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Opinion | Climate Change and Food System Resilience

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

First published in The Jakarta Post (30/11/21).

The impacts of climate change are too big to ignore. The World Meteorological Organization reported that 2015 to 2021 are the seven warmest years on record and sea level rise is at a new high (World Meteorological Organization, 2021). The most common ways in which we can experience the impact of climate change is through extreme weather events, such as heavy rain, droughts, heatwaves, and tropical storms. Extreme weather events are among the main direct threat to our food security, through its impact on agriculture.

Extreme weather events can severely impact the agriculture sector. Both extreme drought and heavy rainfall can have adverse effects on crop productivity losses. The droughts in Kenya have caused maize harvest to be 42% - 70% below the average yield during the first season of harvest in 2021 (World Meteorological Organization, 2021). At the same time, the high rainfall that follows La Niña can increase the risk of flash floods, landslides and strong winds in Indonesia.

La Niña poses risks to Indonesian harvest at the end of the year. The Ministry of Agriculture took several steps to prepare for the upcoming weather phenomenon, such as rehabilitating the irrigation systems, socializing the use of puddle-resistant rice seeds, and collaborating with the Indonesian Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency to develop an early-warning system.

Climate change may disrupt food availability and threaten food security. Conceptually, reduced production will result in more expensive food prices. Increased price could impact the access, affordability and utilization of food.

In Indonesia, economic access to nutritious food is a key barrier to greater and healthier household consumption (WFP, 2017). In 2017, the cheapest nutritious diet for the average four-person household costs IDR 1,191,883 per month (WFP, 2017). The cost is more than double the national average household expenditure for food in September 2020 which is only IDR 588,773 per month (Statistics Indonesia, 2020).

On average, food accounts for 55.3% of household spending (The World Bank, 2020) and households in the lower expenditure group spend a significant amount on food (58.29%) compared to those in the upper expenditure group (41.42%) (Statistics Indonesia, 2021).

Price volatility matters a lot for Indonesian food security, as consumers can shift their behavior to respond to the price increase. When faced with a price increase, consumer reduces the consumption of nutritious food or even the overall quantity of their food. A CIPS study on the impact of high food prices for food assistance beneficiaries found that beneficiaries prioritized rice over eggs when facing price increases and will prefer to increase their instant noodle consumption (Ilman, 2020).

The future of our food system depends on our ability to adapt and create a resilient food system. While global leaders pledged to reduce emissions by phasing out the use of non-renewables at the COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, there is an accepted notion that we must adapt to the already changing nature of our climate. In the future, the severity and the frequency of disasters are predicted to increase (World Meteorological Organization, 2021a). Creating a resilient food system to adapt to the impacts of climate change should be the principal priority for Indonesia.

Open trade can play an important role to adapt to future extreme weather events that might intensify in the future. Not all countries will experience the impact of climate change uniformly: while some countries may experience production losses, slightly increased rainfall to other parts of the world might increase agricultural output in that region (Zimmermann, et al., 2018).

Trade can help deliver critical goods and services that are vital in periods of recovery from shocks, making food systems more resilient. Within this context, openness to trade can increase a country’s access to the world market and increase its food system’s adaptability. On the other hand, trade barriers and protectionism will reduce access to the global food and agriculture market—pronouncing the disruptive impacts of climate change towards food security.

Trade barriers can be present in the form of non-tariff measures (NTMs) on trade, such as quantitative restrictions, pre-shipment inspections, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and technical barriers to trade. In Indonesia, the number of NTMs in Indonesia had been increasing over the year: from 676 in 2015 to 977 NTMs in 2018 (Munadi, 2019).

NTMs on agriculture and food were equivalent to a 49% tariff on a simple average basis in 2008 (Kee et al., 2008). Therefore, the tariff equivalent for NTMs is likely to have increased since then as the number of NTMs has significantly increased (Amanta, 2021). Easing trade barriers can stabilize food stocks and price, making them more accessible for low-income Indonesians with an immediate effect.

The future of Indonesia’s food system depends on its resilience in adapting to climate change. As climate crisis progresses, though, the impacts of natural weather phenomenon might be amplified. A resilient food system has to have a certain degree of flexibility to adapt to the uncertainty posed by climate change.

The food system must be able to deliver sufficient food for its population even in times of failed harvests or instances of disasters. Open trade can be considered to increase food system flexibility to climate change. Trade can make food system resilient by delivering critical goods and services that are vital in period of recovery from shocks. Openness to trade can increase a country’s access to the world market and increase its food system’s adaptability.


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