25 August 2023

UN official: “A great climate-related food crisis is coming sooner than expected”


This was stated by the president of the UN Conference on Desertification, Alain-Richard Donwahi. Climate change and poor agricultural practices impacting soil health are crucial factors

by Matteo Cavallito


The world may face a particularly severe food crisis sooner than expected. This was argued by the president of the UN Conference on Desertification, Alain-Richard Donwahi, quoted by the Guardian. “I think it’s going even faster than we predicted,” said the former Ivorian defense minister. He added, “Everyone is fixated on 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels], and it’s a very important target. But actually, some very bad things could happen, in terms of soil degradation, water scarcity and desertification, way before 1.5C.”

Climate and agriculture in the crosshairs

Donwahi focuses on rising temperatures and their consequences, a including increased frequency of extreme weather events. But not only that. Also crucial, in fact, are poor agricultural practices that impact soil health.

“The degradation of soil comes with bad habits, and the way we do our agriculture will lead to degradation of the soil. When the soil is affected, the yield is affected,” he explained.

In this framework, the former minister called into question the role of private investors whose commitment could support the changes needed to ensure better land use and the implementation of good practices including agroforestry.

Food crisis affects one in ten humans

Donwahi’s words follow disturbing estimates released by the FAO in its report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022″. “After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015,” the study published in December last year stated, “the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) jumped from 8.0 to 9.3 percent from 2019 to 2020 and rose at a slower pace in 2021 to 9.8 percent.”

Moreover, “Between 702 and 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021. The number has grown by about 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic – 103 million more people between 2019 and 2020 and 46 million more in 2021.”

Without a change of course, the FAO continued, the risk is that in 2030 8 percent of the world’s population or 670 million people will still be hungry. Even taking into account moderate food insecurity, the amount of human beings forced to cope with some form of food shortage reaches 2.3 billion. 3.1 billion, on the other hand, are the individuals who do not have access to a healthy diet. This is 112 million more people than in 2019.

From the UN a warning on desertification

Finally, desertification, a widespread, worrisome yet still underestimated phenomenon, writes the Guardian. “Last year’s Cop15 on desertification went largely unnoticed compared with the climate Cop27 and the biodiversity Cop15 last December,” the British newspaper points out. And again, “Desertification Cops are held less frequently than climate summits: the next desertification conference will be held in Riyadh in December 2024, while the next climate summit, Cop28, will be in Dubai in late November.”

Yet, Donwahi says, the world cannot afford to ignore the phenomenon. “We need to solve all the problems together,” he further explains to the Guardian. “Desertification and drought leads to climate change, leads to loss of biodiversity. And when you have climate change you have droughts, floods, storms.” These events know no borders and therefore, the former Ivorian minister points out, affect all countries on the Planet, not just the poorest nations.