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Climate impacts on food security and livelihoods in Asia - A review of existing knowledge

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There is agreement in the scientific community that the global food system will experience unprecedented pressure in the coming decades – demographic changes, urban growth, environmental degradation, increasing disaster risk, food price volatility, and climate change will all affect food security patterns.

Climate change can act as a hunger risk multiplier, exacerbating drivers of food insecurity. Climate change disproportionately affects the poorest and most food insecure through a combination of decreasing crop production, and changes in the frequency and intensity of climate-related hazards, all of which can result in more humanitarian and food security crises.

Climate change affects the different dimensions of food security in complex ways. The availability of food can be affected through variations in yields – especially in key producing areas – due to increasing temperatures as well as changes in the quantity of arable land and water available for agriculture. Changes in production, in turn, can affect the ability of households to access food and as such impact on dietary diversity. Moreover, changes in rainfall and temperature patterns directly impact livelihoods that depend on climate-sensitive activities, such as rain-fed agriculture and livestock rearing. Changes in the timing and availability of water may create sanitation problems and impact quality of available drinking water, leading to increased health concerns, including diarrheal diseases. Together with other vector-borne infections, it has the potential to increase malnutrition, and affect food utilization.

Extreme weather effects disrupt the stability of food supply as well as people’s livelihoods.

Understanding the specific impacts of climate change on food security is challenging because vulnerabilities are highly contextual and are unevenly spread across the world. Ultimately, these vulnerabilities also depend on the ability of households, communities, and countries to manage risks. Under climate change, some regions of the world may experience gains in terms of food security outcomes, but the poorest and more isolated parts of the world tend to be more adversely affected in the absence of adaptation efforts.

The Asian continent is particularly vulnerable to climate change due to a combination of: high reliance on climate-sensitive livelihoods, high incidence of poverty and food insecurity, and high population densities in vulnerable and areas highly exposed to climate-related hazards such as floods, cyclones and droughts, and long-term climate change such as gradual changes in monsoon patterns, glacier melt and sea-level rise.

The purpose of this primer is to review the current state of knowledge on the relationship between climate change and food security, focusing specifically on the Asian context, to provide an evidence base for discussion and further analysis.