Coping with Climate Change: A Food Policy Approach

Peter Timmer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Te early drafts of Food Policy Analysis were stimulated by the attention to high food prices following the world food crisis in 1973-74, and the fears of a repeat in 1979-80. But by the fourth full draft, in 1982, it became apparent that surpluses were returning to world food markets. A volume predicated on a world running out of food would have been out of date before the ink was dry, and a full-scale revamping of the analytical messages was needed. After a nearly complete re-write, the new theme, which has stood the test of 30 years of market fluctuations, was the need for flexibility to cope with market instability. Tat message is even more relevant now, as we learn to cope with a new source of instability—climate change. Such flexibility is not a natural feature of domestic policymaking, in the food sector or elsewhere, and providing the analytical tools for understanding how to create flexible responses turned out to be a real challenge. Te task in this paper is to ask specifically how climate change would alter the basic message of Food Policy Analysis. Virtually all of the analysis was focused on national policies and domestic markets, an approach that seems problematical for preventing or mitigating climate change, but entirely appropriate for designing adaptation strategies. Climate change is imposing itself as a reality via the increased probability of extreme weather events in general, and also on both global and localized food security outcomes in particular. Te ecosystem services provided by the climate are essential for all agricultural production. Te most important effects of climate change on agriculture are likely to include a net global loss of agricultural land, changing crop suitability, an increase in the frequency of natural disasters, and greater temporal and geographic variance in production. It will also have negative effects on other areas of agriculture broadly interpreted—reducing the carrying capacity of many rangelands and posing threats to fisheries and aquaculture production systems. Climate change is expected to have highly variable effects on different regions; tropical and equatorial regions will bear the heaviest burdens, with some gains in yields and land availability in temperate regions. Since rural poverty is concentrated in tropical and, in South Asia, coastal areas, climate change is expected to have a disproportionate effect on the already vulnerable. Te challenge is to design, analyze, and implement in-country "climate-smart agriculture" adaptation projects and programs, which are now part of the food policy agenda, as well as to improve the openness to trade in agricultural commodities to even out geographical instability. Designing appropriate policies for bio-fuels also needs to be on the analytical agenda.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)56-71
    JournalWorld Food Policy
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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