Global Food Security Amidst Climate Change

by | Oct 2, 2023


Headshot Nate Blum, Chief Executive Officer of BlüMilo and Sorghum United.

Guest Author

Nate Blum serves as the Chief Executive Officer of BlüMilo and Sorghum United. Sorghum United is an international NGO serving to advance education and markets development for sorghum and adjacent small grains. He is an expert on grain sorghum production and marketing, with a focus on value-added agriculture processing for sorghum-based products.

More About Nate Blum

Blum has represented Nebraska producers in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Vietnam, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Jordan, Great Britain, Scotland, Australia, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Nations FAO. He has also worked with international stakeholders in regard to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, hosting an Independent Food Systems Summit (August 2021). Blum served as the Executive Director of the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board and the Nebraska Sorghum Producers Association from 2019 to 2023.

Blum served on the USDA Grains, Feed, and Oilseeds Ag Trade Advisory Committee (ATAC). The ATAC advised trade policy to the office of the US Trade Representative. He is an Alumnus of the University of Nebraska (Class of 2019), the Nebraska Leadership, Education, Agriculture, Development (LEAD) Program (Class XXXVI), and recently served as the Vice president of the Nebraska LEAD Alumni Association.

Blum received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Nebraska. Blum enjoys volunteering for local non-profits and organizing community events in his free time.

The impacts of climate change on global food security are becoming increasingly clear. Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events are taking a toll on crop yields worldwide. At the same time, the global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, necessitating a significant increase in food production. Ensuring food security in the face of climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

One of the most direct impacts of climate change on agriculture is rising temperatures. Higher temperatures hasten crop maturity, resulting in reduced yields. Grains, maize, wheat, rice, and soybeans – dietary staples for much of the world – are highly vulnerable to increased heat stress. Studies show that for each degree Celsius rise in global mean temperature, yields of these major crops decline by 3-15%. Heat stress can also reduce grain size, further contributing to lower yields.

Changing rainfall patterns pose another threat. Lack of precipitation during critical growth periods leads to water stress and crop failure. Increased frequency of floods from extreme rainfall events can also destroy crops. Climate change models predict increasing rainfall variability, with some regions receiving less rainfall while others see increases. This unpredictability makes farming more challenging.

Extreme weather events like storms, floods, and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. A single extreme weather event can devastate crops over a large area. For example, severe droughts in Russia and Ukraine in 2010 decimated wheat harvests, leading to shortages and a global price spike. 

The combined impacts of higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and extreme events have already resulted in declining crop yields in vulnerable regions. Studies estimate that climate change has reduced global maize and wheat yields by 3-4% compared to pre-industrial levels. Yields of rice and soybeans are 2-3% lower. These impacts are expected to worsen as climate change accelerates in the coming decades.

Researchers in a Sorghum field.

Crop yield declines pose a major risk to food security, particularly in parts of Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, already facing high levels of food insecurity. Without significant adaptation measures, an estimated 600 million more people worldwide could experience malnutrition due to climate-related yield reductions. Food prices will likely rise as yields drop, making food unaffordable for many. Close to 25 million more children are projected to be undernourished due to climate impacts. 

Adapting agriculture to climate change is critical to ensure food security. Climate-smart crops offer one solution. Crops like sorghum, millet, cowpea, and pigeon peas are more resilient to hotter temperatures, drought, and variable rainfall compared to mainstream staple grains. Promoting climate-smart crops through research and policy incentives will diversify food systems and improve resilience. 

Innovations in agricultural practices can also help farmers adapt. Precision agriculture uses GPS, remote sensing, and data analytics to optimize inputs like water and fertilizer, boosting productivity and climate resilience. Agroecology applies ecological principles to farming, leveraging biodiversity and natural ecosystems to increase yields sustainably, even under climate stresses. Vertical farming and greenhouse cultivation allow crops to be grown in controlled environments, protected from climate extremes. 

While these solutions hold promise, widespread adoption faces barriers like high upfront costs of technology, lack of technical skills, and fragmented policy frameworks in many countries. Strong leadership and greater investment are needed to drive agricultural innovation and climate adaptation globally. 

Policy reforms must make climate-smart agriculture a priority in national and global policy agendas. This includes incentives for farmers to adopt resilient practices, integration of climate risks in agricultural policies, and stronger climate change components in agricultural adaptation programs. Developed countries also need to make good on their pledge to provide $100 billion per year in climate financing to developing nations – with a portion dedicated to food system resilience. 

Our food systems today are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Concerted action is needed across technological, policy, and investment realms to strengthen food security amidst climate uncertainties. With long-term vision and commitment from government, research, and farming communities worldwide, it is possible to achieve sustainable food production and access for all, even in the face of climate change. But the window for action is narrowing fast. The time to act is now.