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Why is food security a global threat?

Steve Rubley  Managing Director, Government Segment for Thomson Reuters and President and CEO of Thomson Reuters Special Services LLC (subsidiary of Thomson Reuters)

Steve Rubley  Managing Director, Government Segment for Thomson Reuters and President and CEO of Thomson Reuters Special Services LLC (subsidiary of Thomson Reuters)

Given significant advances in technology and reliable data sources, why is food insecurity a global threat?

Contemporary global food systems are complex, rapidly adaptive, and intertwined. Even with significant efficiency advances in agricultural productivity and resource use throughout the last century, 2017 was one of the worst years for food crises. Lower-income countries fared worse and faced famine amid severe food insecurity as food systems failed due to conflict, natural events, weak state institutions, and inefficient markets. Compounding the issue was one of the largest migrations in human history.  

A signatory to the UN Global Compact, and facilitator of efforts to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Thomson Reuters regularly works with public and private sector institutions to strengthen the global food system through a combination of data tools and programs. For the past two years, we have also supported the work of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Jahn Research Group to produce two focused reports. The Risks of Multiple Breadbasket Failures in the 21st Century:  A Science Research Agenda, was released last year at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The second, Global Food Systems Stability and Risk:  At the Nexus of Defense and Development was released this past April and features authors from the U.S. Army War College, NASA, Earth Observations for Food Security and Agriculture Consortium, Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California.  

Two decades of change in the Sahel - Political Stability, Temperature, and Rainfall.
Data visualization by Thomson Reuters Labs. Click to enlarge.

Food resilience, readiness, and a holistic framework to spotlight challenges

Global Food System Stability and Risk: At the Nexus of Defense and Development highlights the importance of the food system from a global security and national defense strategy lens — given the recent inclusion of the “food systems” in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It also features a proposed holistic framework to help put a necessary spotlight on challenges to the global food system whether they are natural hazards, conflict, dislocation, or migration.  

Food Resilience Vs. Overall Readiness data visualization
Data Visualization by Thomson Reuters Labs. Click to enlarge.

Continuing technological innovations coupled with increasing levels of globalization—generates terabytes of unstructured data every day. Food Resilience can be measured by projected change of crop yields, population change, food import dependency, rural population, agricultural capacity, and child malnutrition. Readiness can be measured by economic, governance, and social readiness. Indicators include ease of doing business, political stability, rule of law, social inequality, infrastructure, education, and innovation. The challenge is effectively translating the massive amount of disparate data being collected into actionable information.  

Shared data and collaboration to unlock potential

To properly assess the national security implications of global food system vulnerabilities, defense, intelligence, and development agencies should continue to establish shared concepts of food systems as a foundation for a holistic risk assessment framework that considers the complexity, very rapid and evolving dynamics and interdependencies of global food systems (to include analytical assessment qualitative scenarios and their subsequent drivers).

By working together and embracing innovation, we can unlock the enormous potential that data and technology can have on resource allocation. Protecting food and water and ensuring that everyone has equal access will not only help to maintain order, but in the long term, it will help to build prosperity and drive more innovative, collaborative societies. The next wave of human invention is only possible if the collective world population is well nourished both body and mind.

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