
“The huge potential impact of extreme weather events on future food prices is missing from today’s climate change debate. The world needs to wake up to the drastic consequences facing our food system of climate inaction,” Gore said.
The research also warns that climate shocks in Sub-Saharan Africa are likely to have an increasingly dramatic impact in 2030 as 95 per cent of grains such as maize, millet and sorghum that are consumed in sub-Saharan Africa could come from the region itself.