Food security as defined by the FAO is when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilisation and stability.
The proliferation and spread of insect pests does not bode well for food security in a world of nine billion people increasingly subject to a rapidly changing climate. The Food and Agricultural organisation of the United Nations sees transboundary plan pests affecting food crops as one of the biggest threats to global food security, with globalisation, trade, climate change and reduced resilience in production systems all playing a part in creating food insecurity. International traffic and supply chains has made the transmission of pests across oceans and other natural barriers increasingly probably at scale something already observed by researchers at the University of Exeter. Scientists from Exeter university have found that more than one in ten of all pest types can already be found in half the countries that grow the host plant, with the UK already having more than half of all pests which could flourish in the country already present.
Dr Bebber notes that “if crop pets continue to spread at current rates, many of the world’s biggest crop producing nations will be inundates by the middle of the century, posing a grave threat to global food security”, this threat is echoed by the FAO noting that the threat to crop production plant pests pose in one of the key factors which could destabilise global food security. Dr Bebbers team has found that the trend towards pest saturation has increased steadily since the 1950s, if the trend continues at its current pace by 2050 farmers in Western Europe will have reached saturation point, with almost all pests that their crops can support being present.
This profusion of plant pests is a serious threat to our complex global supply chains, take a biscuit as an example; the sugar may come from the Caribbean, coco from South America, Whey from New Zealand, milk and wheat from the EU, palm oil from Southeast Asia, calcium sulphate from India and salt from China, our food is truly global. Look further to the UK figures for farm-gate value of unprocessed foods in 2015, the UK supplied 52% of the food consumed in the UK, with 48% coming from the global supply chain.
While sourcing our food stuffs from a diverse range of countries can enhance food security as the shocks and surprises in food production networks do not equally affect every country at once, Dr Bebbers studies should bring cause for concern. The rapid profusion and spread of insect pests makes the risks to food security global.
To fully understand the risks posed by insect pests to global food security we should consider a few examples;
The Desert Locust (Schistocerca Gregaria): A pest known since biblical times, they can strip a field bare in an hour. A single locust can east its own weight every day, with a swarm of one million that’s a tonne of food each day, the larger swarms plaguing Africa, the Near East and Southwest Asia can consume over 100,000 tonnes each day, enough to feed tens of thousands of people for a year, gone in a day. This pest in particular poses a threat to the livelihoods of one tenth of the world’s population.
The Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus Ponderosae): While this pest does not consumer food stuffs it is a veracious destroyer of Canadas pine forests, currently they have removed 13 million hectares of lodgepole pine forests, releasing 270 million tonnes of carbon, converting the forests from a carbon sink to a large net carbon source. With a changing climate wood boring, pests like the Mountain Pine Beetle, will have increased survival in the winter months, possibly enabled to produce an extra generation in the summer. Northern Forests are viewed as a bastion against climate change, however the increasing number and spread of wood boring pests puts the forests in peril.
The Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa Decemlineata): Over the past 50 years this beetle has developed resistance to 52 different compounds from all major insecticide classes, including cyanide. Where human chemists are losing the battle, natural predators must be employed as a biocontrol strategy, bringing further implications for the stability of ecosystem with it.
The above are only three, present across the globe are many. Pest are an ever present, ever growing threat to global food security. With many countries reliant upon complex global supply chains for their food if proper systems and solutions are lacking our global food producers could fall like dominos. The issue of insect pests is compounded by the changing climate.
But what can be done?
Take the 2012 Desert Locust threat in the Sahel, controlled thanks to a contribution of $8.2 million and a decade of strengthening national capacities and regional coordination in the framework of the FAO Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES).
The solutions are there and certainly can be found if three principle criterium are met: Political will, funding and cooperation.
As our food is truly global, we must think on a global scale when ensuring national food security, cooperative organisations such as the United Nations are leading the way to product our global food supply and should be supported in their efforts.