Study Notes

GCSE Geography | Impacts of Food Insecurity (Resource Management - Food 3)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 25 May 2024

Many people in LICs suffer from food insecurity, where they do not have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. The United Nations estimates that around 2.4 billion people experience food insecurity, with 900 million people facing severe food insecurity; almost all of them live in LICs. This has numerous impacts.

Famine, undernourishment and starvation

Regions suffering from food insecurity do not have enough food - and in some cases this leads to famine, which is widespread scarcity of food. In extreme cases, famine can result in starvation and death, but more commonly it will lead to undernourishment (or undernutrition) where people are not eating enough food to continue to be in good health. People suffering from undernourishment may have stunted growth (both physically and cognitively), and will have a much weakened immune system, making them more vulnerable to illness and disease. This in turn can lead to more food insecurity as there are less strong and healthy people to work the land, so food production decreases.

Rising food prices

Food insecurity can lead to an increase in food prices - simple supply and demand. If a harvest fails then there is less food available, which makes other food more in demand, and therefore more valuable. This means that the price of the most basic foods may suddenly increase to a point that they are unaffordable for most families in LICs, e.g. rice and maize. This can lead to undernourishment as families cannot afford nutritious food, so they become vulnerable to illness and disease. In times of bad harvests a country may also decide to stop exports temporarily as their cash crops are needed to feed their own people. This means a lack of income which would affect the economy, but it could also lead to a reduction in supply globally, and therefore a rise in global prices.

Social unrest and conflict

The increased competition and subsequent rising prices can lead to social unrest and food riots where people react to food shortages as they become desperate for resources - food riots are not uncommon in North Africa and the Middle East.

But food insecurity can also lead to disputes over water sources needed for food production, particularly in terms of rivers flowing through several countries who can't agree on how to use the water. The River Nile is a good example of this - Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia all use vast amounts of water to irrigate their crops to sell both domestically and on the global market, which provides much needed income for these LICs. However, Uganda wants to dam the river to generate HEP which will help it develop economically, but at the same time will restrict the water flow downstream, meaning less water for irrigation for Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and therefore a reduction in food production for them. This can also be seen along the Mekong River in South-east Asia where China has been damming the river for HEP and to stop flooding, but 60 million people in the lower basin rely on the river, and the dams have meant less water downstream, which has lowered rice yield and disrupted fish migration in countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia.

Soil erosion and desertification

Soil erosion is the removal of the fertile layer of topsoil by water and wind. It is caused by over-grazing and over-cultivation, linked to poor farming practices. These poor farming practices occur because the most fertile land is used to grow cash crops for export, which means local people are left with marginal land without sufficient nutrients or water for their own food supply. This land is unable to produce high yields of crops and is used intensively, meaning that it never gets a chance to recover between harvests (overcultivation) and quickly turns infertile, with exposed soil prone to wind and water erosion. Overgrazing also occurs - this is where too many animals are grazed on marginal land, which trample the land and eat all the vegetation so there is nothing left to bind the soil together. Once animals have exhausted the land then farmers will move their herds elsewhere for the process to repeat again. These poor farming techniques, along with drought, overtime will lead to desertification.

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