Sara Menker quit a career in commodities trading to figure out how the global value chain of agriculture works. Her discoveries have led to some startling predictions: “We could have a tipping point in global food and agriculture if surging demand surpasses the agricultural system’s structural capacity to produce food,” she says. “People could starve and governments may fall.” Menker’s models predict that this scenario could happen in a decade — that the world could be short 214 trillion calories per year by 2027. She offers a vision of this impossible world as well as some steps we can take today to avoid it.

Global Report on Food Crises 2017

Globally, 108 million people in 2016 were reported to be facing Crisis level food insecurity or worse (IPC Phase 3 and above). This represents a 35 percent increase compared to 2015 when the figure was almost 80 million.

The acute and wide-reaching effects of conflicts left significant numbers of food insecure people in need of urgent assistance in Yemen (17 million); Syria (7.0 million); South Sudan (4.9 million); Somalia (2.9 million); northeast Nigeria (4.7 million), Burundi (2.3 million) and Central African Republic (2 million). The immediate outlook points to worsening conditions in some locations, with risk of famine in isolated areas of northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Conflict causes widespread displacement (internal and external), protracting food insecurity and placing a burden on host communities. The populations worst affected are those of Syria (6.3 million Internally Displaced People) and Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries (4.8 million); Iraq (3.1 million); Yemen (3.2 million), South Sudan (3 million), Somalia (2.1 million) and northeast Nigeria (2.1 million).

In some countries, food security has been undermined by El Niño, which largely manifested in drought conditions that damaged agricultural livelihoods. The countries most affected are in eastern and southern Africa and include Somalia, Ethiopia (9.7 million), Madagascar (0.8 million in the Grand Sud), Malawi (6.7 million), Mozambique (1.9 million) and Zimbabwe (4.1 million). Projections for early 2017 indicate an increase in the severity of food insecurity in these regions. This is particularly the case in southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Record staple food prices, notably in some southern African countries, Nigeria and South Sudan, also severely constrained food access for vulnerable populations, acutely aggravating food insecurity and the risk of malnutrition.

El Niño-induced weather patterns and conflicts were the main drivers of intensified food insecurity in 2016. The persistent nature of these drivers, and their associated impacts, has weakened households’ capacity to cope, undermining their resilience and ability to recover from future shocks. The food crises in 2016 were both widespread and severe, affecting entire national populations, such as in Yemen, or causing acute damage in localized areas, such as in northeast Nigeria. These shocks were not bound by national borders and the spillover effects had a significant impact on neighbouring countries.