In recent years, global food security has been impacted by an increase in climate change related extreme weather. Increasingly extreme weather patterns have been characterized by hotter, prolonged, and more frequent heatwaves, and when coupled with associated consequences such as droughts, wildfires, and subsequent floods following rain, they have had severe impacts on food production.
In 2023— the hottest year in recorded history— the escalating threat posed by climate impacts on food security compounded the global cost-of-living crisis, intensifying challenges already faced by vulnerable countries, low-income consumers and jeopardizing global nutrition levels.
Here are some foods that were most impacted.
Grapes and Wine
The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) estimates that in 2023, global wine production was at its lowest in more than 30 years— with a reduction in grape yields of approximately 7% over 2022. Droughts and wildfires caused a 20% drop in production in Chile, the largest producer of wine in the southern hemisphere and the harvest was similarly bleak in Australia, where production was down by a quarter over 2022. Dry weather in Spain caused a reduction in grape harvests by 14%, and in Italy, excess rainfall, floods, hailstorms, and droughts caused a 12% reduction in overall yields.
Some regions were impacted worse than others. In Spain— the third largest wine producer in the world— arid conditions were especially harsh in Andalusia in the south and Catalonia in the northeast. The Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives of Catalonia warned that grape production might have declined in the region by as much as 60% in 2023, impacting the prices of grapes and their derivatives.
In 2023, unprecedented heatwaves affected large parts of South America, particularly during the blueberry flowering season.
As the world’s top producer, Peru was significantly impacted by 2023 heat waves, causing delays in fruit production due to the impact on plant photosynthesis.
Consequently, Peru’s blueberry exports declined by more than 50%, causing concerns that the extreme heat may lead to an increase in prices.
Elevated air temperatures, projected to last until at least the Fall of 2024, are expected to impact the primary blueberry-producing regions in the coastal and northern parts of the Peruvian highlands, which account for nearly 95% of blueberry crops and virtually all export production.
Olives and Olive Oil
In 2023, extensive heat and dry conditions and insufficient soil moisture in much of the Mediterranean adversely affected olive trees. Between April 2022 and May 2023, average temperatures, surpassing norms by up to 4°C were recorded in Spain, the leading global producer of olive oil. Persistently low rainfall for over a year, leading to severe drought resulted in a 50% reduction in Spanish olive oil production.
Consequently, the prices of olive oil reached unprecedented levels and stockpiles have significantly decreased compared to previous years.
The consequent increase in the cost of olive oil is impacting the prices of various products, including canned goods, such as sardines. With Spain exporting 70% of its olive oil production, domestic consumers are finding themselves in competition for this commodity in a progressively competitive global market.
Global rice supplies tightened in 2023 due to climate impacts experienced across the United States, Asia and the European Union. Throughout the year, rice prices remained elevated due to a sustained La Niña in March, followed by an El Niño anomaly in June. Additionally, India implemented restrictions on non-basmati rice in July, following concerns of a production shortfall caused by a delayed monsoon.
India, the world’s largest rice exporter— accounting for 40% of global rice exports— responded to shortage concerns by imposing restrictions on shipments. Despite declining values in other grain markets, rice prices surged to their highest levels in 15 years in 2023, experiencing increases of 40%-45% in quotations at various Asian export hubs.
In October 2023, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s All Rice Price Index averaged 138.9 points, a 24% increase from the previous year.
Italy, which contributes approximately half of the European Union’s rice production and is the exclusive grower of crucial varieties for risotto such as Arborio and Carnaroli, recorded a decrease in rice output in 2023. Agricultural groups warned that Italian farmers, grappling with a second consecutive year of drought, are scaling back the cultivated land for rice to its lowest level in more than two decades.
A study published in the journal, Climate, indicates that potatoes face a significant threat from climate change, with global yields potentially declining by 18% to 32% within the next 45 years in the absence of adaptation.
European farmers are already experiencing the impact. In 2023, heavy rain led to one of the lowest potato harvests on record in the UK. According to a report from Bloomberg, farmers in Belgium and France had to park tractors due to waterlogged fields, which impeded collection. This resulted in soaring European potato prices.
Across the globe, in the highlands of Bolivia, where potatoes are the staple crop, the late arrival of seasonal rains and untimely frost— the likely the outcome of climate change— severely impacted potato harvests, lives and livelihoods.
Over recent months, Bolivia, along with much of South America, has experienced a “heat dome,” resulting in unprecedented temperatures soaring to 45°C, a remarkable occurrence during winter. In August, Bolivia registered the highest winter temperature in the Southern Hemisphere.
What are the implications for food security?
Climate change has far reaching impacts on global food security— not only from the perspective of land based crops, but also livestock and marine species, all of which are threatened by climate extremes and uncertainties.
Countries that are reliant on imports of specific crops from climate vulnerable regions, are exposed to supply and price shocks caused by climate impacts. Domestically, climate change related extreme weather events disrupt agriculture, food security, livelihoods and national economies.
An evaluation of government trade data by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) reveals that $2.55 billion worth of imported food by the United Kingdom is sourced from eight of the most climate vulnerable countries. These include Kenya, Brazil, Peru, Vietnam, India, Colombia, Belize, and Ivory Coast.
Between 2020 and 2023, many East African communities experienced the most severe drought since the 1980s. In this area, where 80% of food production is heavily dependent on small-scale farmers, three consecutive years of below-average rainfall resulted in the loss of cattle, crops, and livelihoods for many families.
Climate change presents a global challenge that extends beyond national boundaries. The impact on one region can create a domino effect on global food markets, trade, and prices. Effective solutions require collaborative efforts to tackle these interconnected challenges.
Addressing climate-related issues is paramount to guaranteeing a secure, resilient, and sustainable food supply capable of meeting the demands of an expanding global population.