We are supported by readers, when you click & purchase through links on our site we earn affiliate commission. Learn more.

Food: what to do if the harvest suddenly fails

When Alfonso Mejia went shopping in the first days of the pandemic and saw the endless rows of empty pasta and flour shelves, it became clear to him: Now his compatriots would understand that empty supermarket shelves can also hit the West. The pandemic has provided a small foretaste of what could happen in the future, because climate change will mean that entire harvest regions will suffer losses if we do not take precautions now. “Interest in this topic is growing,” says the environmental engineer from Pennsylvania State University. “People are now realizing that food shocks will increase.”

Extreme weather, rising temperatures, drought and floods can take on serious dimensions for the food supply – and even if empty pasta shelves were not an existential problem in the pandemic, they have worried many people. Panic buying exacerbates the problem and reveals the social dimension of empty supermarket shelves. Some researchers even see the shortage of wheat as the trigger for the Arab Spring – the people in Egypt are dependent on grain deliveries from Russia. When the harvest was bad, wheat prices rose, Egypt could no longer afford bread and the people revolted against their authoritarian regimes. Therefore, researchers are now thinking about how such food failures can be prevented and how the supply chains can become more resilient.

But let’s start from the beginning: Food Shock is what Mejia calls the state in which suddenly there is significantly less of a certain food in a defined region. In affluent countries this has usually only led to a rise in prices. In poorer countries, however, such food shocks have been felt more often and since the corona crisis at the latest it has become clear that supply chains can break down and goods can then simply no longer be bought for a lot of money. This makes supply chains an existential issue – also for Western societies. So there is something to it when Marc-Uwe Kling writes in Qualityland: “Every civilization is only three meals away from total chaos.”

  • Access to all heise + content
  • exclusive tests, advice & backgrounds: independent, critically well-founded
  • Read c’t, iX, MIT Technology Review, Mac & i, Make, c’t photography directly in your browser
  • register once – read on all devices – can be canceled monthly
  • first month free, then monthly from € 9.95
  • Weekly newsletter with personal reading recommendations from the editor-in-chief
Start FREE month Start your FREE month now

Already subscribed to heise +?

Sign up and read Register now and read articles right away More information about heise +
To home page